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Mervyn F.


The crisis of identity in high modernity

ABSTRACT The concept of identity is central to much contemporary sociology, re ecting a crisis that manifests itself in two ways. Firstly, there is a view that identity is both vital and problematic in this period of high modernity. Secondly, while this awareness is re ected in sociology, its accounts of identity are inconsistent, under-theorized and incapable of bearing the analytical load required. As a result, there is an inherent contradiction between a valuing of identity as so fundamental as to be crucial to personal well-being, and a theorization of identity that sees it as something constructed, uid, multiple, impermanent and fragmentary. The contemporary crisis of identity thus expresses itself as both a crisis of society, and a crisis of theory. This paper explores the diverse ways in which identity is deployed before turning to case-studies of its use by Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castells. This strategy demonstrates the widespread and diverse concern with identity before exploring how problematic it has become, even in the work of two of the worlds leading sociologists.

KEYWORDS: Identity; globalization; Giddens; Castells; psychoanalysis


The concept of identity is central to much contemporary sociological analysis. This concern with identity is indicative of a crisis that manifests itself in two ways. Firstly, there is a pervasive sense that the acquisition and maintenance of identity has become both vital and problematic under high modernity. Secondly, while this awareness is re ected in many substantial studies of contemporary society, their accounts of identity var y widely and are often radically under-theorized and incapable of bearing the analytical load that the contemporar y situation requires. This has arisen because of the imperative under globalization to theorize people as possessing identities that are extremely adaptive to social change. As a result, there is an inherent contradiction between a valuing of identity as something so
British Journal of Sociology Vol. No. 53 Issue No. 1 (March 2002) pp. 118 2002 London School of Economics and Political Science ISSN 0007-1315 print/1468-4446 online Published by Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis Ltd on behalf of the LSE DOI: 10.1080/00071310120109302

Mervyn F. Bendle

fundamental that it is crucial to personal well-being and collective action, and a theorization of identity that sees it as something constructed, uid, multiple, impermanent and fragmentar y. The contemporary crisis of identity thus expresses itself as both a crisis of society, and a crisis of theor y. The crisis of identity involves a crisis of identity.


In this section and the next, we shall explore and conceptualize the diverse ways in which identity is deployed, before then turning to in-depth casestudies of two theorists, Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castells, who have made identity central to their analyses of globalization. This strategy enables us to demonstrate the widespread and diverse concern with identity before exploring how problematic it has become even in the work of two of the worlds leading sociologists. A concern with identity has become pervasive since the 1950s and 1960s when Erikson (1968) rst popularized the notion of identity crisis and Goffman (1963) explored stigma as a spoiled identity. From the outset it was a concept with roots in psychoanalysis, psychology and sociology and is now the most widely used concept these days in the social sciences and humanities (Wrong 2000: 10). As Baumeister (1999: 3) points out, this concern with identity re ects a broader social trend in which the individual self has become a fascinating problem, [re ecting] how the self has actually changed in recent histor y to become more dif cult, challenging, and important to explore. In a very in uential study, Gergen (1991: 38) highlights Eriksons remark that in the social jungle of human existence there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity. Consequently, a search of a leading psychological database found over 31,000 items on the self published over two recent decades (Baumeister 1999: 1). This concern increased markedly through the 1980s and 1990s, to include not only individual but also collective forms of identity. Within social theory, issues relating to identity are present throughout Lemerts (1999) collection of readings, especially in the sections relating to recent decades. Gitlin (1995) has shown how identity politics has impacted profoundly on American culture, while Calhoun (1994) has explored their implications for social theor y. Woodward (1997) provides an accessible survey of the crisis of identity at both the individual and collective levels. Wrong (2000) explores the notion of adversarial identities and their relationship to multiculturalism. In Browning, Halci, and Webster (2000), identity is invoked signi cantly in discussions of the role of narrative in society, postmodernity, globalization, intellectuals, nationalism, cultural pluralism, the body, intimacy, social movements, and social inequalities. Identity also has a central position in feminist social theor y (Grif ths 1995), the study of masculinities (Connell 1995), and of youth and adolescence where Baumeister (1996) shows how detraditionalization increases choice

