Why, When I was a Kid…

Picture 8The other day I was cruising around the web reading old New York Times pieces and came across one entitled “Does Religion Oppress Women.” As with many things on the web (e.g., the banana slicer for sale at amazom.com), the comments section is the best part. For example:

Picture 5kaybee’s comment stood out for me because it nicely represents a commonplace strategy — a strategy at home within the academy no less than in comments on the web — of positing a pristine originary moment that, once expressed or shared, is only later corrupted and polluted. It’s a model not unlike the telephone game (problematically known as “Chinese whispers” earlier on), which judges the contemporary against the pure source, and one that we find in the U.S. supreme court (when a justices measure current behaviors by the standard of what the writers of the Constitution intended) as well as in the study of etymology itself (whose own etymology denotes studying the true meaning of a word). Continue reading

You Are What You Read, with Russell McCutcheon (Part 2)

For a new Culture on the Edge series “You Are What You Read” we’re asking each member to answer a series of questions about books—either academic or non-academic—that have been important or influential on us.

2. Name one of your favorite theory books.

eagletonWith my earlier career in mind, it would have to be Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), though I have the 1989 edition, which I bought in Toronto in January of 1991 (evident, again, from my dated front inscription). It too was a book recommended to me by Neil McMullin, and it makes sense to be dated a little later than my copy of The Sacred and the Profane, for (at least as I remember it now), I wasn’t dipping into theory until I’d confirmed that there was a project of some sort to be done on the widespread essentialist understanding of religion as socio-politically and historically autonomous. So having decided there was indeed a project here, at least as applied to Eliade’s one book, the challenge was to start reading as much of his work as I could, and to then be able to make the case that his work exemplified (though it didn’t necessary cause) much wider trends evident throughout the field, and then to come up with a set of tools to critique this approach and identify its practical implications. And that’s where Eagleton’s work came in—helping me to make the shift from seeing words and texts as inherently meaningful, as being in reference to objects in the world that we were talking about, to identifying the apparatuses necessary to signify these scribbles that we call letters, to read them as meaningful—to, as I might now say, operationalize them. Given that I was a sciences undergrad, I’d only taken the virtually mandatory first year English Lit course, with my thick two volume Norton anthology, so reading literary theory, much less the social theory I later came to read, was completely alien to me. Continue reading

Identifying Identity with Craig Martin

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

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The End of the (Face)Book and the Beginning of Writing

In Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida deconstructs the metaphysics of presence: differance — nothing in itself — is the constitutive negativity that makes presence possible yet impossible. No thing can ever be present to itself or to another without the insertion of differance, the gap that makes hearing or vision — or any form of knowing — possible in the first place, and that gap makes full presence a priori impossible.

Zuckerberg’s comments on identity strike me as a defense of the metaphysics of presence: the self with integrity — the integral self — must make itself fully present to itself and to others. To hide part of the self is, apparently, to lack integrity. In this Zuckerberg is correct, except that that very lack of integrity is what makes selves possible in the first place; unless we except our selves from our selves, we cannot be present to another at all. Every manifestation of a self on Facebook is always already constituted by differance; every click is a dislocation of unity. The loss of integrity is what makes the self visible. There is nothing outside the text —this process of textuality, iterability, and writing is what weaves selves into existence in the first place (although, for Derrida, this means that there is no “in the first place”). Continue reading

Identifying Identity with Monica Miller

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

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Zimmer’s critique of Zuckerberg’s disingenuous claim that somehow having more than one identity equates to a lack of integrity is spot on. In fact, Zuckerberg’s claim is laughable, for we analysts know all too well that identities are never singular nor static – rather – always fluid over time and space and most importantly perhaps, they are co-constitutive and contingent, never of their own complete making. This thinking, about identity and identities is well marked by the work we do here at The Edge insofar as we take seriously Bayart’s assertion that “there is no such thing as identity, only operational acts of identification.” With that in mind, and pushing further the constructed nature of and the tactics and strategies that make identities possible, the social actor does not have complete control over how their identities are made – and more so – how such identities are read and represented, especially as they are mediated technologically in and through online formats like social media. Continue reading

Identifying Identity with Merinda Simmons

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

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When I signed up for a Facebook account (I held out for a while, not really understanding the potential for something called a “social network” that combined two things to which I’m not particularly suited: technology and, well, social networking), I remember someone telling me in an attempt to explain the difference between how one presents oneself on Facebook vs. Myspace, “Facebook is like a posed photo. Myspace is more like a candid snapshot.” My friend was trying to help me get a sense of the format and layout of the two sites, how they would present the information and images I post to the cyberworld around me. His ultimate point in response to my privacy paranoias? Sure I had control, but I didn’t have control. I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since the controversy over Facebook’s “real-name policy” flared up. Continue reading

