The History of Identity

Fanon: What is culture?

Foucault: What is sexuality?

Hacking: What is identity?

I haven’t finished reading all of Hacking’s book, but what did strike me so far is his apparent question (above) throughout the book. What is identity; do we have one? What I found interesting early on in the book was his talk about ‘multiple personality disorder’s’ name change to ‘dissociative identity disorder’, saying that it wasn’t so much about having more than one personality (originating from a ‘base’—the term used in today’s seminar—personality), but not even having one, having no one fixed personality and therefore identity. Which brings up the question, what is identity? We tried to figure it out, but I don’t think we got to anything conclusive. But can we anyway? Hacking also describes how people have said that everyone is actually dissociative in some way—indeed, we talked about how many kids have ‘imaginary’ friends. I’d say I’ve felt ‘dissociative’ in some ways—or at least had the tendency to—in the sense of not wanting to conform to one fixed identity. At times I’ve experienced a so-called ‘identity crisis’ (mid-life crisis is also part of popular knowledge) because I feel like I don’t have a fixed identity, or that I truly don’t know who I am. It also works in relation to society as I am not happy with how I feel I am perceived, identified, in society and, with this possible tendency to dissociate, felt like trying to become a totally different person, a supposedly socially ‘better’ person. As Jill did mention in lecture, we are encouraged to take new ‘identities’ online and it is quite well known that some people do act differently online, being more brash or rude because they are anonymous; they have a different, online identity. And don’t we act differently in certain real life situations as well; we, as Darwinian animals, adapt to different situations; one would act differently in a library than during a concert. True, these are usually social rules, but it also shows how easily we can suppress certain aspects of ourselves depending on the situation; we never act how we truly are all the time. Of course, after all this talk, it does seem that a lot of our ‘identity’ is socially constructed as was talked about in seminar with ‘multiples’. They probably do not think themselves as ‘multiples’ until diagnosed as such, bringing on a wave of socially created definitions into their being. If we go with the name dissociative identity disorder (DID), then they, from having no identity, have one after diagnosis; they can go up to people and say “‘I have ‘DID'”; that is their ‘identity’ now, that is how they can fit into society. I am going on a lot about identity being socially constructed and it probably is very much so, but what Jill said at the end of lecture also resonated with me. Basically, it was ‘know thyself’; to really know ourselves, out possible ‘identity’, we need to be self-reflective, know why we think and do certain things. This would be hopefully away from society and truly on your own. So I mean, in the end, still, what is identity, or at least what is it to you?

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