The crisis of identity in high modernity

but problematizes identity formation. McDonald (1999: 203) argues that for many young people marginalized by globalization, their identities can no longer be constructed within the imager y and culture created by producers and employers. Drifting in a post-industrial society and stalled in adolescence, they struggle to establish coherent identities and constructive relationships with others. Their identities are propelled by contradictor y social imperatives which may destroy the unity of the personality (McDonald 1999: 204). Touraine (1997: 81) relates fragmentation and loss of identity to demodernization , while Heelas, Lash and Morris (1996) explore the crisis of identity in terms of the detraditionalization characterizing high modernity. Elliot (1996: 5ff.) explores the ambivalence of identity under postmodernity, while Kayatekin and Riccio (1998: 91) relate these processes to globalization and argue that the partial, fragmented nature of such identities . . . creates the possibility of imagining and participating in projects to change the system. This requires an imagining [of] new ways of living, based on new identities that MacDonald (1999: 218) is optimistic will emerge as marginalized groups respond to globalization. Predictably under high modernity, a major area where there are dual crises of identity and identity is mental health, both in its institutional form and its cultural representations. Increasingly, identities are seen as stalled, with societys rites of passage failing and crucial transitions not being made. Depression, anxiety and stress increase, and identity increasingly breaks down to produce dissociative identity disorder (Kluft and Foote 1999). Central to this disorder is the literal splitting of identity into various parts and pieces (the alters), each displaying a distinct sub-personality. (Stone 1998: 330). In turn, this notion that identity can break down into sinister alters has spread throughout culture and the idea of a second self of a horrible other living unrecognized within us, or loosed somehow into the world beyond is central to the vision of [contemporary] Gothic (Edmundson 1997: 8). In this fashion, the sense of uncertainty detected in the external world of the risk society is directed inwards to create a sense of an unstable and untrustworthy self. This interrelatedness of representations of identity in mental health and popular culture is a feature of modernity. As Gauchet and Swain (1999) show, psychiatry in the early nineteenth centur y sought to provide the insane with the sense of personal identity that would incorporate them into the individualist society that was emerging. Similarly, Stone (1998), Hacking (1998) and Prager (1998) demonstrate that identity and identity are constructions linked, psychologically, with memory in complex and unpredictable ways; and historically, with the rise of discourses of pathology and institutional structures that make the relevant diagnoses possible. In high modernity this is exempli ed by the politics of victimhood pursued in the confessional mode, itself an ironic reversal of Goffmans theor y of stigma, so that ones hidden injur y becomes the ground for a claim of valued identity. Identity can be claimed . . . only to the extent that it can be represented as denied, repressed, injured or excluded by others (Rose 1999: 268, emph.add.).

Mervyn F. Bendle

Elsewhere, Valverde (1999 345) describes how politics in the USA is conducted largely in identity-based claims . . . Marginalized groups [deploying] experiential and historical knowledges of oppressed identities to further their claims. Appiah and Gates (1995: 1) address the formation of identities and the problem of subjectivities, within a politics of identity involving multiple intersections of race, class, and gender [with] postcolonialism, nationalism, and ethnicity. Within such social ux, identity is discussed in terms of hybridity, double consciousness and subalternity (Moreiras 1999). Bauman (1992) has addressed similar issues in terms of soil, blood, and identity, while the global dimensions of a crisis of identity are described elsewhere as a social fact arising from the collapse of the Western Imperium and the subsequent collapse of its well-exercised theory of world culture (Lemert 1997: 125). Friedman (1994) also relates the formation of identities to globalization, with the histor y of identities recapitulating the histor y of capitalisms global conquests. This history in turn has produced various diasporas, for which the construction of viable identities is a fundamental issue. Indeed displacement, ight, exile and forced migration . . . transform the terms in which identity needs to be understood(Gilroy 1997: 329). These dynamics nd their re ection at the level of histor y and theor y. For Friedman (1994: 85), history is the history of identity, [and] the question of who owns or appropriates the past is a question of who is able to identify him- or herself and the other at a given time and place. Connell (1997) makes a similar point in his critique of the formation of the reigning canon of classical social theory, arguing that its foregrounding of certain European theorists and their preoccupations with aspects of industrial society systematically undervalues the signi cance of the identity politics of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity in the reconstruction of the discipline within the framework of global imperialism, of which institutionalized sociology has been an important bene ciar y.


There is an obvious need to bring some order to this variety of applications of the concept of identity, but is there a crisis here, and if there is, should it concern sociology or is it just a problem for psychoanalysis and psychology? Indeed there is a crisis, and it must concern sociology because analysis in these various areas is profoundly weakened by an excessive and uncritical reliance on what has become a politicized, residual and undertheorized concept. In fact this variety and imprecision is in itself an important component of the problem. As Gilroy (2000: 98) puts it: the new popularity of identity as an interpretative device is . . . a result of the exceptional plurality of meanings the term can harness. Politically, the ability to de ne identity in a exible fashion makes it possible for groups to carry out essential gate-keeping functions, regulating their membership and

