Identity Politics

Instructor: LaFleur Stephens-dougan

One week after the 2016 presidential election, political theorist, Mark Lilla wrote an essay that was a direct rebuke of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. According to Lilla, “Clinton was at her best when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy.” Lilla went to say, “Clinton would too often, slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters.” Critics responded to Lilla’s essay by arguing that “people have identities and are mobilized by those identities.” According to Lilla’s critics, even white Americans, who are traditionally thought of as “not having an identity” can be mobilized on the basis of their identity. 

The aforementioned debate begs the question, “what is identity?” How are identities made? How do different identities relate to one another? This workshop investigates these questions through a discussion of ethnicity, class, race, gender, sexuality, and religion. Most of the readings will focus on identity in the context of the United States. However, students with interests in identity politics outside the United States are welcome to join the workshop.  

Broadly speaking, we will address how to refine research questions, develop testable hypotheses, and analyze data, related to the study of identity politics. Research Prospectuses written in this workshop might address questions such as: Are candidates more likely to use negative advertisements when their opponent is of a different race or ethnicity? Do racial attitudes influence preferences on policies unrelated to race? Did racial attitudes influence support for President Trump? Does the relevance of an identity change across other categories of difference? Are group-based political movements always subject to marginalization (e.g., can we have a feminist movement that includes the needs and issues of women of color and/or low-income women? Can we have an LGBTQ movement that addresses the concerns of trans individuals?)