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Multiple Identity

New Philosophical Challenges

The breadth of scholarship utilizing some formulation of multiple identity has firmly established its place in contemporary Western thought. However, many philosophical and practical questions regarding decentered multiple subjectivity remain to be fully theorized, and the general rethinking of the subject, which began more than a century ago, is still perhaps best thought of as an ongoing project. For example, some commentators continue to conflate the idea of a decentered and multiple subject with the clinical manifestations of a rare and controversial psychological disorder called Dissociative Identity Disorder. Close scrutiny of the clinical evidence indicates that there is little overlap between philosophical theories of a decentered subjectivity and such disorders. Yet, the use of imprecise terms such as "fragmented" and "multiple" continues to invite such comparisons, and to muddy the waters.

Such issues have justified calls for more detailed theories of decentered subjectivity. Feminist theorists Jessica Benjamin and Jane Flax (both with a background in clinical psychology) some time ago stressed that existence of disorders involving extremely severe fragmentation (i.e., a nearly total lack of interconnection) among identities, although very rare, makes it essential to distinguish such ailments from new theoretical frameworks through more precise theorizing of the decentered multiple subject. They have thus challenged theorists to identify exactly what elements make a decentered and multiple subjectivity hang together as a functional psycho-physiological unit. If the decentered subject is not centered by a single identity, what specifically is the relationship among the subject's different identities? Is there something that makes multiple identities cohere as a subjectivity, and if so, what does that coherence, if any, hinge on?

Similar questions are also posed by the work of those philosophers who accept the idea of a socially embedded or "situated" and constructed subject, but who continue to reject the idea of a fully decentered and multiple subjectivity. From such a perspective, the socially constructed subject remains centered by some dimension that, once it is produced through linguistically mediated processes, stands as a self-defining and self-centering element that is not context dependent, but instead consistently centers the subject within all of the various social contexts that it enters. Among those who take this general approach, the precise element that is thought to center the subject differs widely. Some regard the situated self as centered by a self-defining self-narrative. Others center and unify the constructed subject with a single identity or a single moral orientation that guides the self. Still others see the subject as centered through a procedure of "choosing" the subject, which renders some element as a central or true identity. A very few others continue to hold the view that there is some centering element of subjectivity that is prelinguistic.

Recognizing the need for further clarity, a number of feminist philosophers have persisted in highlighting the subject's multiplicity and complexity by working to further refine our understanding of the relationship among the multiple identities within a decentered subjectivity. One promising approach to this can be found in Latina feminist philosophy, and particularly in the work of María Lugones. Lugones has drawn upon and extends the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, whose conception of "mestiza consciousness" has been one of the most widely influential accounts of a decentered and multiple subjectivity to date. In brief, in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa theorizes "mestiza consciousness" as arising from the social construction of subjectivity in and through different sets of social relations including, but not limited to, relations of class, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, region, language community, and subculture. Living thus embedded in a multitude of conflicting social relations of culture, class, and sexuality, Anzaldúa's mestiza gains a multiple or "dual identity" with which the subject lives in multiple lifeworlds. Similar to Du Bois's double consciousness, Anzaldúa describes, as an example, how Mexican Americans are often constructed by and identify (at least partly) with both Mexican and Anglo American cultures—often struggling with the prevailing hierarchies between those two cultural systems. The result is a Chicano/a subjectivity with multiple identities produced within the interplay two interrelated cultures.

Such multiple identities are different, distinct, and sometimes even contradictory. Yet, they can also intersect in ways associated with the societal level dynamics that constructed those identities, including perhaps relations of subordination and privilege, conflict, contradiction, and differentials of power, access, and voice. The multiple identities constructed in and through these elements are often related in ways that mirror those constructing elements. The mestiza is forced by these dynamics (as components of identity formation and identity performance) to engage with the conflicting worldviews and complexities that comprise her multiple identities. Anzaldúa's mestiza thus moves among and negotiates her multiple identities at times by shifting among them, at other times by syncretizing competing perspectives into positions greater that than the "severed parts" from which they were forged. The ability to negotiate, to move between, or to syncretize the different value systems of her multiple identities is what Anzaldúa calls la Facultad.

Working with Anzaldúa's conception of mestiza consciousness, María Lugones emphasizes in "Purity, Impurity, and Separation" (1994) that the multiple identities that make up mestiza consciousness are not entirely fragmented but rather are interconnected and mutually conditioning even as they remain distinct (a point consistent with the common feminist emphasis on the intersection of race, class, and gender). Like Anzaldúa, Lugones stresses the complexity of the social relations in which the subject is embedded and constructed. She underscores in still stronger terms than Anzaldúa however, how these social relations of subordination and privilege intersect. Philosopher Cheshire Calhoun has applied Lugones's work on mestiza consciousness to theorize exactly how a decentered subjectivity that engages multiple identities in a context dependent manner can possess agency and act with integrity toward the sometimes competing moral and political value systems that inhere in those multiple identities. Diana Meyers has also employed Lugones's approach to the intersection of multiple identities. Calling it "intersectional identity," Meyers has argued that Lugones's model of subjectivity offers an important basis from which to generate a new conception of autonomy that departs from the Enlightenment tradition and integrates key feminist tenets.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Molecular distillation to My station and its duties:Multiple Identity - The Critique Of The Subject, The Linguistic Turn And The Social Construction Of The Subject, New Philosophical Challenges