On the necessity and the impossibility of identities: the politics and ethics of "new ethnicities"

St Louis, Brett. 2009. On the necessity and the impossibility of identities: the politics and ethics of "new ethnicities". Cultural Studies, 23(4), pp. 559-582. ISSN 0950-2386 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article assesses Stuart Hall's work on identity and ethnicity, principally the dialectic of 'impossibility' and 'necessity' within his understanding of the formation of identities. The article outlines Hall's extensively rehearsed arguments on the 'impossibility' of essential identities and his description of the 'necessity' of identities as historical and social 'positions' strategically adopted by individuals as a political and psychic resource. After suggesting that Hall approaches ethnic identities as a productive paradox in terms of its deleterious effects and progressive capacity for political representation, the article questions the sense in which ethnic identity can be adequately thought of as a 'necessity'. The article takes this up within an analysis of three key insights within Hall's work: (1) that identities are to be understood in their specific conjuncture; (2) that identities are to be understood as constituted in politics; (3) that claims to collective identity are subject to principled political and ethical justification. In conclusion, the article asks whether Hall's apparent de-centring of identity in relation to politics means that we ought to think of identity less as a 'necessary' object form and more as a 'vehicular' concept and category that facilitates progressive political analysis and engagement.

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Stuart Hall; difference; ethnic identity; racial identity; groups; recognition

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Date Deposited:

23 Apr 2010 07:24

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2017 12:48

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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