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Private Selves, Public Identities Reconsidering Identity Politics

by Susan J. Hekman

Private Selves, Public Identities Reconsidering Identity Politics Synopsis

In an age when we are all multiculturalists now, as Nathan Glazer has said, the politics of identity has come to pose new challenges to our liberal polity and the presuppositions on which it is founded. Just what identity means, and what its role in the public sphere is, are questions that are being hotly debated. In this book Susan Hekman aims to bring greater theoretical clarity to the debate by exposing some basic misconceptions--about the constitution of the self that defines personal identity, about the way liberalism conceals the importance of identity under the veil of the abstract citizen, and about the difference and interrelationship between personal and public identity. Hekman's use of object relations theory allows her to argue, against the postmodernist resort to a fictive subject, for a core self that is socially constructed in the early years of childhood but nevertheless provides a secure base for the adult subject. Such a self is social, particular, embedded, and connected--a stark contrast to the neutral and disembodied subject posited in liberal theory. This way of construing the self also opens up the possibility for distinguishing how personal identity functions in relation to public identity. Against those advocates of identity politics who seek reform through the institutionalization of group participation, Hekman espouses a vision of the politics of difference that eschews assigning individuals to fixed groups and emphasizes instead the fluidity of choice arising from the complex interaction between the individual's private identity and the multiple opportunities for associating with different groups and the public identities they define. Inspired by Foucault's argument that power is everywhere, Hekman maps out a dual strategy of both political and social/cultural resistance for this new politics of identity, which recognizes that with significant advances already won in the political/legal arena, attitudinal change in civil society presents the greatest challenge for achieving more progress today in the struggle against racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression.

Private Selves, Public Identities Reconsidering Identity Politics Press Reviews

Taking the insights offered by a performative understanding of identity, Hekman demonstrates how identity can be fluid while retaining a core that avoids the problem of relativism. In the light of a careful development of the political concerns surrounding identity, Hekman offers a new understanding of identity politics that enables her to make some valuable suggestions about how identity might be articulated and a richer politics achieved. Feminists interested in theories of politics will find this a very important contribution to the field. --Eloise A. Buker, Saint Louis University In all, the book is a valuable contribution to the debate over the meaning and role of identity in politics. . . . Hekman's book will invigorate debate on identity politics. --Amy Mullin, Hypatia Hekman's claims are well argued and persuasively presented in this well-written volume, which would be useful for advanced undergraduates, as well as for scholars of political theory less versed in feminism and feminist scholars new to liberal political thought. --Beth Kiyoko Jamieson, Perspectives on Politics One of the strengths of Hekman's work is her extensive review of the pertinent scholarship on contemporary liberalism, identity politics, the essentialism/anti-essentialism debate within feminist theory, multiculturalism, and the politics of recognition. --Cynthia Coe, Philosophy in Review In Private Selves, Public Identities, Susan Hekman explores one of the most important political developments within the United States in the past thirty years, the emergence of group-based or 'identity' politics. Her lucid critiques of the liberalism versus multiculturalism debates, as well as her insights into the limitations of modernist and post-structuralist conceptions of identity and agency, make this book well worth reading. Moreover, her sophisticated analysis of the problems generated by conflations of personal identity and political identity is an important contribution to contemporary debates in political theory and feminist theory. --Mary E. Hawkesworth, Rutgers University

Book Information

ISBN: 9780271026992
Publication date: 31st March 2005
Author: Susan J. Hekman
Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press
Format: Paperback / softback
Pagination: 168 pages
Categories: Political science & theory,

About Susan J. Hekman

Susan J. Hekman is Professor of Political Science and Director of Graduate Humanities at the University of Texas, Arlington. She has published two previous books with the Penn State Press: Moral Voices, Moral Selves: Carol Gilligan and Feminist Moral Theory (1995) and an edited volume, Feminist Interpretations of Michel Foucault (1996).

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