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1 Power and Identity Panel Discussant: Roxanne Lynn Doty My strategy in this discussion is to raise some general issues/questions regarding identity and power, briefly outline the arguments of the three papers, and then draw upon these issues/questions in critiquing the papers. I have grouped these issues into three sets of questions with several additional questions related to each. 1) How is identity understood? - Are identities stable or unstable and what does this imply for analyses stable? - How do we think about change relative to identity? - Are identities discrete nd clearly bounded or are they hybrids, multiple, overdetermined, full of traces of what they are not, permeated by inherent tensions and contradictions? -How does the other figure into identity construction? 2) How are identities constructed? - Are identities rationally chosen in an instrumental, self-interested fashion or are they imposed or some combination of both? Are there other motivations at work besides rationality and how do we get at these? - Do we need recourse to a cognitive self in discussing identity construction or is that too socially constructed? - What practices are involved in identity construction and how do they work? How is practice itself understood? 3) How is power related to identity construction? 1

2 -What is the relationship between identity and agency? Does the power of agency (or the lack of it) result from identity, i.e. agency is attained by virtue of one s identity.? - How do we locate agency in the processes/practices themselves? - Does power work in the construction of identities through cognitive factors of individual and collective psyches or through the relative autonomy of discourses? (This issue obviously overlaps with the topic of some of the other panels). Deborah Larson, Shortcut to Greatness, The New Thinking and the Revolution in Soviet Foreign Policy Deborah seeks to explain Gorbachev s adoption of an idealist view of the world and the Soviet Union s role within that world which will in turn explain changes in Soviet foreign policy. Her method of argument is to examine two potential explanations; a materialist one that would argue Gorbachev s new thinking resulted from Moscow s deteriorating geopolitical position and economic decline and an ideational account that looks to factors such as cognitive learning, socialization to norms and values of the West. For the purposes of this discussion I do not want to get into the value of these explanations vis-a-vis Deborah s but rather focus on her explanation and the theory behind it. While not discounting the insights the above two explanations may offer, she suggests that the Gorbachev revolution was so profound that it entailed a change in identity, something that neither material nor ideational explanations can account for. She argues that this change involved a fundamental shift in identity and is therefore relevant to the broader question of how and why state identities change. Drawing upon Social Identity Theory (SIT), Deborah suggests that Gorbachev and his advisors sought to attain a new status for the Soviet Union as the moral 2

3 and political leader of a new international order that would preserve a distinct national identity for them and at the same time not make it essential that they attain a comparable level of economic and technological development as the United States. This new identity was based on soft power, i.e. ideas, values. Social Identity Theory suggests that individuals strive for a positive social identity, which is attained when their group is distinctive on a dimension that is evaluated favorably (Larson, p. 13). People are thus attracted to higher-status groups and reluctant to be identified with lower status groups. Members of the latter will adopt strategies to improve their positions such as social mobility, social competition, or social creativity (Larson, p.14). Because the key feature of SIT is that individuals perceive themselves to be members of a social group and act towards others as group members rather than as individuals, it is potentially applicable to states. SIT suggests that Russian leaders turned to a strategy of social creativity in order to find new areas in which to excel when military and technological power proved insufficient. Identity is defined as that part of an individual s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership. (P. 12). This paper is an excellent example of the study of identity construction from a more conventional constructivist approach. The conception of identity in this paper seems to be a relatively stable one albeit one that can change over time and for various reasons. Change thus enters the analysis as the transformation from one bounded and fixed identity to a different but equally bounded and fixed identity. Identities are strategically chosen by political leaders in order to accomplish a specific goal, in this case to achieve a certain position within the 3

