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Lecture 9 - Identity

Lecture Summary 

•To introduce historical conceptions of identity
•To introduce Foucault’s ‘discourse’ methodology
•To place and critique contemporary practice within these frameworks, and to consider their validity
•To consider ‘postmodern’ theories of identity as ‘fluid’ and ‘constructed’ (in particular Zygmunt Bauman)
•To consider identity today, especially in the digital domain

Theories of Identity

•ESSENTIALISM (traditional approach)
•Our biological make up makes us who we are.
•We all have an inner essence that makes us who we are.
•Post-Modern theorists are ANTI-ESSENTIALIST (more of this later …)


This is the image of uber intelligence going down to unintelligent. Based on racism, going down to ethnic backgrounds. The more that you veer from a vertical face line the less intelligent you are. 


Normally find these in antique shops. Traditionally, It is based on an idea of an ideal make up. A Picture of good health. It's based largely on a white skinned person. If you look at all the elements it gives us an idea of the perfect ratio of brain make-up to create a well balanced character and identity. 

If your animal tendencies was bigger than you Morals then you may be considered as more likely to criminology. 

You can tell that somebody might be a criminal by the way they look and it is passed down in generations according to Lombroso. 

Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909) – Founder of Positivist Criminology – the notion that criminal tendencies are inherited

Physiognomy legitimising racism

In  the western european lifestyle here it shows racism again saying that 'negro's' are less intelligent. It creates all sorts of problems in history such as Hitler and the Nazi's with the Blonde, Blue Eyes, White skin mentality.

Hieronymous Bosch (1450 - 1516) Christ carrying the Cross, Oil on panel, c. 1515 

Chris Ofili, Holy Virgin Mary, 1996

If you look at examples in fine art here there is a historic and contemporary example. Intelligence based on racial features. The top image paints christ carrying a cross. Normal looking people in terms of features. The people that put to death are evil.

Virgin Mary bottom image, In 1997 was in Royal Academy London. The exhibiton went to New York too and here New Yorkers were up in arms about the idea that Virgin Mary wasn't white. They was offended immensly so this was taken down from that exhibiton. Even if we don't beleive in it, it still runs sub-conciously in our heads.

Historical Phases of Identity

Douglas Kellner – Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and

Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern, 1992
Three stages within historical identity:-

Pre-Modern Identity – personal identity is stable – defined by long standing roles
Modern Identity – modern societies begin to offer a wider range of social roles. Possibility to start ‘choosing’ your identity, rather than simply being born into it. People start to ‘worry’ about who they are.

Post-Modern Identity – accepts a ‘fragmented ‘self’. Identity is constructed

Pre-Modern Identity

Institutions determined identity

Marriage, The Church, Monarchy,
Government, The State, Work 

All of these things give secure identities. 

 ‘Secure’ identities

related institutional agency

with vested interest

Farm-worker ………. landed gentry
The Soldier ……. The state
The Factory Worker… Industrial capitalism
The Housewife…… Patriarchy
The Gentleman…. Patriarchy
Husband-Wife (family)….. Marriage/Church 

No Class Systems before Industrialisation but still divides and fixed identities that realte back to some sort of institution. 

Modern Identity (19th & early 20th centuries)

People move to the city for job which gives a new working class and different writers start to write about this. Three most important writers are:-

Charles Baudelaire – The Painter of Modern Life (1863) - Society and social life in Paris

Thorstein Veblen – Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) 

Georg Simmel – The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903)

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 94),
Le Pont de l’Europe, 1876


introduces concept of the ‘flaneur’ (gentleman-stroller). Flaneur is a male french word. 

In the image above, people that are out and about, they don't need to be working, just strolling. 

Veblen – ‘Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure’

The Leisure Class is the whole idea that you don't have to go to work. The Guy above is not on a n iphone but probably would be if they existed then. Largely to do with Fashion and what you wear. If you are dressed like this strutting about then it gives the impression that you don't have to work. You show off and associate yourself with an identity that you don't have to go to work which is something to aspire to.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 94),
Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877


•Trickle down theory
•The ‘Mask’ of Fashion
Again you see above, the mask of fashion, you hide behind what you wear. It is a system in which the upper classes have this conspicuous asumpton. They show off with the objects they have and things they wear. The lower classes aspire to this and in turn try to emulate what they wear by wearing clothes that look similar out of cheaper material. 

As the higher classes notice this, they start to wear new things in order to maintain their social distinctions within society.

George Simmel

Edvard Munch, Evening on Karl Johan,
Oil on Canvas, 1892

‘The feeling of isolation is rarely as decisive and intense when one actually finds oneself physically alone, as when one is a stranger without relations, among many physically close persons, at a party, on the train, or in the traffic of a large city’ 

Simmel makes the point that actually your encourages to be out and about in the city to be seen, it is actually an alienating experience. 

Simmel suggests that: 

because of the speed and mutability of modernity, individuals withdraw into themselves to find peace.

