Home > Uncategorized > Scholz On Feminism: Identity Politics.

Scholz On Feminism: Identity Politics.

Scholz states that identity politics started as a reaction to the shared experience, or sisterhood coming out of second wave feminism as well as an attempt to gain social, legal, intellectual, and economic rights for oppressed peoples.

Rather than assuming all women have the same experience of oppression, feminist proponents of identity politics seek representation of diverse identities (or diverse experiences of oppression) within the larger society. (Scholz, 2010, p. 78)

As Scholz states it is a movement or “trend” in social and political theory, that recognizes shared identity based on cultural background, community, ascribed background, linguistic community, or other shared experiences of oppression. From this, since different groups and people experience oppression differently, different identities are produced. In short Scholz states:

More specifically, identity politics means that there are a wide variety of different forms of oppression, which in turn create a variety of needs. The political system is thus charged with recognizing these diverse groups and their needs. (Scholz, 2010, p. 78)

Scholz states that this theory is at its core, one of recognition, of validation for the diversity of identity and experience while also catering to the individual groups needs. It is a challenge to social and political theory because in the process of recognizing difference between groups so too must the actions of government reflect that diversity. Most importantly the structures of democracy must ensure that the needs of oppressed peoples are weighed heavily to overcome “historically entrenched disadvantages and oppression which neglected those needs” (p. 78)

In other words, identity politics encourages special recognition of how oppressed group identity has shaped individuals and continues to adversely affect their ability to participate in and be treated with equity in social life. (Scholz, 2010, p. 78)

Scholz notes that identity politics works in juxtapostion to, say, social contract theory, which assumes the involved parties to be “more or less equally situated, equally talented, and equally treated rational individuals.” (p. 79) An example of the way identity politics can open us up to a variety of positions, Scholz states is in politics. We could assume that because a woman is elected to office that she would, by virtue of her being a woman, be necessarily interested in women’s concerns, but Scholz notes that is not necessarily the case as: “people do not often or even usually think of themselves as members of identity-based groups.” (p. 79)

You might note here, that this is perhaps one of the downsides to identity politics, that we might assume a person represents, or even cares about an identity for which they may be part.  This perception might even help a woman become elected, for example, even though they have not expressed any interest in women’s concerns (or as in the case of the first Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, or Margaret Thatcher, they could explicitly speak out against feminists and the good they have done). On the other side of this, Scholz notes that there are other versions of identity politics which state that by the very act of having a woman in office, regardless of their views, sets a positive standard for attainment.

Finally she states:

Identity politics has also been critiqued for proliferating identities. If identity groups are the foundation of political representation, then relatively hard lines need to be drawn between identities. In practice, that is nearly impossible to do. Races are not clearly differentiated and individuals may in fact identify with multiple races. In such an instance, how are they represented? Similarly, if women are a group, then the diverse circumstances of race, class, sexual orientation, disability, and gender are overlooked or obscured. That obscures what issues ought to be brought to public or political discusson and often entrenches systems of class or race domination while attempting to obtain representation on the basis of sex. (Scholz, 2010, p. 80)

This issue is very complicated and to be honest I was quite on the side of identity politics before writing this blog. Where do I stand now? Hard to say. I like the attempt to recognize individual differences and the complexities around governing many different people in the cosmopolitan world many of us live in the west. There is obviously much nuance on this issue, and I definitely need to read more n it before taking too strong a stance.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 28, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    I agree that it is a complex issue. I agree that representation matters – a woman in parliament is useful even if not interested in the politics of that identity – though the last quote is the important one though. By demanding (or even just expecting) women to take charge of womens issues is antifeminist – it is pushing an identity, essentialising.

    One book you should read is not explicitly feminist, if you haven’t read it yet. It is called ‘Imagined Communities’, by Benedict Anderson. I think it goes to the heart of identity – and how it can be manipulated. I think it would complement your current interests.

    • March 1, 2017 at 12:27 am

      Yeah I think that was one of the issues with Hillary Clinton, or perhaps we should say, one of the tensions of her candidacy. Some people saw hope because she is a woman (an essentialist notion as you say), others saw simply a wealthy white woman (i guess essentialising too). It’s certainly tricky. Like you say representation does matter, seeing that women can do anything a man can, I would hope (but not expect) a woman would, by her vary experience tend towards being sympathetic to women’s issues. But that’s it isn’t it. Class, race, economic availability etc, these things affect your experience. Someone like bell hooks talks a lot about this, in that a wealthy white able bodied woman and a disabled poor black woman will have different experiences (which goes back to the problem of essentialising) and thus different notions of liberalism, equality and indeed focus.

      Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll add it to the every growing list. I just started John Rawl’s Theory of Justice which is great, but I really want to keep focusing on social justice issues at the moment. But I don’t have much in my library on that subject, nor the money to buy more.

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