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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Questions of identity 



Wandering around the Lodo district of Denver is like remembering a past with its imposing warehouses which stored the spoils of intense agricultural and industrial activity. Each of these brick-built buildings now repurposed as loft accommodation with boutiques and smart cafes at ground level bears the fading painted sign of the former proprietor - each an identity lost in time. It seemed like a fitting end to a conference in which identity was often mentioned yet never fully explored. And that set me thinking that apart from developing more powerful theories of identity we need to ask why it so often enters the contemporary discourses of social and cultural theory, of literacy and education research. Is it simply a circulating discourse with no identifiable origin, or is it part of the post-modern condition, a state of affairs where we no longer have religion to tells us who we are, in which we no longer play a part in the grand narratives of the industrial age, where we are no longer embedded in close-knit communities, and increasingly less anchored to time and space? This is the sort of position that Giddens articulates in his conception of late modernity and provides the conditions for the obligation to continuously perform narratives of the self. A considerable amount of the commentary on youth online and analyses of new digital literacy practices appears to provide evidence of this as studies reveal how their participants produce and perform identities in remixes and collages of popular culture. But this sort of activity clearly varies across populations, and in some cases the real identity work is a struggle to enter this world whilst remaining faithful to a more deep-rooted sense of one's social position. For me, the idea of identity and particularly identity and meaning-making remains central, but it seems to invite further interrogation.

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