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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds We’ll be talking a lot on this course about how the way the public space, the spaces we’re in, makes a difference to expressions of identity. But I wanted to particularly pick up on something Sam said, about how we get these identities. Because, in one sense, we sort of have a choice of these identities, or we feel we have a choice, that we can choose which is important. And another way that identity is part of a relationship with other people so that, as I think the social psychologists might say, there’s an ingroup and there’s an outgroup. So how I feel depends on some of those around us. How does that relationship - why is that relationship important?

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds You mean about others constraining, in some way, what identities we can have, or not have? Yeah, well, so one way of looking at this is to say that identity, although I’ve said that it’s - psychologists would see it as a way of representing yourself. So you could think of this as being something in your head, something that you think, you know, this is what I am. That’s only part of the story. And actually, it’s not just a matter of what you think you are, but a matter of your interactions with others. So of course other people are always part of that equation.

Skip to 1 minute and 29 seconds And being able to act out, to perform, to enact your identities is as important, if not more important, than privately just thinking about it. So there are certain identities - There’s a public quality, inherently, there’s a sort of public quality to identity, and it’s the way that you relate to others, and not just the way that you think about yourself. So there are certain identities - way that we’re going to express our identities - and we’re going to think about that public expression. And part the way we do that public expression is going to be dependent upon how we’re imagining ourselves as against other people.

Skip to 2 minutes and 6 seconds So something like our sexuality may be dependent upon the context, where we’re going on, and how we want to see ourselves in relationship to other people. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, there are a variety of ways in which people may decide to either enact their identities or to keep them hidden. And enacting your identity has a whole range of functions, you know. So, for example, you may want to have your identity acknowledged by people who you see as your ingroup. You want them to accept you as a member, and therefore you behave in a particular way. It may be that you want to influence other members of your group.

Skip to 2 minutes and 52 seconds You want to persuade them, this is what our group believes, this is what we should be doing. And in that case, you will perform your identity in a certain way. You see politicians doing this all of the time. That in all sorts of subtle, and sometimes not so subtle ways they will try to display their credentials as typical members of - Such as an American president. The debate they had in the presidential election, about whether the American president wears the little American flag on his lapel, and what meaning that that had, and how important that was. Precisely.

Skip to 3 minutes and 28 seconds So that’s just one example of why somebody might make their identity public in order to be able to be seen by others as genuinely of the group, and then for able to lead them. And there are all sorts of reasons why people might want to do that, in the same way, reasons why they might not want to do that. And sometimes that backfires. I’m thinking, when you talked about the American president, thinking of the case of David Cameron and the pasty. Which backfired on him as he tried to gain this sense of a man of the people. But the fact, he mucked up his own understanding of the pasty and where he bought it.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 seconds That actually backfired on him, showing exactly the opposite of what he intended to do. So it comes back to that point. It’s relational, that it is about recognition and acceptance of another wider range of - Politicians are particularly good example of how people are continually thinking about how they express their identity, because they want to be seen as encompassing. As a politician, I represent you as a group of people. So the way you manifest yourself in public is constantly being thought about and controlled, so that you look like you have a certain identity. But you also can’t claim any identity. If you claim one identity, it will exclude other identities.

Skip to 4 minutes and 52 seconds You can claim yourself as British, which encompasses different dimensions, but as soon as you say you’re English, it excludes a sense of Scottishness about it. And it also requires a degree of recognition. I could tell people I’m Scottish, but if other people don’t recognise that I haven’t got a Scottish accent, or I haven’t got the credibility to be that - I have that identity. So having an identity is not just something you can claim, it also needs to be acknowledged, and recognised, and you come into that, brought into that, ingroup, as Sam was talking about. Just a point I’d like to pick up, I think this relational thing is very important.

