Identity and Agency

Identity & Agency

Fall 2012

Anthropology 759

Fridays, 2:00 to 4:45 pm, Alumni 308

Dorothy Holland

The course examines the significance of identity as a force in and medium of human life, drawing together the work of cultural and ethnographic studies with a productive and explicit theory that situates identity squarely (yet variably) in social practice informed by sociohistorical resources and institutions also rooted personally.  This “social practice theory of identity” begins with a basis in American pragmatism (Peirce, Dewey and Mead) and Russian cultural historical school of psychology (Vygotsky, Luria, Leont’ev), and elaborates it semiotically and sociologically through the critical theories of Bakhtin and Voloshinov, and of later European theorists of practice especially Bourdieu.  These theorists together provide accounts of the social and cultural formation of agency in individuals and groups that allow us to go beyond the black box of ‘habitus’, the conundrums of actants or “text-determined” selves, or “subjects” and the often a cultural and asocial “individuals” of empirical psychology.  In this framework, “person,” “society” and “environment” are related, neither contingently nor determinately, but collaboratively—in performance—as equally real (and equally imaginary) sites or moments in the production of human experience, action and activity.   Identities, at once “material,” “cultural” and “psychologically intimate,” transport us as embodied pivots or interfaces of these moments.  This semester’s readings trace the work of identity in a variety of critical areas of contemporary life, e.g., social movements, (symbolic) economies, and enduring inequalities.

Organization of the Course and Expectations: 

1) 30% Discussion: Participants are expected to read the materials and contribute to class discussion.

2) 20%:  Presentations:  Sign up for at least two presentations including at least one “research/action project insight” report and at least one “warm up panel regarding a reading or set of class readings”.   Presentations should be limited to the lengths described below and accompanied by a SS bullet points in an e-file sent out to the class by noon on the day of the presentation.

  • Research/Action Project Report (NOTE:  THIS IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION—I HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT HOW WE CAN DO THIS EFFICIENTLY)  Research/Action Project Insight Presentation:  8-10 minutes to describe your “research/action project” AND 5 minutes to say how the reading(s) for the day inspired your developing ideas vis a vis the project. (Work on getting your ideas honed and sharpened and presentable in this brief allotment.)
  • Warm Up Panels about One or More of the Readings for the Day:  I (or someone from the seminar) will pose a question that panel members answer in 5 minutes/three bullet points when we start the section in question.

3) 50% Seminar Paper or Proposal: Course participants are expected to become conversant with the concepts of the course and proficient in applying a social practice framework to research problems in their areas of study.  At the end of term, each of those taking the course for credit should submit a succinct, polished essay (12-20 double spaced pages in length) demonstrating this proficiency. You are encouraged to apply aspects of the conceptual framework to your own research, either as a case analysis or as a theoretical essay or proposal outlining how your research problem would be cast or conceived in terms of a social practice theory approach.  Alternatively, in the absence of a project of your own, you may explore contemporary theoretical issues in relation to class content. A 1 to 1 1/2 page “abstract” for you seminar paper or proposal is due on Tuesday, Nov 2nd at the latest.   An e-copy of the final paper/proposal is due to me on December 7th by the beginning of the final session.


Copies of the following required texts have been ordered from the Student Stores (they may not all be in yet).  Articles and chapters are available online through Sakai or the UNC library.

Bettie, Julie 2003 Women without Class:  Girls, Race, and Identity.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press.

Holland, D.C., Lachicotte, W.S., Skinner, D. G., and Cain, W.C.  1998.  Identity and agency in cultural worlds.  Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Price, Charles. 2009 Becoming Rasta:  Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica.  New York, NY:  New York University Press.

Satterfield, Terre.  2002.  Anatomy of a conflict: Identity, knowledge and emotion in old growth forests. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Tentative SCHEDULE

  1. Aug 24:  Introduction

Why is identity ubiquitous across the social sciences and humanities? Themes of the Seminar

  1. Aug 31: Sociohistorical Formations, Subjects, Selves & Identities Forming in Worlds of Difference

Worlds & (Social) Identities of Difference (around Cultural/Ethnic Group, Race, Gender, Class, etc.); Cultural Imaginaries of Difference; Intimate Identity in the Eriksonian Sense (Singular) and Psychological Well Being; How does the person become engaged with society, its institutions and its cultural imaginaries?

