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Multiple Identity

Implications Of Multiple Identity

If full conceptualization of multiple identity is still a philosophical work in progress, then even more wide open are conclusions as to its practical implications. For many, the consequences are not yet fully apparent. Others suggest that the implications of concepts such as multiple identity are generally negative, particularly with respect to how the subject can function in contexts calling for moral and political judgment. Critical of the idea of decentered subjectivity, Alasdair MacIntyre has claimed, "[t]his divided self has to be characterized negatively, by what it lacks. It is not only without any standpoint from which it can pass critical judgments on the standards governing its various roles, but it must also lack those virtues of integrity and constancy that are prerequisites for exercising the powers of moral agency" (pp. 324–325). Others find the idea of multiple identity useful for the purposes of critique, but useless for producing or theorizing political or social transformation.

In contrast, advocates of various models of multiple identity often have high hopes for its social and political relevance. Scholars across disciplines have long contended that decentered multiple subjectivity is not only a practical reality, but potentially an enormously positive factor in broad-scale political interactions, particularly in the midst of deepening social diversity. Some political theorists have suggested that a decentered, multiply constituted, contradictory self is highly conducive to democratic politics. Bonnie Honig, for example, suggests that the internal conflict and struggle within a decentered self harbors important potential for democratic practices. For Honig,

decentered subjects … have the power to energize their social democracies, while pressing upon them claims to justice, fairness, fidelity and ethicality on behalf of those differences to which social democratic regimes tend to become deaf in their eagerness to administer to represented identities that are established, stable, and familiar. (p. 273)

The range of issues for which multiple identity is of possible significance is wide. Iris Marion Young, Yen Le Espiritu and others have connected multiple identity with social group diversity, the dynamics of political coalition building, political participation, and group politics. Others have underscored the role of multiple identity in political identification and in transnational politics, and Paul Barry Clarke has argued that the multiplicity of the subject is a necessary characteristic of the ideal citizen within deeply diverse democratic regimes. Sociologist Mary Romero has argued that paying attention to the lived experience of multiple identity can better illuminate the power relations affecting Latinos within American society. Other scholars addressing the dynamics of mixed race/ethnic heritage, diverse ethnic identification, and the American mixed-race movement contend that multiple identity may play a role in breaking down the politicized dichotomies of race in America. The complexities of multiple identity are also relevant to new legal approaches to social conflict such as Critical Race Theory.

Articulating her own hopes for its broad implications, Gloria Anzaldúa has argued that in practice the multiple identities of mestiza consciousness can better position the subject for social and political critique and for bridging social cleavages of race, sex, and gender in a manner that could "bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war" (p. 80). While such expectations may prove overly optimistic, the ultimate validity of these and other assessments of multiple identity need to be explored through additional research and theorizing. The intriguing possibility that important social and political implications could be derived from thinking of the subject as decentered and multiple will no doubt foster further development of the ideas surrounding multiple identity.


Adorno, Theodor. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: Continuum, 1990. Reprint of 1973 translation.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands—La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinster/Aunt Lute Books, 1987.

Benhabib, Seyla. Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Post-modernism in Contemporary Ethics. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Benjamin, Jessica. "The Shadow of the Other (Subject): Inter-subjectivity and Feminist Theory." Constellations 1, no. 2 (1994): 231–254.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folks. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1961.

Espiritu, Yen Le. "The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, and Class: The Multiple Identities of Second-Generation Filipinos." Identities 1, no. 2–3 (1994): 249–273.

Honig, Bonnie. "Difference, Dilemmas, and the Politics of Home." In Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, edited by Seyla Benhabib, 237–277. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Continuum, 1991.

Lugones, María. "Purity, Impurity, and Separation." Signs 19 (1994): 458–479.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. "Social Structures and their Threats to Moral Agency." Philosophy 74 (1999): 311–329.

Meyers, Diana. T. "Intersectional Identity and the Authentic Self? Opposites Attract." In Relational Autonomy, edited by Catriona Mackenzie and Natalie Stoljar, 151–180. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ricoeur, Paul. Oneself As Another. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992.

Romero, Mary. "Life as the Maid's Daughter: An Exploration of the Everyday Boundaries of Race, Class, and Gender." In Challenging Fronteras: Structuring Latina and Latino Lives in the U.S., edited by Mary Romero, Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, and Vilma Ortiz, 195–209. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Zack, Naomi. American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995.

Edwina Barvosa-Carter

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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