Skip to 5 minutes and 29 seconds And it’s important to bear in mind that at the same time as we claim or perform a certain identity, we not only do that for ourselves, we simultaneously constitute other identities of those around us. So if I’m going to, in this discussion, be a sociologist, that immediately makes you an anthropologist more than it does make you an Englishman or whatever else. So this kind of, inside outside bit, where, simultaneously, you constitute yourself, or a group, and an outside, another group, or somebody else, an other, is kind of important for the purposes of our discussion. And people will pick up on elements of those identities all the time.

Skip to 6 minutes and 11 seconds So I’m someone - I’m an English person that’s lived in Ireland for 30 years, and a lot of my own experiences in life have come through living in Ireland. So in that sense I could feel quite Irish, but I’ve been - I’ve had this English accent all the way through it. So whatever I do in life, whenever I go and engage, people understand me as having an English background. So my constant life is a bit of an engagement between an English person who’s lived for many years in Ireland. Thinking about the nature of the public space and the public arena, how come we see the public spaces that we move through as important?

Skip to 6 minutes and 58 seconds What is it about the physicality of those spaces which makes a difference to how we might express identities? Some of it comes back to the point that Sam made, at the beginning of the conversation, about identity being performed and enacted. And that implies a sense of an individual doing something, but also there being an audience for that. Now you could obviously have an audience within house, within private space, but it’s a much more restricted and narrow audience. Once you move out of that space, you’ve got a much wider audience to interact with, perform to. So I think the public space is an arena for collective identities, a variety of collective identities, being enacted.

Skip to 7 minutes and 53 seconds And if you think about public spaces as streets and roads and squares and shopping centres and those sorts of spaces, there’s certain things that people pick up on as collective identities, which are very general ones. You know, as male or female, that you pick up on. Whereas your identity doesn’t necessarily - or your national identity - doesn’t necessarily - It’s important, yeah. - and you have to do something else if you want to emphasise your national identity. Whether you - and here in somewhere like Belfast - if you chose to wear a Rangers top or Celtic top, that would give a slightly different - another element to your public identity.

Skip to 8 minutes and 33 seconds This is a male or a female, and we know from that reading, that - but it also requires an understanding, a way to interpret those identities. It’s not - people are not shouting out verbally, they’re shouting out through their physical appearance. So you start to think about other elements that start to kick in to play and to how you - again, using Sam’s term - how you represent your identity. If you just stand there. Because there are sort of, usually, a set of acceptable social rules as to how you express an identity.

Skip to 9 minutes and 8 seconds So if I’m deciding that I’m doing something like going to the beach, then I can turn up in a pair of swimming trunks and everybody will - that will be seen as quite acceptable. If I turn up to a lecture at the university in the morning, wearing that same pair of swimming trunks, I mean, it’s the same outfit that I wore the day before at the beach, I’m now standing in front of a whole lot of students. It probably wouldn’t be seen as a - so we’ve got a set of social rules that are always around us, to which - to a certain extent would be conforming.

Groups in public

In the last section of discussion for this week we reach the central issue for this course. We are interested in the representation of group identities in public.

The identities that we use are in relationships to all of those around us. Sam points out that with identity ‘other people are always part of that equation. Being able to act out, to perform, to enact out your identity is as important, if not more important, than privately just thinking about it… inherently there is a public quality to identity, it’s the way that you relate to others not just the way that you think about yourself’.

We might, for example, want our identity acknowledged by other members of the group, the in-group. Or it may be that you want to influence other members of your group persuading them that this is what the group believes or should be doing. Sam points out that politicians perform in this way all the time when relating to the group they want to represent. Neil also points to the limitations of attempting to represent yourself as part of the group.

Milena emphasises that when we constitute ourselves as part of a group we are at the same time constituting the out-group, those potentially excluded from the in-group. This leads us to the subjects which we will be discussing next week. How is identity constituted in public spaces through the way those spaces are constructed and what we do in those spaces? And crucially what is the relationship to power?

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This video is from the free online course:

Identity, Conflict and Public Space

Queen's University Belfast