The crisis of identity in high modernity

position in the political eld. Moreover, its under-theorized and received position in discourse also means that people can invoke identity in a positive and compelling fashion without being required to specify adequately the meaning they attach to the term, its theoretical provenance, ideological commitments, or the source of its positive valorization. And where it is theorized, it is generally in terms of the tradition of American egopsychology that has become fundamentally problematic, as we shall see below in the cases of Giddens and Castells. There we will demonstrate that it is not possible to simply treat identity unproblematically as a received concept from psychoanalysis or psychology it has become far too integral to sociological analysis and therefore requires adequate critical analysis and theorization. This is particularly the case as identity and globalization increasingly play their roles as the organizing polarities of social analysis under high modernity. While it is not possible here systematically to state the theories of identity that underlie all the works cited above, they all generally occupy the conceptual space de ned by the opposition between constructionism, which is valorized, and essentialism, which is devalorized, and this re ects a prior belief that the former leads to progressive social outcomes while the latter reinforces oppression. It also facilitates a theorization of humanity as endlessly adaptive and plastic. The dominance of constructionism can be seen in a recent text (Finnegan 1997) that provides a convenient summar y of how identity is variously analysed in the social science literature. Suitably modi ed to encompass the literature reviewed here, this indicates that identity may be seen: (1) In terms of similarity and difference involving social, racial, ethnic or gender categories; (2) In contextual terms that var y with ones social situation, providing a multifaceted experience; (3) In cultural categories re ecting contemporar y conceptions of identity; (4) In terms of ones subjective sense of self, possibly based on notions of an inner life; (5) In terms of the social performance of self-hood; (6) In terms of narratives of the self , understood as stories one tells oneself about who one is; (7) In psychoanalytic terms, where identity and the self are felt to be constrained by unconscious structures of the mind. All but the last are generally constructionist in commitment, and even psychoanalysis is deployed in a constructionist manner by theorists like Judith Butler. The various approaches to identity can also be seen in terms of depth or surface models of analysis. At the level of the individual, identity is synonymous with the core of personhood with which the actor is endowed. This core may be conceived literally as a deeply embedded, foundational and de ning characteristic, or (more usually now) as something rather more super cial, plastic and manipulable the rst view would be characterized as essentialist and the second as constructionist. Extreme versions of constructionism, associated with post-structuralism and postmodernism, reject the notion of a core altogether and see identity as entirely a product of discourse and as inherently fragmented, multiple and transient. Here,

Mervyn F. Bendle

the exemplars are Michel Foucault or, more recently, Butler, whose performative theory of gender formation underpins much contemporary identity politics. Interestingly, a signi cant reaction to this is presently emerging from the Lacanian left, which reasserts precisely the irreducibility of the core or kernel constituted by Lacans notion of the Real (Zizek 1999). Historically, the current crisis of identity may be related to four problems of the self that characterize high modernity: (1) The problematizing of selfknowledge: whereas in the pre-modern period the self had been regarded as transparent and rather uninteresting, by the turn of the twentieth century the self was viewed as a vast inner continent that could only be explored with considerable dif culty and possibly with expert help (e.g., in psychoanalysis) (Baumeister1999: 3); (2). The valorization of human potential: modern secularization placed a high priority on achieving selfrealization in this world, rather than being satis ed with waiting for the next; (3) The breakdown of hierarchies, the rise of individualism and social mobility, and the potential for radical social change all provided access to new identities to be pursued in this world; (4) A new exibility of self-de nition: whereas identity had previously been de ned in terms of rigid and predictable social structures and processes, their decline meant that identity and its de nition must be based on shifting and non-absolute foundations. Taken together, this range of complex, interrelated issues illustrates the conceptual burden that is being carried by the term identity, and why arguments uncritically built upon it are problematic. This situation is exacerbated because originally the notion of identity explicitly contained the idea of subsisting self-sameness. Consequently, models that emphasize an almost unlimited degree of fragmentation, uidity and plasticity of the self are in tension with this core notion, an issue which Erikson himself recognized right from the outset as corrosive of this entire approach to understanding the self, as we shall see below.


Some impressive efforts have been made systematically to incorporate theories of identity into comprehensive analyses of contemporar y society. In this section we shall explore several prominent accounts that reveal both the strengths and weaknesses presently found in contemporary theorizations of identity, particularly where it plays a major role in the analysis of globalization. Several of the major notions of identity noted above are integral to the sociology of Giddens (1991: 32) and his analysis of risk society in the period of high modernity: transformations in self-identity and globalization . . . are the two poles of the dialectic of the local and the global in conditions of high modernity. Indeed, identity is central to Giddens

