Defining identity in the context of globalization

Author:Silviu Coposescu
Position:Faculty of Law and Sociology, Transilvania University of Brasov

The paper focuses on problems of individual and social identity- construction in the context of globalization. The author analyses the concept of identity from modernity and post-modernity perspectives. As a conclusion the author claims that a new approach strategy of defining and interpreting the epoch of globalization is necessary in order to explain and understand the social changes at local,... (see full summary)


Page 9

1. Identity and Change

In a changing world, the English poet and essayist T.S. Eliot remarked, there is one thing that remains unchanged, the continuous struggle between Good and Evil. But, as David Massey (1) observes, there are still other things that do not change. For example, the never-ending longing for identity that grows as times change. And the 21-st century seems to be the epoch of globalization and of changing times. In this context of profound and accelerated changes, individuals, groups and (small as well as large) communities are fearfully and hopefully searching for their identity. Identity is present - whether explicitly or not - on the lips of ordinary people, in the halls of governmental offices, in the seminar rooms, in the social science research laboratories, and among the topics of international conferences.

These common sense observations suggest that identity is perceived, at different levels and in various manners, as an issue of our times. "Identity has become one of the unifying frameworks of intellectual debate in the 1990s", states Richard Jenkins (2). He notices that everybody has a saying on identity: sociologists, anthropologists, political theorists, psychologists, historians, philosophers, etc. Moreover, identity is not only a topic of intellectual debates, but a practical issue as well. Business people have understood that in order to sell goods and services it is necessary to sell an "identity" as well. Purchasing a new product means a new brand. Thus, identity is constructed and purchased in corner shops, in school, at the workplace, during business trips or holidays, in families or groups of friends. A new brand (new dressing style, new diet, new hair style, new interior design, new job, new organisation, new group of friends, etc.) means a change, with regard to the epoch and the others. Consequently, identities change: new identities occur, the traditional ones are revived, or the existing ones are transformed (de-constructed and re-constructed). However, identity is not the only issue of our times, perhaps more importantly, social change is another. The fact that identity is searched for and disputed at all levels of human existence and practice, suggests an identity crisis andPage 10uncertainty concerning the direction of change.

2. "Crisis of Identity" or "Identity Crisis"?

From a somehow nostalgic perspective, we could suggest that identity might be "the illness of the century". If "crisis" is the brand of our times (see for instance the present-day financial crisis, the economic crisis, the political crisis, and the social crisis), then "identity" could be the brand of future research.

In fact, what is identity?

Of course, identity as experience and as a concept constructed from various elements suggests various perspectives in formulating an answer to the question. For example, from a disciplinary, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective, each author aims at specific theoretical, methodological, and ideological advantages, and specific practical applications. My perspective in this paper is interdisciplinary (anthropological, sociological and philosophical).

From such a perspective, identity is first and foremost an ideological strategy which "symbolises" the antinomic specificity of human condition. Identity symbolises my, your, our, their need for fulfilment as autonomous human beings/entities. On the one hand, there is the need for continuity and belonging, by relating to others, on the basis of some real or imaginary common characteristics (of the species, of the group). On the other hand, there is the need for differentiation, discontinuity, and individuality, on the basis of some real or imaginary unique, individual characteristics. However, difference is...

To continue reading