4 international system/community. Identity construction is a conscious process which is amenable to a significant degree of control. For example, Russian leaders are seen as first engaged in constructing an identity based on hard power, i.e. increasing military and technological expenditures and when this was not possible turning to an identity based on soft power. The identity construction going on is self-constructed, i.e. Soviet leaders were constructing the collective identity of the Soviet self. Power enters the analysis in two ways. Political leaders obviously exercise a type of power in constructing new identities. We might think of this as creative power. Another way that power enters this analysis is through the distinction between hard and soft power as a basis for a country s status in the international system. I have several questions though that have to do with how identity is understood in this study. (1) Is it conceivable that the seeds or possibilities for a different identity were always present within Soviet identity? Was an affinity or at least the possibility for social democracy always present in the Russian identity, but became suppressed. I.E. is it imaginable that traces of the ideas that constituted the new thinking were, in some form, present earlier, (e.g. p. 11 Sakharov s arguments)? This would seem to suggest that identities are more multifaceted and hybrid in nature than this study credits them with. The significance of this is that a space is opened up for power to enter into analysis in another way, i.e. power that produces one identity and suppresses another. What is this power and how does it work? This also would call attention to the presence of an other in every construction of the self. (2) The three strategies of social mobility, social competition, and social creativity (p.14) are based on rational, costbenefit considerations which in turn requires subjects who are driven by these factors. This raises the question of whether this type of subject is itself a social construction. While this study 4

5 suggests that Russian identity was fundamentally transformed by Gorbachev and other leaders there seems to be the presumed presence of a rational subject who calculates the benefits of adopting alternative identities. This facilitates an analysis consistent with SIT but raises the question as to whether other forces are at work in constructing identities, perhaps sub-conscious, less rational forces. What constructs the rational subject who then chooses one identity over another? Douglas Blum Globalization, National Identity, and Agency: Constructing Youth Culture in the Transcaspian Region Doug is interested in understanding the proliferation of Western popular culture in Russia since 1991 and its implications for the construction of national identity. In order to examine this, he focuses on youth culture in three cities in the former Soviet Union (Astrakhan in Russia, Almaty in Kazakhstan, and Baku in Azerbaijan). These local contexts are important because they provide windows through which we can view the broader issue of cultural globalization and its implications for national identity construction. Doug argues that a focus on youth culture is useful because (1) youth are especially sensitive to global cultural influences and (2) Changes in youth attitudes and behavior generates a great deal of popular anxiety about social cohesion which in turn generates public discourse. Blum wants to address the issue of agency in this process and by doing so get at the relationship between social and political action and understand the processes through which ideas are transmitted. A key role in this process is played by cultural entrepreneurs, i.e. those individuals and groups dedicated to the widest cultural diffusion and jealous of the standards of the culture he is diffusing (Blum, p.11). This diffusion of culture involves creating of discourse of invented and resurrected traditions as well as social 5

6 norms through which citizens are constituted as nationally identified. Cultural entrepreneurs are concerned with adopting the benign features of globalization and limiting those influences that would run counter to the larger nation-state building project. Doug examines three groups of cultural entrepreneurs; state, sub-state, and non-state, seeking to understand the relationships among them and how they mediate the influences of globalization. He does this by examining a variety of discourses; newspapers, radio broadcasts, official state texts, and interviews with key actors involved in constructing national youth identity. Doug finds that there is a high degree of collaboration among the various cultural entrepreneurs. As with Deborah s study, identities in Doug s study are constructed in a conscious, selfinterested manner. Here the cultural entrepreneurs have a relatively clear picture of what kind of identity they want to construct for the youth so that it will not conflict with the more encompassing national identity. What emerges is a somewhat top down approach to national identity construction. While one of Doug s goals is to address the issue of agency, agency here is limited to that of the cultural entrepreneurs themselves. I am left wondering about the youth themselves. Are they passive recipients of the ways in which cultural entrepreneurs construct national identity for them? As Doug points out youth are inherently prone to alienation and resistant to authority. How to they accept or reject these constructions? This is important considering the understanding of national identity as a set of collective self-understandings which connect groups of individuals into larger social units (p. 5). I do not really think Doug wants to suggest that the youth are passive recipients given his recognition (p.25) that accommodations to youth demands and perspectives are important. One of the most important aspects of Doug s study is his recognition and attention to the 6