He describes this as ‘the separation of the subjective from the objective life’ 

Discouse Analysis - Foucault 

Identity is constructed out of the discourses culturally available to us.

What is a discourse ?

‘… a set of recurring statements that define a particular cultural ‘object’ (e.g., madness, criminality, sexuality) and provide concepts and terms through which such an object can be studied and discussed.’ Cavallaro, (2001) 

It gives us cliches and stereotypes about howe we might view people in society. 

Possible Discorses

•Sexual orientation

All of these things that influence our identity but also give rise to sterotypes and the way people view them. 

Discources to be considered

•Gender and sexuality or 'OTHERNESS'


Humphrey Spender/Mass Observation, Worktown project, 1937

If we talk about class and gender, in order to be able to talk about differences, this requires and awareness of your own class and status.
If you are aware of lower class then you perceive yourself to be higher. 

This project is mass observation which is still going in Brighton. It starts life as a bunch of London Posh people who decided to look at how the other half live in a normal industrial town. Observations at how people live their lives. Northerner looking at Southerners. 

People taking dogs into pubs, sawdust on the floor to spit, etc. Not many people go to the theatre or culture. Kids playing with toys that are rabbits feet. Very cheap, waste product of yesterdays dinner. 

Martin Parr here takes images of the Last Resort - Briton and Mersey side. He claims that theres nothing condescending about these. But you might question this. Sunbathing under a shadow of a JCB. 

‘ “Society” …reminds one of a particularly shrewd,

cunning and pokerfaced player in the game of life,

cheating if given a chance, flouting rules whenever


Egually here he photographs Ascot. Is he pointing out the failings in these people. Fat women with spillage on dress. Making a social comment about class?

You might see this as being just as much. Splendid floral dress, union jack, deck chair. Playing on sterotypes. 

Equallly germanny with the sausage purposly made to look phallic. Is it making s statement of national identity?

‘Much of the press coverage

centred around accusations

of misogyny because of the

imagery of semi-naked,

staggering and brutalized

women, in conjunction with

the word “rape” in the title.

But McQueen claimed that

the rape was of Scotland, not

the individual models, as the

theme of the show was the

Jacobite rebellion’.

Evans, C. ‘Desire and Dread: Alexander McQueen and the Contemporary Femme Fatale’ in Entwistle, J. and Wilson, M., (2001), Body Dressing, Oxford, Berg, page 202

Alexander Mcqueen uses the word rape as a fashion statement which he says is the rape of Scotland as a metaphor but the girl has bare breast with blood on her.

Anglo/Scottish relationship. Is she making a point to an english person that Scotland is a little enef of england. 

Nation Identity in Architecture. Las Vegas. The notion of in the modern age do you need to travel to see things. Las Vegas has Venice, Disenyland, New York, Paris all in one place. Why would you need a passpot if you can see this little world in the desert. 

‘I didn’t like Europe as much as I liked Disney World. At Disney World all the countries are much closer together, and they just show you the best of each country. Europe is more boring. People talk strange languages and things are dirty. Sometimes you don’t see anything interesting in Europe for days, but at Disney World something different happens all the time, and people are happy. It’s much more fun. It’s well designed!’

A college graduate just back from her first trip to Europe, in Papanek, V. (1995),

The Green Imperative: Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture, London, Thames and Hudson, page 139

Chris Offili 

Black, British artist, Born in Manchester, Parents from Trinidad. 

As an artist he draws attention to his ethnicity. Assumption that artist are white european. How do you portray yourself as a black artist? He sues a Bob Marley song and Rasta colours. Looking at black identity at how he sees white people would obviously view it. 

He grew up in the 1960's in Manchester. He gets interest in art and comics and realises that there are no black superheroes so he comes up with the character 'Captain Shit' ironically. 

A series of photographs she took in South London with a pad and marker pen and got people of write down what people were feeling. Some are entertaining, Some are tragic.

Is she making a comment on stereotypes of how black people are. Here two black girls say they like a big willy.

Alexander Mcqueen. Is this a racist statement. Very few black models on the catwalk  and when they are used here with animal hyde and jungleness. He claims he is drawing attention to it but is this racist. Is the crocodile showing our relationship between black and white. 

Emily Bates. White scottish textiles artist. Red headed. She talks about how she spent most of her teenage years getting the world Ginger shouted at her.

She found soleace in Mary Magdeline. The views against why redheads are held as something slightly against the norm. Religion has a very great deal to answer for. In the bible stories, Mary is the prostitute. Scarlet women, based on her hair.

Based on this, she made work that celebrated her red hair. She collected masses of red hair from hairdressers and made this dress. 