The crisis of identity in high modernity

theor y of individuation, re exive modernization and the emergence of post-traditional societies embedded within a global system. According to Giddens (1991: 5): The more tradition loses its hold, and the more daily life is reconstituted in terms of the dialectical interplay of the local and the global, the more individuals are forced to negotiate lifestyle choices [from] among a diversity of options. In this fashion, re exively organized lifeplanning . . . becomes a central feature of the structuring of self-identity (ibid.). This prospective stance towards ones life is accompanied by an ongoing or retrospective narrative of the self understood as those stories by means of which self-identity is re exively understood (Giddens 1991: 242). Self-identity, in turn, is the self as re exively understood by the individual in terms of his or her biography (Giddens 1991: 244). Central to Giddenss notion of self-identity is trust, which relieves sustains a sense of ontological security in the face of the chaos that threatens on the other side of the ordinariness of everyday conventions (Giddens 1991: 37). This trust delivers an empowering con dence in the continuity of the self, the reliability of others, and in the surrounding social environment. In this area, Giddens (1991: 38) draws on ideas from the egopsychology associated with Erikson identitys architect (Friedman: 1999) and the object relations theor y of Winnicott to argue that what they call basic trust forms the original nexus from which a combined emotive-cognitive orientation towards others, the object-world, and selfidentity, emerges. The essential period is childhood, when the child receives a sort of emotional inoculation against existential anxieties, relating to future threats and dangers (Giddens 1991: 39). A stable self-identity is established as the basis for ongoing interaction in a constantly changing and unpredictable world. Where self-identity falls into crisis through illness, deviance, anxiety or alienation, high modernity relies upon the intervention of expert systems of trained professionals. This in turn involves the sequestration of experience by these expert systems as individuals and civil society lose the capacity, possessed by traditional societies, to deal with such crises. In this fashion, society is disempowered and deskilled in vital areas of intimate life and the acquisition and maintenance of identity becomes both increasingly problematic and the preserve of external and impersonal expert systems. Other analysts have called this apparatus of identity management the psy-complex, de ned as a institutional and discursive network of speculations about the behaviour and mental states of individuals and as a range of attempts to regulate how people behave and think (Parker 1997: 123). In a related analysis, Lash distinguishes between the construction of identities in the simple modernity of earlier periods and the re exive modernity of the present time. Whereas social actors in the former come under the sway of pre-given rules sourced in social institutions, this is no longer possible in re exive modernity. People must live with the risk . . . ambivalence and contingency [that] is forced upon us with the relative decline of institutions and organizations in this age of re exive

Mervyn F. Bendle

judgement, and consequently, individuals must nd the rules to use to encounter speci c situations. They must innovate rules in a bricolage of their own identities (Lash 1999: 3). By invoking Levi-Strausss notion of bricolage, Lash is suggesting that identities are constructed in a pragmatic fashion out of whatever material lies at hand. Rather than being something arrived at in a predetermined way and then sustained, identity becomes an ongoing project of construction, change and development. Upon what psychological substrate such a transient construction rests and how it mobilizes the energies that are observably necessary to maintain an integrated personality in dynamic conditions of social change is not explained. Lash offers a similar analysis in a major study of the various aspects of detraditionalization in high modernity (Heelas, Lash and Morris 1996). There, identity appears many times as a key component of the social dynamics discussed by the various authors. For example, as Heelas (1996: 4) explains, in traditional societies those who attempt to speak out-of-place are invalidated: Identities are inscribed, rather than being at stake for discursive controversy. Indeed, the authorial taken-for-grantedness of identities precludes . . . questioning those discourses which serve to legitimate the order of things. In a detraditionalized society, however, identity is constructed under the conditions of re exivity, where people have acquired the opportunity to stand back from, critically re ect upon, and lose their faith in what the traditional has to offer (ibid.). In this type of analysis, the emphasis shifts in the theorization of identity: identity is no longer seen as involving the self s non-re ective and unquestioning inscription within a tradition; rather it is seen in terms of the self s acquisition of a re ective and critical capacity not only with respect to the particular prevailing tradition, but to all traditions. It involves a shift from the non-re ective, passive level of acceptance and acquiescence to the meta-level of active re exivity and critique. Again, what exactly it is that shifts, or forms the substrate upon which the shift takes place is left unclear. As with Giddens, identity forms one of the organizing polarities of Castells (1997: 1) analysis of the Information Age: our world, and our lives, are being shaped by the con icting trends of globalization and identity. On one hand, we have the network society, generated by technological revolution, the transformation of capitalism, and the demise of statism; and characterized by exibility and instability of work, individualization of labour, network forms of organization, a culture of real virtuality based on complex media systems, transformed material foundations of life, space and time, and the rise of new cosmopolitan ruling elites. On the other hand, Castells (1997: 2) believes that this profound transformation is being powerfully challenged by the widespread surge of powerful expressions of collective identity, be they gender, religious, national, ethnic, territorial, or socio-biological identities. These identities are multiple, highly diversi ed, following the contours of each culture, and of historical sources of formation of each identity. They may be progressive or reactionary, and increasingly make use of the media and telecommunications

