This conference aims to scrutinize, clarify and elaborate upon the concept of identity, which ranks among the most (ab)used concepts in the humanities since the end of the 20th century.
The popularity of the concept is, first and foremost, to be situated in the aftermath of the linguistic turn, which led to identity being conceived of as the product of discursive interpellations. This theoretical reframing of the subject constitutes the theoretical basis of multiple strands of discourse theory and analysis, and of various types of (post)poststructuralist theory.
The pervasive presence of identity as an object of study is, however, and to an even greater degree, also explained by the postmodern critique of universality and the concomitant deconstruction of the universal subject as a fiction subservient to particular (masculine, white, western, heterosexual…) interests. It is precisely this critique that drives the various forms of progressive identity politics that are so conspicuously present today.
To put it simply and provocatively: where do we go from here? This fundamental question translates into a wide range of more specific questions, such as:
- Is what (post)structuralism calls the decentred subject a mere passive recipient of discursive interpellations, or does it resist and, if so, in which way(s)? How should this resistance be understood – as an inability or rather as a refusal to accept discursive interpellations? As a rearticulation and ‘slanting’ of a given discourse? As a form of more or less subtle and agile negotiation with hegemonic pressures? As the articulation of a counterhegemonic discourse?
- How paradoxical and/or ambivalent are identification processes? If a seemingly official and explicit refusal often hides a more fundamental implicit identification (‘I am no racist, but…’) and vice versa (‘We are determined to tackle tax evasion’), how do both levels interact with one another and what audiences are they intended for? How can identificatory acts and utterances be construed as positioning the subject within the conflictual and dialogic contexts from which they emerged?
- How easy is it to cancel or replace identifications? Have ‘postmodern subjects’ really become fluid and endlessly malleable in a ‘liquid modernity’ (Zygmunt Bauman), or are they tough, inert and persistent? Do they have ‘hard kernels’ and, if so, what would be the nature of these? How important is the impact of discursive sedimentation on individual subjects, cultures and societies? How do deliberate or involuntary cancellations of identifications affect the subject? Are they emancipatory or destructive – or both?
- Does the postmodern critique of the universal subject not in fact continue to refer to a universal horizon of equality and justice? Should this critique be maintained or should it give way to a dialectical vision of the opposition between the universal and the particular?
- Are ‘progressive identity politics’ more needed than ever or are they at risk of becoming essentialist and unbearably reductionist stances?
- Are ‘progressive identity politics’ genuinely progressive or do they allow the researchers involved to view themselves as ‘progressive’? What makes them superior to traditional, conservative identity politics? Do they hamper attempts to unite progressive groups and efforts, uniting only ‘deplorable’ antiliberal, reactionary forces, as is argued by such varied authors as Eric Hobsbawm, Terry Eagleton, Slavoj Žižek, Vivek Chibber and Mark Lilla?
- What are relevant methodological underpinnings of research on identity and identification? Which linguistic means can be observed to index identity (as one of their multiple functions), and how can we classify them meaningfully? For example, how can such phenomena as taboo expressions, metaphors, language varieties (e.g. sociolects and slang), language contact and learner languages enhance our understanding of identity and identification? What about language policy and (official and unofficial) puristic movements?