‘Edmund Bergler, an American psychoanalyst writing in the 1950s, went much further, both in condemning the ugliness of fashion and in relating it to sex. He recognised that the fashion industry is the work not of women, but of men. Its monstrosities, he argued, were a “gigantic unconscious hoax” perpetrated on women by the arch villains of the Cold War –male homosexuals (for he made the vulgar assumption that all dress designers are “queers”). Having first, in the 1920s, tried to turn women into boys, they had latterly expressed their secret hatred of women by forcing them into exaggerated, ridiculous, hideous clothes’

Wilson, E. (1985), Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, London, I.B. Tauris, page 94


A lot of fashion designers are men for women. 

I dont want to look like a boy. A girl on the left looking like a boy. Stereotypes about how people should look. Fashion has a safety net about heterosexual men who are conscious about their sexuality. 

Cindy Sherman

The idea of the mask of feminity. Cindy Sherman plays on it. Film still that you see in papers and in magazines. She fictionalises stereotypes of women seen in films. You can hide behind fashion.


What makes a woman artist an artist? Artists tend to be men so in order for a woman artist to be identified you call them a woman artist.

The fact that are identified as such draws attention to this.

Tracey Emin - She's a slag because that is all the people she's slept with. But she's referring to people who she has slept in a bed with not had sex with. 

Picasso supposedly slept with loads of women but got a pat on the back. well done picasso, you absolute LAD. 

Sam Taylor-Wood puts herself in the male gaze to get noticed in the picture on the left.

Wonderbra see this advert as empowering because their life shouldn't be validated on if they can cook but there is also a stereotype that she has big breasts, dumb so can't cook. 

Gillian Wering - Lynne -  it says on her t-shirt - I may not be brilliant, but I have great breasts. Lynne was going through a sex change. 

Post Modern Theory 

•Identity is constructed through our social experience.
•Erving Goffman The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)
•Goffman saw life as ‘theatre’, made up of ‘encounters’ and ‘performances’
•For Goffman the self is a series of facades

Zygmunt Bauman

Identity (2004)

Liquid Modernity (2000)

Liquid Love (2003)

‘Yes, indeed, “identity” is revealed to us only as something to be invented rather than discovered; as a target of an effort, “an objective”’
He writes about Identity and makes this point to us which argues that it is this thing that you can change. Your not set into an identity of where you born and what your parents do. 

‘We use art, architecture, literature, and the rest, and advertising as well, to shield ourselves, in advance of experience, from the stark and plain reality in which we are fated to live’.

Theodore Levitt, The Morality (?) of Advertising,1970

Arguably life is crap. Taking people in a worse position than yourself and looking at them in a way of art. Looking down on these people. 

Andy Hargreaves

‘In airports and other public spaces, people with mobile-phone headset attachments walk around, talking aloud and alone, like paranoid schizophrenics, oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

Introspection is a disappearing act. Faced with moments alone in their cars, on the street or at supermarket checkouts, more and more people do not collect their thoughts, but scan their mobile phone messages for shreds of evidence that someone, somewhere may need or want them.’

Andy Hargreaves (2003), Teaching in the Knowledge Society: Education in the Age of Insecurity, Open University Press, page 25 

He sums up amonst all this stuff going on, checking your phone for exsistence.

Barbara Kruger

Sells to Selfridges - Kruger Accused of being a sellout.

“The typical cultural spectator of postmodernity is viewed as a largely home centred and increasingly solitary player who, via various forms of ‘telemediation’ (stereos, game consoles, videos and televisions), revels in a domesticated (i.e. private and tamed) ‘world at a distance’”

Darley (2000), Visual Digital Culture, p.187

“If I put up a flattering picture of myself with a list of my favourite things, I can construct an artificial representation of who I am in order to get sex or approval. (‘I like Facebook,’ said another friend. ‘I got a shag out of it’)”

Tom Hodgkinson (2008), ‘With friends like these …’, Guardian, 14/01/08 

“The notion ‘you are who you pretend to be’ has a mythic resonance. The Pygmalion story endures because it speaks to a powerful fantasy: that we are not limited by our histories, that we can be recreated or can recreate ourselves... Virtual worlds provide environments for experiences that may be hard to come by in the real”

Sherry Turkle (1994), Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality

‘In the brave new world of fleeting chances and frail securities, the old-style stiff and non-negotiable identities simply won’t do’

Bauman (2004), Identity, page 27 

Second Life - People got Married on it - Started a second life affair and fell in love without meeting in real life. The truth of the story came to life when a journalist made a character and started talking to these characters. 

BBC2 Documentary called adultery in cyberspace love. A couple meet in second life . A woman has two kids, husbadn goes to work she spends 16 hours of her day on second life. She falls in love with another guy on secondlife. Tragic Consequences. 

Further Reading 

- Bauman, Z. (2004) Identity, Cambridge, Polity Press

- Benwell, B. and Stokoe, E. (2006) Discourse and Identity, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press

- Gauntlett, D. (2008), Media, Gender and Identity: an introduction, London and New York, Routledge

- Kidd, W. (2001), Culture and Identity, Basingstoke,

- Palgrave Macmillan Woodward, K. (ed.) (1999), Identity and Difference, Milton Keynes, Open University Press

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