The crisis of identity in high modernity

systems. Overall, these identities challenge globalization and cosmopolitanism on behalf of cultural singularity and peoples control over their lives and environment (Castells 1997: 2). Castells model of identity postulates an individual constituted by a primary identity that is self-sustaining across time and space and that organizes subsidiar y identities and social roles according to criteria of meaning. Apart from Erikson and ego-psychology, Castells (1997: 7) cites Calhoun (1994) to the effect that self-knowledge is always a construction made in encounter with others, and invokes Giddens (1991) to claim that identities are sources of meaning for the actors themselves, and by themselves, constructed through a process of individuation. Individual identity is constructed on the basis of cultural attributes that are given priority over other sources of meaning by the actor herself, and while dominant social institutions and social roles may be primar y sources of meaning, they only form part of an individuals identity when and if social actors internalize them, and construct their meaning around this internalization. Identity is therefore seen as an active process of construction, and Castells (1997: 7) de nes meaning as the symbolic identi cation by a social actor of the purpose of her/his action. This echoes Lashs bricolage of identities. However, the particular form any identity might take is a question of power relationships and Castells speci es three main types: legitimizing identity, which supports systems of domination; resistance identity, which re ects the struggles of those marginalized by those systems; and project identity, which involves the construction of new identities that imply the transformation of the overall social structure. These three types of identity give rise to three corresponding modes of collectivity: respectively, civil society composed of the market and its legitimizing institutions; communities formed through collective resistance to marginalization by market processes; and subjects, which seek to stand outside of markets and communities, while constituting the collective social actor through which individuals reach holistic meaning in their experience. (Castells 1997: 10) Subjects, in this sense, are committed to the project of social transformation rather than just resistance. In these two sets of triads, the related notions of project identity and the transformative subject appear as the superior forms emerging out of the others, with their precise relationships re ecting the prevailing level of social development. At present, the second form of collective identity formation, community, is the most important. Indeed, it is the central hypothesis of his book that the constitution of subjects, at the heart of the process of social change, takes a different route to the one we knew during modernity, and late modernity: namely, subjects, if and when constructed, are not built any longer on the basis of civil societies, that are in the process of disintegration, but as prolongation of communal resistance, to globalization (Castells 1997: 11). In this fashion, Castells is proposing a radical communitarian politics of identity as the path towards full subjecthood, and the remainder of his book is an attempt to explore this possibility in its


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various guises, including guerilla movements, militias, religious cults, environmentalism, gay rights and feminism. Castellss model shares much with the analyses of Touraine and Dubet, particularly with respect to the third ideal type of identity formation that of project identity which is presented as emerging most forcefully in the face of considerable adversity. As McDonald (1999: 210) puts it, such a sense of identity seems to be most powerfully present when expressed as an experience of suffering or the inability to make sense of identity. It is found among groups who are dominated and for whom subjective experience is a problem more than a resource [and where] there is a struggle for subjectivation that points to a recomposition of the social world, around more progressive principles of social life. One detects in this type of formulation an echo of the utopian Marxist notion of a revolutionar y workingclass consciousness emerging out of a shared experience of group identity, commonality of interests, exploitation and suffering. Absent however, is the crucial historicism of Marxism, which links revolution and liberation with the internal dynamics of history and reason. Instead, there is a voluntarism operating at two levels: at the level of the individual constructing the relevant identity; and at the aggregate level of individuals working together to achieve change. There is also a strong element of romanticism in these theories of identity, a belief that oppression, struggle and resistance can lead to personal growth and empowerment; as we shall see in a moment, psychoanalysis suggests a more sombre outcome.


We turn now from a critical review of these representative modernist theories of identity to some further critical comments about them that are best treated together. Giddenss (1991 35), position is resolutely rationalistic and while identity can be seen as plastic and uid, the self may be exhaustively de ned in terms of cognition and re exivity: to be a human being is to know . . . both what one is doing and why one is doing it . . . Re exive awareness . . . is characteristic of all human action . . . agents are normally able, if asked, to provide discursive interpretations of the nature of, and the reasons for, the behaviour in which they engage. Although this generally accords with the cognitive revolution in psychology and narrativist theories of identity construction, it is essentially a retreat to a Cartesian view of the self that was undermined not just by psychoanalysis, but also by Nietzsche and major streams of modern philosophy, both analytical and continental, and by important streams of psychology. It is also inconsistent with our growing knowledge of the role of the emotions (Elster: 1999) and the historical experience of the twentieth century, which gives abundant evidence of the power of non-rational forces (Glover: 1999). Giddenss model also represents a major shift away from classical sociological theories of identity formation. To adopt a Durkheimian

The crisis of identity in high modernity


formulation for the purposes of illustration, the traditional personality was embedded in a comprehensive system of collective expectations about behaviour within a closed system of mechanical solidarity. The modern personality, on the other hand, is embedded in a shared system of norms and values which guide decision-making in an open system of organic solidarity and conditions of ongoing change and increasing complexity. Both these models place a strong emphasis on socialization and the reproduction of the social system. Giddenss alternative model assumes that the primary determinants of behaviour are neither social institutions, traditional expectations nor shared systems of norms, but rather information derived from the environment by the actor and processed according to rules of calculation, instrumental rationality, strategic assessment of constraints and opportunities, and risk management under uncertainty. This seems a signi cant retreat for sociology, and by marginalizing traditional sociological approaches, this model of the re exive strategic actor is easily accommodated within the ideology of the new mode of social management, identi ed by Touraine, where strategy and exibility replace norms and function (McDonald 1999: 208). Although Castells claims to be concerned with collective rather than individual identity, his formulation derives much from Erikson. This is signi cant because Erikson (1968: 22) always insisted on the central conception of identity theor y that identity is a process located in the core of the individual and yet also in the core of his communal culture. Erikson recognized the essential need for a subjective sense of continuous existence and a coherent memory, without which a persons self is profoundly weakened and easily threatened. Moreover, this sense of identity accrues from birth and especially in the second and third decades, providing the individual with bedrock con dence that somehow in the midst of change one is; that is, one has an inner sameness and continuity which others can recognize and which is so certain that it can unselfconsciously be taken for granted (Coles 1970: 165). This conception of the continuing self-sameness of identity is central to this entire stream of thought, as Yankelovich and Barrett (1971: 126) make clear: Whenever Erikson discusses identity he makes . . . reference to this meaning a persons sense of sameness and continuity. At the very least, Castells and those who follow this approach would need to show how the various social movements discussed (e.g., militias, cults, environmentalism, feminism, gay liberation, etc.) impact upon this process of intergenerational identity formation in a manner that supports the progressive outcomes they favours. This is a very good example of how sociology cannot uncritically appropriate key terms from psychoanalysis or psychology without the risk of importing fundamental dif culties into their analysis. Indeed, it is not clear that an adequate awareness of the constraints associated with the vital integrative and existentially constitutive role played by the presence of a stable core identity exists in the work of Castells, Giddens, or the many other writers cited above who assume an optimistic view of the self s