  • Hall, Stuart (1990) Cultural Identity and Diaspora.  In J. Rutherford, ed. Identity:  Community, Culture, Difference.  London: Lawrence & Whishart. Pp. 222-237.
  • Fisher, Steve (2007) Appalachian Identity: Oppositional Politics or Insular Regionalism.  Paper presented at the ASA meetings.  March 2007
  • Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis [selections]. Pp. 15-43. Pp 155-165. New York: Norton.
  1. Sept 7:  More on Social and Intimate Identities of Difference

Social Identities as Mediating Society’s Engagement with Persons; Intimate Identities as Mediating the Person’s Engagement with Society; Why/how does the person (group) become engaged with society and identities of difference?

Visitor:  Jean Dennison

  • Spangler, Sydney (in press)“To Open Oneself is a Poor Woman’s Trouble:  Embodied Inequality and Childbirth in South-Central Tanzania” Medical Anthropological Quarterly.
  • Hall, Stuart (1996) “Introduction:  Who Needs Identity?”  In Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (eds):  Question of Cultural Identity
  • Walkerdine, Valerie.  2006.  Workers in the new economy: Transformation as border crossing.  Ethos 34(1): 10-41.  (A pdf is on Sakai, but as a Board Member of Ethos, I’d appreciate it if you’d download this article by going to UNC libraries, E-Journals, Ethos (Berkeley, Calif), AnthroSource, volume 34, Issue 1)
  • Dennison, Jean (in press) Colonial Entanglements:  Constituting a 21st Century Osage Nation. Chapters:  Introduction, Chapter 2 Blood and Chapter 3: Culture. Pp. 2-18, 60-95, 96-128 (combined pdf)
  1. Sept 14:  The Meta-theory of Practice & the Shift to the Actor in Practice

What do our big 4 theorists have in common? Bourdieu and the Meta-Theory of Practice; Shift to Actor in Practice; Implications for Studies of the Self and Identity (and Cultural Resources)

  • Bourdieu (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.  Pp. 1-15.
  • Bourdieu, P. (1977) The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social Science Information 16(6):645-668.
  • Holland et al. (1998) Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds.  Chap. 1, “The Woman Who Climbed up the House.” Chap 2, “A Practice Theory of Self and Identity.”
  1. Sept 21:  The Social Formation of Self and Identity: Intimate Identities Forming Around Cultural Resources in (Contentious) Worlds of Action

G. H. Mead:  Worlds of Action/Identities (Plural); Figuring & Performing Cultural Worlds/Identities; Activity theory; Cultural Resources:  cultural imaginaries and their importance as collective interpretations of activity & spaces of practice; Figured Worlds; Imaginaries of Worlds of Action Versus Imaginaries of Difference

  •  Mead, G. H. (1913).  The Social Self.  Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 10)14): 374-380.
  • Mead, G. H. (1912).  The Mechanism of Social Consciousness.  Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 9(15): 401-406.
  • Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds Chap 3:  “Figured Worlds”, Chap 4: “Personal Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous”; Chap. 5, “How Figured Worlds of Romance Become Desire.” Pp 66-97, 98-124
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Pp. 19-57, 92-104.
  • Leont’ev (1974/5).  The Problem of Activity in Psychology.  Soviet Psychology (Winter 1974-75):  4-33.
  1. Sept 28: More on the Social Formation of Mind and Self:  Materiality, Cultural Resources and Positioning in Local Spaces of (Contentious) Practice

Cultural resources and their centrality in the formation of social & intimate identities; Vygotsky, semiotic mediation & self control–the gateway to agency, extending Vygotsky to theorize intimate identity; positioning/subject making, why focus on local spaces of practice?

