To Schools of Thought: We Wear What We Are / We Are What We Wear.

It is important to examine the concept of identity in order to examine the role that religious artifacts play in identity expression, and to better understand the place for the rhetoric of review in identity expression. Hopefully these are terms you are familiar with by this point in my blog.

Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds is a book that examines the concept and implications of identity within a cultural context. The author, Dorothy Holland, examines the ways in which identities are formed and how they shape social interaction. She underscores the importance of understanding identity formation as something that is fluid and ongoing, and that occurs within ‘worlds’ (worlds are basically social situations and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Fraternities). It is understood by the author and the discourse community to which she is writing that identity plays a significant role in social interaction. Two opposing schools of thought are used by the author to develop an analysis of, in short, the role identity plays in why people do what they do and act in the way that they act.

The culturalist approach views identity as something that is embodied in one’s self; it reflects the worldview that one has been taught in his or her upbringing. An individual then acts based on that worldview in any given social context. Take for instance the hijab worn by Muslim women. A woman would wear the hijab everywhere she goes in public, be it school, out in a social situation, or even in a job interview, because that is the identity that was ascribed, chosen, and then declared for all social contexts.

The constructivist approach is in stark contrast to the culturalist approach. With this view people analyze the context of a social situation and then take on the most situationally appropriate identity. People actively and intentionally position themselves within a social context, be it by class, social status, religion, etc. To do so they use verbal and non-verbal discourse to maneuver, negotiate, and impose statuses and entitlement. Take for instance a female dignitary of the United States. While this woman might be of the non-Muslim faith, she might wear a hijab while speaking to dignitaries in a religious theocratic country that does not really like America. This would allow her to negotiate for the identity of a respectable politician worth listening to.

These schools of thought show two contradictory and yet two very valid ways of understanding the role that identity plays in social contexts. Together, perhaps through some balance of the two, they will ultimately serve to develop an understanding of religious artifacts. What effects does the public display of religious artifacts have on both the individual and on the community? Further exploration of my personal learning network might lead me to an answer.


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