The changes in anthropological theory and perspectives on identity and difference can be explored in the context of three major periods of development: the colonial, postcolonial, and postdevelopment periods. In the colonial era, anthropologists drew heavily on the idea of social evolution located in the works of Herbert Spencer, Lewis Henry Morgan, and E.B. Tylor. In their work, lower-order “savages” (i.e., indigenous people) were thought to evolve socioculturally into higher-order, “civilized” Europeans. In the postcolonical period, the wave of independence throughout much of the developing world led social anthropologists to interpret how different groups came to self-identify with people and situations in a relational sense in an emerging postcolonial context. Ethnographers considered how people identified with certain social and cultural characteristics as being contingent upon their shared understanding of these features in relation to group membership and how others perceived such characteristics. Since the 1990s, social anthropologists have considered conceptions of indigeneity and other identity work with greater nuance, focusing on the layered processes that constitute identity. Recent scholarly contributions have considered how and why people have socially constructed their identities through reflections of self, sociopolitical positions, and culture relative to individual and group experiences in society. In particular, three intellectual streams have begun to reconceptualize identity formation: social positioning, articulation, and transnational identity building.
Wolfram Dressler and Sally Babidge
Feminist scholars and practitioners have challenged—and sought to overcome—gendered forms of inequality, subordination, or oppression within a variety of political, economic, and social contexts. However, feminists have been embroiled in profound theoretical disagreements over a variety of issues, including the nature and significance of the relationship between culture and the production of gendered social life, as well as the implications of cultural location for women’s agency, feminist knowledge production, and the possibilities of building cross-cultural feminist coalitions and agendas. Many of the approaches that emerged in the “first” and “second waves” of feminist scholarship and activism were not able to effectively engage with questions of culture. Women of color and ethnicity, postcolonial feminists and poststructural feminists, in addition to the questions and debates raised by liberal feminists (and their critics) on the implications of multiculturalism for feminist goals, have produced scholarship that highlights issues of cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation. Their critiques of the “universalism” and “culture-blindness” of second wave theories and practices exposed the hegemonic and exclusionary tendencies of the feminist movement in the global North, and opened up the opportunity to develop intersectional analyses and feminist identity politics, thereby shifting issues of cultural diversity and difference from the margins to the center of international feminism. The debates on cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation have enriched feminist scholarship within the discipline of international relations, particularly after 9/11.
Carl T. Dahlman
Extreme political violence, i.e., genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes, can be examined within three explanatory frameworks important to geographical thought: nature and society; spatial identities; and geopolitics. Extreme violence is often closely associated with humanity’s failure to overcome human nature. These are fundamentally geographical concerns in the sense that they relate to geography’s central interest in humans and their environment. Scholarly works abound with Hobbesian images, often presenting primitive violence as a pervasive social condition in the absence of an effective ruler. The literature on state failure presumes the same contradiction between nature and the social-political order, but in reverse: without a conventional sovereign, social conflict emerges over basic resources. These theories suggest that the causes of extreme political violence can be identified at the intersection of nature and society, where human behavior cannot be extricated from its biological and environmental condition. Identity is understood primarily as cultural difference. Identities are an important element in any explanation of extreme political violence given that it stems from conflict between sociopolitical groups that are defined by some degree of cultural difference. Classical geopolitical analysis of extreme political violence has retained environmental and biological factors as ultimate causes. They assume that scarcity of resources and population growth drive culture, territorialism, and conflict. In contrast, contemporary and critical approaches focus on the language and action of politics, such as statecraft, diplomacy, and popular mobilization.