  • Holland, D., and W. Lachicotte. 2007. Vygotsky, Mead and the new sociocultural studies of identity. In The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky, ed. H. Daniels, M. Cole and J. Wertsch, 101-135. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  • Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds: Chaps. 6, “Positional Identities” & 7, “The Sexual Auction Block.”
  • Wortham, Stanton (2006) Learning Identity:  The Joint Emergence of Social Identification and Academic Learning.  Chapter 2:  Social Identification and Local Metapragmatic Models Pp. 29-89.
  • Carlone et al.  (2011) Assessing Equity beyond Knowledge and Skills”, NOTE:  READ Pp. 21-25
  • Basso, Keith (1996) Wisdom Sits in Places:  Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. Albuquerque:  University of New Mexico Press, Chapter 2: Stalking with Stories, Pp 37-70.
  • (encouraged)    Volosinov (1973)  Marxism and the Philosophy of Language.  Selection_3 pdfs
  • (optional) Brumfiel, E.. (2005).  Materiality, feasts, and figured worlds in Aztec Mexico.  In E. Demarrais, C. Gosden, & C. Renfrew (Eds.), Rethinking materiality.  Cambridge: MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
  1. Oct 5: Local Spaces of (Contentious) Practice, the “Space of Authoring”/Cultural Production

Bakhtinian Complications: Dialogic Selves; the Space of Authoring, the Importance of Cultural Production and the Inhabitation of Structures

  • Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds.  Chaps. 8, “Authoring Selves”, Pp.  169-191..
  • Lachicotte, W. (2002). Intimate powers, public selves: Bakhtin’s space of authoring. In J. Mageo (Ed.), Power and the self (pp. 48-66). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Willis, Paul (1977) Learning to Labor:  How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs.  New York:  Columbia University Press.  Preface, Chapters 1-3.
  • Holland, D., and J. Lave. 2001. Introduction. In History in person: Enduring struggles and the practice of identity, ed. D. Holland and J. Lave. Albuquerque, N.M.: School of American Research Press. Pp. 3-33
  • (optional) McDermott, R. P. (1993). “The acquisition of a child by a learning disability.”  In S. Chaiklin & J. Lave (Eds.), Understanding practice (pp. 269-305). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  •  (optional) Holland, D.  2003.  Multiple identities in practice: On the dilemmas of being a hunter and an environmentalist in the USA.  In Multiple identifications and the self, ed.  T. van Meijl and H. Driesson.  Special issue.  Focaal:  European Journal of Anthropology 42:23-41.
  • (optional) Goodman, Yehuda C. and Nissim Mizrachi (2008) “The Holocaust Does Not Belong to European Jews Alone”:  The Differential Use of Memory Technologies in Israeli High Schools.  American Ethnologist 35(1):95-114.
  • (optional) Merten, Don, and Gary Schwartz (1982) “Metaphor and Self:  Symbolic Process in Everyday Life.”  American Anthropologist 84:796-810.  (Library e-journals)
  • (optional) Murakami, Kyoko and David Middleton (2006) “Grave Matters:  Emergent Networks and Summation in Remembering and Reconciliation”  Ethos 34(2):  273-296
  • (optional) Gregory, Stephen (2001) Placing the Politics of Black Class Formation.   In  Holland, D. and J. Lave, eds., History in Person:  Enduring Struggles, Contentious Practice and Intimate Identities.  School of American Research Press.
  • (optional) Holland, Dorothy, Gretchen Fox, and Vinci Daro (2008) Social Movements and Collective Identity”  Anthropological Quarterly 81(1):  Winter 2008, pp. 95-126
  • (optional) Taylor, Verta and Nancy Whittier (1999). “Collective Identity in Social Movement Protests:  ” In Social Movements Since the Sixties:   People, Passion, Power.  Jo Freeman and Victoria Johnson.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  1. Oct 12:  Spaces of Authoring/Positioning and (Failures of) Subject Making

Does subject position = intimate identity?  What difference does subject position make for intimate identity? Resistance and Barriers to Subjectification & Change, Selves/Identities Forming in Worlds of Action AND Difference; the Production of Difference in Local Spaces of Practice

  • Aretxaga, B.  (2001) Engendering Violence:  Strip-Searching of Women in Northern Ireland.  In Holland, D. and J. Lave, eds. History in Person:  Enduring Struggles, Contentious Practice and Intimate Identities.  School of American Research Press. Pp. 37-61.
  • van Meijl, Toon (2006) Multiple identifications and the dialogic self:  Urban Maori youngsters and the cultural renaissance. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12:917-933.
  • Ewing, K.  2006.  Between cinema and social work: Diasporic Turkish women and the (dis)pleasures of hybridity.  Cultural Anthropology 21(2): 272-294
  • Guthman, Julie (2008) Bring Good Food to Others:  Investigating the Subjects of Alternative Food Practice.  Cultural Geographies 2008 15:431-447
  • McDermott, R. P. (1993). “The acquisition of a child by a learning disability.”  In S. Chaiklin & J. Lave (Eds.), Understanding practice (pp. 269-305). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Start on Bettie, Julie 2003 Women without Class:  Girls, Race, and Identity.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press. Chap 1