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capacity to adapt to the challenges posed by globalization and its effects. Indeed, they tend to assume an extreme plasticity of the self that dissolves any real conception that there exists an ongoing core or substrate to the personality at all; identity becomes an elastic categor y that can be made to accommodate whatever requirements the overall argument demands of it. Indeed, identity or identities are taken fully to constitute the self, which therefore has no real presence nor inhers in any thing other than these transient and uid identities. This becomes a particularly important issue when identity is theorized to be fragmented and multiple and the question arises as to what sustains a continuity of self in a world where such continuity is increasingly imperative. Such constructionism is a strength in so far as it avoids pessimism about the intractability of social problems and provides for maximum human adaptation and hope for the future. However, it utilizes a very shallow and under-theorized model of the human personality that radically generalizes the notion of identity, dissipates its analytical power and is particularly weakened by the absence of an adequate depth psychology with its alertness to profound and possibly intractable psychic con icts with important implications for the identities concerned. Indeed, the constructionist tendency to relieve identity of any suggestion of essentialism and to make it uid and multiple leaves us without a rationale for talking about identities at all and ill-equipped to examine the hard dynamics and essentialist claims of contemporary identity politics . . . if identity is ever ywhere, it is nowhere(Brubaker and Cooper (2000: 1). By allowing the term to become generalized and imprecise, it loses all conceptual power. A further point arises. In succumbing to this lack of theoretical rigour and choosing to ignore the potential existence of deeply embedded, possibly repressed or unconscious constraints on psychological and social adaptation, these theories re ect the nal decay of the ego-psychology that has signi cantly in uenced their development. This tradition developed primarily in the USA under the in uence of Anna Freud, Heinz Hartmann and then Erikson and modi ed the psychoanalytic model by maintaining that the ego could become autonomous and equivalent to the id in the determination of behaviour. It also postulated that the ego possessed a degree of freedom from psychic con ict that made rational adaptation to the environment possible without disabling disturbance from irrational psychic forces. Whereas psychoanalysis had previously emphasized the dif culties that the ego faces in attempting to minimize anxiety in the face of ongoing psychic con ict, ego-psychology asserted the egos capacity freely to adapt to internal and external challenges. The goal of therapy therefore became the attainment of a strong, healthy, well-adapted ego, ignoring the psychoanalytic insight that such an ideal view of the ego is in effect a form of narcissism. This position contrasts with the European tradition of thinking in this eld, which re ected a vastly different experience of modernity throughout the twentieth centur y to that which prevailed in post-war America and is much more likely to conceive of the self in terms

The crisis of identity in high modernity


of con ict and tendencies towards fragmentation. Rather than viewing identity as a comparatively unproblematic project of adaptation to social change, the original psychoanalytic tradition is alert to the trauma of social change: Sensitized to the ravages of weak and threatened egos [it] sees identity in this sense as a tremendous achievement made horribly clear in those who lack it (Yankelovich and Barrett 1971: 126). Possibly the most in uential critique of ego-psychology was that undertaken throughout his career by Lacan, who saw it as the antithesis of true psychoanalysis. Indeed Lacans own position and the in uence he has had not only within psychoanalysis and other elds but within postmodernism and post-structuralism generally cannot properly be understood in isolation from the ego-psychology that he so vehemently attacked. In particular, Lacans criticized ego-psychology because its stress on the egos adaptive function overlooks the egos own state of alienation and also relies on the assumption that reality itself is an unproblematic realm to which adaptation can be made. In fact, for Lacan following Hegel on this point reality is substantially a product of the egos own projections and misrepresentations. As Lacan (1977: 236) points out: it is hardly a question of adapting to [reality], but to show that [the ego] is only too well adapted [already], since it assists in the construction of that ver y reality. Moreover, Lacan emphasized the extent to which the self and reality are not natural entities but products of the symbolic order, are consequently radically de-natured, and therefore lack any natural t that can be legitimately pursued through therapy. Indeed, if this situation is ignored and adaptation is nevertheless pursued then the therapist is placed in a dif cult position in which her own vision and relation to reality is accepted as given. The same point could be made mutatis mutandis with respect to sociology, especially those analyses that regard detraditionalization and globalization as unproblematic, natural developments within human histor y to which people unproblematically can adapt. Much of the sociology discussed here could even be seen as a projection of fantasies about the nature of the world and the self that are taken as realities. In Lacanian terms, the boundaryless nature of globalist expansion and the radically unproblematic plastic self are prime expressions of the imaginar y psychic register. Of the sociological theorists discussed here, Giddens makes the best effort to relate his analyses to leading psychological and psychoanalytic work in this area, and so the problems that exist there exemplify the depth of the problems that exist generally in the sociological use of identity. Giddens wants his model of the self to possess a ready capacity for adaptation to large-scale external change and therefore gives little recognition to the constraining signi cance of internal psychological con ict and ambivalence. Indeed, he recognizes no signi cant role for the unconscious at all, at least as it is understood within the psychoanalytic tradition. Instead, Giddens (1984: 41) offers his strati cation model of the mind as consisting of a basic security system, practical and discursive consciousness.


