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15 June 2006 Southlands College, Roehampton University, London CRONEM Conference on Multicultural Britain: From Anti-Racism to Identity Politics to …? Multiculturalism without Essentialism: Stuart Hall, Homi Bhabha and Amartya Sen. Toru Yamamori [University of Cambridge]. Purpose

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15 June 2006Southlands College, Roehampton University, LondonCRONEM Conference on Multicultural Britain:From Anti-Racism to Identity Politics to …?Multiculturalism without Essentialism:Stuart Hall, Homi Bhabha and Amartya Sen

Toru Yamamori

[University of Cambridge]


To demonstrate the unique combination of theoretical standpoints within Sen’s theory of multiculturalism

Ethical level : Liberalism

Ontological level : Non-essentialism

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Sen on Identity

ethics and ontology

  • 3. Liberalism on Identity


  • 4. Cultural / Post-Colonial Theories on Identity


  • 5.Concluding Remarks
2 sen on identity
2. Sen on Identity
  • 1970s and 1980s : Introduced the ‘epistemic’ use of identity in the field of economics
  • 1990s - present : Critical of the ‘ethical’ use of identity in political philosophy and the real world

(‘beyond identity’)

Clarifying the ‘ontology’ of identity

(‘plurality and choice of identity’)

plural identity

being an Indian and being an economist

being an Indian and being a Caribbean

versus communitarians (C.Taylor and M.Sandel) and S. Huntington

identity choice

constraints on choice

internal and external identity

there remains substantial choice at the level of internal identity

Versus communitarians (C.Taylor and M.Sandel)

beyond identity

an ‘epistemic’ use of identity: “trying to know what others feel and what they see by placing oneself in the position of others” (‘impartial spectators’)

an ‘ethical’ use of identity: “counting them as if they were the same as oneself” (‘identity-based reasoning/morality’)

Justice beyond national identity

plurality, choice and transcendence

3 liberalism on identity
3. Liberalism on identity

Kymlicka justifies privileging national identity on three grounds:

(1) The first reason is normative:

“The freedom which liberals demand for individuals is not primarily the freedom to go beyond one’s language and history, but rather the freedom to move around within one’s societal culture, to distance oneself from particular cultural roles, to choose which features of the culture are most worth developing, and which are without value.” (p.91-92)

(2) The second reason comes from the intellectual history of liberalism. Kymlicka argues that almost all of liberalist thought from J.S. Mill to J. Rawls presupposes, implicitly or explicitly, a nation as a unit where individual freedom is considered and guaranteed (ch. 4).
(3) The third reason is an empirical fact which Kymlicka alleges.

“[T]he liberal ideal is a society of free and equal individuals. But what is the relevant ‘society’? For most people it seems to be their nation. The sort of freedom and equality they most value, and can make most use of, is freedom and equality within their own societal culture. And they are willing to forgo a wider freedom and equality to ensure the continued existence of their nation.” (p.93)

figure 1 ethics and ontology on identity in liberalism and communitarianism
Figure 1: ethics and ontology on identity in liberalism and communitarianism
4 cultural post colonial theories on identity
4. Cultural / post-colonial theories on identity
  • essentialism:

“the assumption that groups, categories or classes of objects have one or several defining features exclusive to all members of that category” (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin (eds.) 2000, p.77)

  • Edward Said’s Orientalism
4 1 three claims of non or anti essentialism
4.1. Three claims of non- (or anti-) essentialism
  • non-essentialism of nation and ethnicity
  • non-essentialism of identity

(social constructionism 1)

  • non-essentialism of any notion

(social constructionism 2)

non-essentialism of identity

(S. Hall and H. Bhabha)

“The subject assumes different identities at different times, identities which are not unified around a coherent ‘self’. Within us are contradictory identities, pulling in different directions so that our identifications are continuously being shifted about. ……The fully unified, completed, secure and coherent identity is a fantasy. ……[W]e are confronted by a bewildering, fleeting multiplicity of possible identities, any one of which we could identify with – at least temporarily.” (Hall 1992, p.277)

(1) non-essentialism of nation and ethnicity
  • (2) non-essentialism

of identity

(including (1))

  • (3) non-essentialism

of any notion

(including (1) &(2))

4 2 commonalities and differences between sen and hall bhabha
4.2. Commonalities and differences between Sen and Hall / Bhabha
  • plurality

historical or ahistorical?

  • choice

collective and individual

repetitive process

“Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production’, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.” (Hall, 1990, p.51)
“this is the moment when the term ‘black’ was coined as a way of referencing the common experience of racism and marginalization in Britain and came to provide the organizing category of a new politics of resistance, among groups and communities with, in fact, very different histories, traditions and ethnic identities. In this moment, politically speaking, ‘the black experience’, as a singular and unifying framework based on the building up of identity across ethnic and cultural difference between the different communities, became ‘hegemonic’ over other ethnic / racial identities – though the latter did not, of course, disappear.” (Hall 1987b, p.163-164)
5 concluding remarks
5. Concluding remarks

nothing new added here

Ethical level : Liberalism

Ontological level : Non-essentialism (Constructionism) of identity

This is the purpose and a new insight of this paper

Cultural / post-colonial studies FOR Sen

Identity and agency

Identity claims are political manipulations of people who seem to share one characteristic and therefore it is a sort of roll-call concept. Now it seems to me that agency relates to accountable reason. The idea of agency comes from the principle of accountable reason, that one acts with responsibility, that one has to assume the possibility of intention, one has to assume even the freedom of subjectivity in order to be responsible. That's where agency is located. (Spivak 1993, p.294)

Sen FOR cultural / post-colonial studies

a new universality /

constructive universalism

Universality means taking a risk in order to go beyond the easy certainties provided us by our background, language, nationality, which so often shield us from the reality of others. It also means looking for and trying to uphold a single standard for human behavior when it comes to such matters as foreign and social policy. (Said 1994, p.xii)

Thank you very much!
  • Comments are welcome to
Introducing the ‘epistemic’ use of identity into economics
  • Criticising the ‘ethical’ use of identity among political philosophy and the real world

(‘beyond identity’)

Clarifying the ‘ontology’ of identity

(‘plurality and choice of identity’)

But I won’t heed the battle call

 It puts my back up

 Puts my back up against the wall

   (Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2)

 Marcos is gay in San Francisco, a black in South Africa, Asian in Europe, …. an artist without a gallery or portfolio, a housewife in any neighborhood in any city in any part of Mexico on a Saturday night, a guerrilla in Mexico at the end of the twentieth century, ….  (a communiqué by Zapatista)