Oct 19:  Fall Break

  1. Oct 26: Class, Gender, Race, Inequality & Cultural Production

How do gender, class, ethnicity and other identities of difference acquire potency in local spaces of practice?  Which are more important?  Class identities or classed identities?  Gender identities or gendered identities?    Collective actors and the importance of cultural production: More on the Cultural Production of Difference in Local Spaces of Practice; Subjectivities and the Inhabitation of Structures

  • Bettie, Julie 2003 Women without Class:  Girls, Race, and Identity.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press. Remaining chapters.
  • Start on Price, Charles.  Becoming Rasta:  Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica. New York:  NYU Press.
  1. Nov 2: Enduring Struggles & Identities:  The Making of New Worlds/Identities

Cultural Production in Sociohistorical Time/Space; Enduring Struggles; A Case of an Identity of Difference becoming an Identity of Action

  • Price, Charles.  Becoming Rasta:  Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica.  Remaining Chapters

Visitor:  Charles Price

  1. Nov 9:  Sociohistorical Identities and Their Importance in Local Spaces of Practice

How do sociohistorical struggles and the sociohistorical identities they produce become part of spaces of local practice? How does local cultural production become sociohistorical production?

  • Ottinger, Gwen (in press) Refining Expertise:  How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges.  New York:  New York University Press.  Chapters 1, 2, and 4.
  • Friedman, Jonathan (2008) “Transnationalization, Sociopolitical Disorder, and Ethnification as Experssions of Declining Global Hegemony”  In Historical Transformations:   The Anthropology of Global Systems.  Pp. 203-225 New York: Altamira Press.
  • Start Satterfield, Terre (2002) Anatomy of A Conflict: Identity, Knowledge, And Emotion In Old-Growth Forests.

Visitor:  Bill Westermeyer

  1. Nov 16: More on the Shaping of Activism & Social Movements and the Worlds/Identities they Create

New worlds/identities, dialogic relations; hegemonic discourses/topics,

  • Satterfield, Terre.  (2002) Anatomy of A Conflict: Identity, Knowledge, And Emotion In Old-Growth Forests.  Remaining chapters.
  • Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds:  Chapters 11 and 12:  Pp. 235-269.

Nov 23:  Thanksgiving ** enjoy!

  1. Nov 30:  Misguided Assumptions About Identity and Social Ontologies

Mistakes of social Ontology:  Ethnographic corrections

Misreadings of identity, the cultural production of “identity”

  • Rouse, Roger. (1995) Questions of Identity:  Personhood and collectivity in transnational migration to the United States.  Critique of Anthropology 15: 351-380.
  • Sawin, Patricia (2004) Listening for a Life.  Selections from chapters 1-3. Pp. 22-67.·
  • Agrawal, Arun (2005):  Environmentality:  Community, Intimate Government, and the Making of Environmental Subjects in Kumaon, India.  Current Anthropology 46(2): 161-181
  • Leve, Lauren (2011) “Identity”.  Current Anthropology 52(4):513-535.
  • Dumit, Joe (1997) “A Digital Image of the Category of the Person: PET Scanning and Objective Self-Fashioning.” In Cyborgs and Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies, edited by Gary Lee Downey, and Joseph Dumit, 83-102. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
  • (optional) Calhoun, Craig (1994) Social Theory and Politics of Identity.  In C. Calhoun, ed., Social Theory and the Politics of Identity.  Oxford:  Blackwell. Pp. 9-36.
  1. Dec 07 (3 pm to 5:30 pm (scheduled exam Period):  Wrap Up: Navigating the Complex Terrains of Identity

Seminar Papers/Projects Due (I’d love to get some ahead of the deadline)

  • Escobar, A. (2008) Places and Regions in the Age of Globality: Social Movements and Biodiversity Conservation in the Colombian Pacific.  Durham:  Duke University Press.  Introduction:  Pp. 1-26, Chapter 5:  Identity, Pp.  200-253.
  • Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds:  Chapters 13:  Identity in Practice  Pp. 270-288

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