7 tensions involved in constructing national identities and the hybridity inherent in this project and in the resulting identities. This is especially the case in the context of globalization which contains a significant cultural element. I think this aspect of the study could be made stronger if youth discourse itself was included. How do they understand this culture? How to they define themselves vis-a-vis Russia and the West. Do they see the cultural influences of globalization as other to their own culture or there some hybrid culture and identity here? Admitting this issue of the hybrid nature of identities lends itself to an interpretation of identity as perhaps inherently unstable and overdetermined. This give us a sense that identities are not necessarily discrete and well bounded, but always in the process of being constructed. Power enters Doug s study in an implicit way in that globalization carries with it the allure of the West. What kind of power is this? The power of ideas, the market, material products and all they symbolize. Yet, cultural entrepreneurs display a high degree of ambivalence and seek to distill what they judge to be the dangerous aspects of globalization. Power enters in a more explicit way in his discussion of counter-hegemony and normative resistance. Cultural entrepreneurs resist the wholesale adoption global/western culture. Related to the above point, I am curious as to whether the youth themselves offer any resistance to the cultural entrepreneurs and/or global influences themselves. Another question that rises is whether the cultural entrepreneurs, in the process of constructing youth identity also reconstruct their own identities and that of the nation and if this entails any subtle transformations. James Richter, Becoming Visible: Local Activists and Global Governance Regimes This is a very ambitious paper that addresses the important issue of how local activists become visible thus to have their voices heard in the global arena. To get at this James looks at 7

8 the relationship between local activists and transnational allies to understand the workings of power which enables come voices to be heard and which marginalizes others. He creates a framework for examining the ambiguities and ambivalence of NGOs and transnational advocacy networks that consists of three tiers; (1) the summit (e.g. states, major IGOs and NGOs), (2) local government, and (3) the activists. James draws upon Foucault s concept of governmentality to examine how governance regimes (defined as a constellation of institutions, rules, norms, and practices) construct individual identities and render some outcomes appropriate and others unimaginable. Power enters into this analysis via the web of connections among states, the various organizations, and the local activists. Governance regimes exercise a certain amount of disciplinary power in their ability to define issues and the logical strategies for addressing issues. I believe James is trying to show how these governance regimes are also implicated in shaping identities at all three levels, but particularly at the local level of activists. For example, he tells us how Russian feminists have transformed their interpretations of their own pasts, present, and potential futures through contact with transnational advocacy groups. The implicit suggestion is that their identities have also been transformed. This illustrates his point that discourses reflect power as well as produce power. Power is reflected in the transnational advocacy groups ability to transform the identities of Russian feminist, which could hold the possibility of producing power/agency connected to those identities. Because this study is so ambitious, I had a little trouble getting a real firm handle on the central focus. I think one reason for this is simply because it is an issue that encompasses so much and can be viewed from so many directions. Each of the three tiers in James framework 8

9 are very dense and complex and there is so much going on in the interactions that he examines. Let me just point out a few issues that are relevant to the issue of identity and power. Notwithstanding the above example, I am a bit unsure of how power is working here. On the one hand it seems that the power to discipline and construct identities is working through discourse. Consist with a Foucaultian approach I would take this to mean that discourse is relatively autonomous and as he states (p.8) decentered with no clear sense of origin. However, it seems that James is suggesting that discourse does actually work through the perceptions of pre-existing subject (p.7). The paper also slides a bit uneasily between its more aims which are informed by Foucault and the language of a more conventional positivist bent, e.g. patterns of causation discussed on p. 8 and the discussion of six sets of variables (discourses, local state dependence on the summit, and state capacity, institutional structure, practices of interaction, and density of indigenous social networks) that inform and legitimate state rule (p ). It seems to me that all of these variables are themselves to some degree discourses. (File=idconf ) 9

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