On the geopolitics of identity

Allen Chun*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

7 Scopus citations


The trope of identity has served in recent decades as a powerful construct in literary criticism, cultural studies, history, race and gender studies, invoking in turn identity politics of various genres. Despite its seemingly interdisciplinary usages and broad theoretical ramifications, the concept of identity has been conditioned by semantically flawed usages and provincial disciplinary assumptions, which have not only reified myopic fields and positions but also influenced the way we understand its presumed relevance to social relations and concrete institutional practices. I argue first of all that ethnicity, culture and identity are analytically distinct notions whose meaning and usage have been muddled in disciplinary practice. Identity's relationship to ethnicity in particular is tied less to the putative existence of groups (or an assumed sameness) than to a notion of subjectivity that must be seen in the context of evolving social and political forces. These forces are more complexly nuanced than the way they have been used by theories of social construction or Bourdieuan practice prevalent in the literature. In sum, the pragmatics of identity is less a political contestation per se over ethnicity and culture than abstract struggles within these geopolitical processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-349
Number of pages19
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Discourse
  • Ethnicity
  • Identity
  • Practice
  • Pragmatics

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