Mervyn F. Bendle

Indeed, Giddens (1984: 42) concluded that the psychoanalytic structure of id, ego, and super-ego, does not make sense, because he (mistakenly) takes this to imply multiple forms of agency within the consciousness of the self. Instead, he offers his own conception of personality structure: The I is an essential feature of the re exive monitoring of action but should be identi ed neither with the agent nor with the self. By the agent or actor I mean the overall human subject located within the corporeal time-space of the living organism. The I has no image, as the self does. The self, however, is not some kind of mini-agency within the agent. It is the sum of those forms of recall whereby the agent re exively characterizes what is at the origin of his or her action. The self is the agent as characterized by the agent. (Giddens 1991: 4951) This is good example of the loss of theoretical rigour that characterizes contemporary discussions of identity. We nd in this one short passage the following notions: the I, the agent (and mini-agency), the actor, the overall human subject, the living organism, the image, and the self all bound together through the operation of re exivity. It is therefore dif cult here to resist Mestrovics (1998: 83) claim that Giddens alternative to Freud is completely vague and amounts to a cognitive, rationalist caricature of the agent [that constitutes] an ideological catch-all, an idealized vision of human empowerment, which ignores the limitations to such empowerment identi ed painstakingly over many decades by the psychoanalytic and other traditions that are prepared to explore the depths of the self. In his use of psychoanalysis, Giddens draws not only on ego-psychology but also on Winnicotts object relations theor y to discuss ontological security and existential anxiety in his major work on identity (Giddens 1991: 35ff.). However, he tends to mis-state or downplay considerably the implications of the theories that he invokes. In fact, Winnicott had begun his psychoanalytic career as a follower of Melanie Klein, who was his supervisor. Kleins view of the human person had moved a long way from Freuds, to invoke a dark vision of the mind as beset with deep, psychoticlike terrors, as unstable, dynamic, and uid, and as always responsive to deep analytic interpretations (Mitchell and Black 1995: 88). She developed her own system in terms of what she called the paranoidschizoid position, which arises in the earliest years and serves to protect the self from anxiety and fear of malevalent invasion and violation by splitting the self and the world into good and bad segments. For Klein, the main problem of life is managing paranoid anxieties that ones ver y existence is endangered. Although Winnicott moved away from Klein, his own system never shed this emphasis on the intractably tragic dimension of the human person. He focused on the type of psychopathology he called false self disorder, in which the person is torn by internal con ict, beset by anxiety and guilt, and lacks a sustaining sense of self. Like Klein, he emphasized that the earliest years are absolutely critical if this tendency is to be overcome and crucial here is the quality of mothering provided. Maternal failure