Identifying Identity with Steven Ramey

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

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Steven Ramey:

Michael Zimmer’s critique of Zuckerberg’s assertion that people should only have one identity reflects my initial reaction to that statement, as Zuckerberg ignores the strategic ways that everyone presents themselves. Embedded within Zimmer’s critique, however, is a similar notion of the stable self. He writes, “It is not that you pretend to be someone that you are not; rather, you turn the volume up on some aspects of your identity, and tone down others, all based on the particular context you find yourself.” The identity is stable, and we strategically choose what aspects to emphasize here or there. But, processes of identification are more complicated than that. Continue reading

Identifying Identity with Russell McCutcheon

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

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Russell McCutcheon:

It’s no accident, of course, that “integrity” has a direct relationship with the Latin adjective “integer,” as in the word we today use to name whole numbers, in distinction from their parts, i.e., fractions. And so it carries with it the connotation of being complete, perfect, even unblemished. But there was a time when this modern sense of the word might have described not Mark Zukerberg’s apparently ideal person—one who is, I guess, consistently, transparently, and rigorously themselves in all occasions—but, instead, one who was able to moderate that apparent self, all depending on the requirements of the setting, something determined by the other social actors involved (e.g., it’s not “a black tie event” until someone shows up in a black tie). I’ve written on this classical sense of pietas before, I know, but it seems relevant once again to point out that wholeness might instead be the social fiction created by the artful management of the innumerable fractions, some of which may have no common denominator; for the quality of consistency or uniformity is surely the last thing one wants—whether in ancient Rome or in Facebook’s headquarters—when moving from interacting with social superiors at work to the barista at the corner coffee shop to friends at the bar or family at home. These once taken for granted distinctions are obviously challenged not just by the eternal present of the virtual world, where we post and tweet and, now, yak anonymously, but, more importantly perhaps, by Facebook’s own quest to monopolize ownership of that world and thus ownership of the means whereby we produce those selves. Continue reading

Identifying Identity with Vaia Touna

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

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Vaia Touna:

Zuckerberg’s idea on the one identity and the integrity of maintaining one identity made me think of the times when, talking with friends, one hears: “That’s so you!” or “Come on, you are not that person.” Whether one is or not “that person” friends think, I think that who we are doesn’t derive from the inside of us and neither it is “expressed” monolithically onto our behaviours; instead, as Theodore Schatzki wrote in his 2010 book, The Site of the Social: “Identity is a complicated affair”—an affair that involves both me and the way I perceive who I am and act in different situations, but also by the way my friends perceive with whom they think they are interacting and thus the way they expect “me” to act in different situations. Because sometimes they tell me that I’m not being me. No doubt different friends have different ideas of who we are, even on Facebook, for I have no doubt that my posts, whether messages, pictures, etc., are interpreted like texts by different friends in various ways, creating an idea of me that is in some occasions different from what I think of as myself, and over which I have no real control or at least I have up to a certain extent (for I could have not posted this picture or that update).

The question, then, is: Does this largely uncontrolled interpretive variety minimize my integrity as a person?  And even if it does, then it seems to confirm that my self and its integrity are social and not personal, no?

To read the other posts in this series, search the Real Name tag.

Identifying Identity: A Culture on the Edge Response to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s “Real-Name” Policy


A four-year-old post by Michael Zimmer has been getting renewed attention after Facebook’s controversial “real-name” policy came under scrutiny for disproportionately affecting certain communities: drag performers, doctors and mental health professionals, and political dissidents among them. While Facebook has issued an apology, especially to drag queens who found their stage names no longer accepted by the site, Mark Zuckerberg’s take on the issue of identity — and integrity, as articulated in Zimmer’s piece — piqued our interest here at Culture on the Edge:

zuckerberg blurbWith our own interests in code-switching, identifications rather than identities, and competing claims of legitimacy or authority, we think the emphasis on a single identity is ripe for analysis, so we have each offered a brief response… one being posted each day for a week. Continue reading

Us/Not Us

Picture 1Not long after we came to the U.S. from Canada — specifically, moving from Ontario to Knoxville, TN, back in 1993 — we went out to eat to experience some authentic southern food for ourselves. While I’ll defer from talking too much here about the terrible let down that was the side dish that they called “hush puppies” (deep fried dough balls? Really?), what turned out to be even more memorable was the waitress who, likely hearing in our voices that we weren’t local, asked us, “Where y’all from?” to which we answered, “Toronto.” Continue reading