The crisis of identity in high modernity


creates a lacuna in the childs psychological development from which it can never fully recover and which expresses itself in a split between the true and false self that cannot be reconciled lack of integration and discontinuity of experience come to characterize life. Signi cantly, in this model there is no romantic valorization of such psychic fragmentation. Despite Giddenss invocation of this type of psychoanalytical theory, it is actually quite a distance away from his own position, with its underlying optimism and expectation that human beings can adapt readily to radical social change. In this he parallels Castells situation described above. As Elliot (1994: 74) summarizes his assessment of Giddens work in this area: Giddenss whole vocabulary of self-organization . . . has a ver y different intent from that proposed in object relations theory. Whereas Giddens regards the construction of an ongoing, stable identity as a relatively unproblematic undertaking, psychoanalytic theor y, including object relations theory, has always problematized all such notions that the self can be normalized like this. While the psychoanalytic tradition stresses the deeply rooted fragmented nature of self-experience and the self s profound underlying anxiety and dread at the threat of dissolution and engulfment, Giddens pays little real heed, and sees such issues merely metaphorically in terms of emotional innoculation and protective cocoon (Giddens 1991: 39,40). Object relations theory follows psychoanalysis generally in focusing on the most intimate areas of human life, which are seen as pivotal for the healthy development of human identity. These continue to be only partially understood and many of their most critical dynamics may be far more intractable to radical change than advocates of globalization might like. Again Giddenss problem parallels that of Castells, and needs fully to confront the implications that object relations theory which, after all, he himself invokes has for the complexities of child-rearing and identity formation under globalization. That theory emphasizes above all else the profoundly important role for healthy mental development played by parents and expecially mothers in child-rearing can this role really be taken up by caretakers in a globalized society? (Giddens 1991: 39) And is the psychological cost worth paying if the only results are low-paid, insecure jobs in a global labour force? As Elliot (1994: 75) concludes: Giddenss theor y pays too little attention to the ways in which social systems of modernity dis gure and warp the unconscious constitution of the self. Finally, in addition to these problems produced by an insuf ciently critical appropriation and application of psychoanalytical theories in sociology, there is the underlying issue of the historicity of identity itself, a problem that sociology, with its sophisticated theories of discourse and ideology should be alert to. In fact, identity is a cultural and historical artifact peculiar to Western modernity and re ecting underlying processes of social change. As Baumeister (1986) shows, identity only became a major issue in Western societies from around 1800, in the shadow of the Enlightenment, the Industrial and Democratic Revolutions, the decline of feudalism, the


Mervyn F. Bendle

erosion of religious authority and the rise of Romanticism. The underlying value consensus of society was disintegrating and it became increasingly incumbent on the individual herself to fashion an integrating worldview. What was required was a model of the self that provided a sense of continuous personal self-sameness over time while allowing for adaptation to rapid social change and differentiation. Modernity destabilized and delegitimized existing external social structures: factors that underpinned a sense of continuity (geography, community, employment, class, etc.) were destabilized; whilst those that had provided a sense of differentiation (ancestry, social rank, gender, moral virtue, religion, etc.) were delegitimized. This process intensi ed during the twentieth century and was exacerbated by the apparently irresistible expansion of postwar capitalism and consumerism. Modernity produced a mass middle class whose sudden af uence outpaced the social, cultural and psychological preparations that might normally have been expected to precede its formation, creating a crisis of identity for a vast section of society. Subsequently, there has been a hyper-differentiation under high modernity and globalization that makes a stable identity even more desperately sought after and more dif cult to achieve. It was also within this context that Erikson rose to great prominence, ranking with Anna Freud and Heinz Hartmann in a 1966 poll as one of the three most outstanding psychiatrists or psychoanalysts of their time a result notable for their shared commitment to ego-psychology and the problem of the continuing I . . . which has now become so acute for psychoanalysis as well as for our civilization as a whole (Yankelovich and Barrett 1971: 14). It is therefore a fact of some signi cance for the assessment of the theories of identity of Giddens, Castells, etc., that Eriksons status quickly declined after this high point of in uence in the 1960s (Friedman 1999). Critiques came from various quarters: Marxists and other radicals attacked ego-psychologys simplistic political understanding and its assumption that adaptation to society was a worthy goal; psychoanalysts from other schools systematically attacked ego-psychologys theoretical foundations; feminists detected gender bias; Eriksons interdisciplinar y approach exposed him to claims that his work lacked rigour; and there was a general shift towards neuroscience and psycho-pharmacology in the study and treatment of mental illness. This situation was then compounded by the in uence of Foucault and Lacan and the rise of poststructuralist and postmodern theories of the identity that emphasized uidity, fragmentation and multiplicity. Consequently, as we have seen above, by the 1990s the concept of identity had become so variegated that it was crippled by a lack of conceptual rigour. As Baumeister (1986: 265) concluded his study of the histor y of the concept of identity: a nal reason for the problematic nature of identity can . . . be suggested. Identity is a theory of the self associated with an inadequate contextual framework and with a concept that injudiciously blends reality and unreality.

The crisis of identity in high modernity



Giddens and Castells identify identity and globalization as twin organizing polarities of contemporary social analysis. Both conceptual poles must be adequately theorized if this analysis is to progress. This imposes an inescapable obligation on sociology to theorize adequately the most intimate dynamics of the self. It is not necessary to assume that the problems with identity discussed here indicate that the theories cited are fundamentally awed. What would indicate this, however, would be signs that identity in the modern world is not at all as unproblematic as their arguments insist. In fact, as we have seen in this paper and know from protests and internecine violence around the world, this appears to be precisely the case. Indeed, the present stage of high modernity is characterized not only by an increasing tension between the demands on the self made by globalization and the capacity of the self to respond to them, but also by critical imprecision and indeterminancy in sociological analyses of the situation. An adequate response requires that critical and uncompromising analysis be conducted at the interface of sociology with the key underlying models of identity derived from constructionism, psychoanalysis and psychology. This paper has sought to both establish this imperative and initiate such analysis. (Date accepted: July 2001) Mervyn F. Bendle Department of Sociology James Cook University


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