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Main article: Psychological factors in identity politics

Identity politics is the political activity of various social movements for self-determination. It claims to represent and seek to advance the interests of particular groups in society, the members of which often share and unite around common experiences of actual or perceived social injustice, relative to the wider society of which they form part. In this way, the identity of the oppressed group gives rise to a political basis around which they then unite.

Despite the purportedly overlapping definitions with social identity its adherents claim it possesses, such as encompassing the development of a social identity for group members and providing a body of thought which may be used to challenge dominant stereotypes, identity politics means more than the sole recognition of social identity such as religion, ethnicity, or culture. Rather, identity politics seeks to carry this social identity forward, beyond mere self-identification, to a political framework based upon that identity. For example, black nationalists argue not only that blacks are (or should be) a community, but that they are a community with a "historical [political] struggle," and that when united, they can actually be a cohesive political force against racism and claim their own agency outside of "white-controlled" movements. Hispanic nationalism argues similarly, but in regard to the Hispanic population. The more extreme forms of feminism argue that women should unite as women against sexism outside of "man-controlled" movements. Modern Jewish Zionism was originally secular (and marginal) within the Jewish community, but became driven by its own form of identity politics upon the formation of the State of Israel in 1948.

This framework is qualitatively different from identity itself, which does not necessarily have to evolve into identity politics. Identity politics has close parallels with concepts like white skin privilege and self-determination, both of which heavily rely on the core of identity politics to advance their thought.


Identity politics may be based around race, ethnicity, sex, religion, caste, sexual orientation, physical disability or some other assigned or perceived trait (see below for a more complete, but still non-exhaustive, list). Some groups have historically blended social class analysis and class consciousness into such beliefs — e.g., the Black Panther Party — but by and large, identity politics are based on surface and "bloodline" characteristics only.

Along the political spectrum identity politics are based on the argument that a putatively oppressed group can use their identity as a source of collective resistance to their commonly felt oppression, and that these particular problems must be dealt with separately, on their own self-contained level, before the specific group can unite with the wider working class to deal with overall social oppression, such as that which is perceived by leftists to be the product of capitalism. Essentially, identity politics is based on the concept that special oppression requires special liberation, i.e., special circumstances existing outside of the wider one of class consciousness.

The group identity will deal with and seek to alleviate injustices associated with real or perceived oppression against them based on that identity. This may involve social and legislative reform like affirmative action with the goal that people within the group can in this way achieve equality. It can also involve a separatist approach. Particular focus in any form of identity politics is on the contrast between what is considered to be a social, political and occupational privilege of the dominant group(s) as compared to what is considered discrimination faced by the oppressed group. In this relationship the dominant, normative group is privileged as compared to the oppression of the nondominant group.


From the Right[]

The political right considers it inappropriate that a minority, in claiming an identity, expects an enumeration of unprecedented rights. The individualist (or libertarian) ideology of the right makes the idea that rights be granted based only on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or culture a non sequitur. Particularly in Enlightenment liberal democratic theory, if a "right" is extended to only a portion of society, it is no longer a right but a privilege. Thus, from the point of view of the political right, identity politics is not demanding rights to which it is actually entitled, but instead is demanding special privileges.

From the Left[]

Another criticism of identity politics comes from the Radical Left. This sector of the left considers identity politics detrimental to the working class culture they hope to see take the forefront upon revolution to overthrow capitalism. To these critics, identity politics unnecessarily divides the working class against itself. With the development of a political and social consciousness in the United States and Europe that overwhelmingly emphasizes individual liberty as opposed to the collective entitlements of large groups, the overarching socioeconomic problems with capitalism tend to be ignored in identity politics. The result, identities pitted against identities, creates an ideal situation for the ruling class.

According to this view, resources and organizational opportunities for deeply positive change are squandered in the relentless search for specific group identity. The Radical Left would argue that capitalism created the circumstances of inequality whereby the formation of identities was deemed necessary in the first place. Thus, undertaking identity politics is like taking cough suppressant for a cold: it attacks the symptoms of a problem, but not its cause.

Meanwhile, some GLBT rights activists criticize the identity politics approach to gay rights, particularly the approach based around the terms and concepts of queer, queer theory, etc. Gay and lesbian activists work for full acceptance of gays and lesbians in the institutions and culture of mainstream society, but it is alleged that "queer" activists instead make a point of declaring themselves outside of the mainstream and having no desire to be accepted by it or join it. This is criticized as counterproductive and as perpetuating discrimination and societal attitudes against LGBT people. [1] [2]

From the Center[]

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. discussed identity politics extensively in his book The Disuniting of America. Schlesinger, a strong supporter of the civil rights movement, argues that a liberal democracy requires a common basis for culture and society to function. In his view, basing ones politics on self-identifying as part of a marginalized group perceived to be outside of the mainstream of society causes this common basis to break down, and therefore works against creating real opportunities or ending this marginalization.

Schlesinger believes that movements for civil rights should aim toward full acceptance and integration of marginalized groups into the mainstream culture, not perpetuate that marginalization. Another critic of identity politics from the center is former Colorado governor Richard Lamm, who wrote an article in 2005 which was circulated on the Internet [3].

Forms of identity politics[]

Ethnic nationalism may be regarded as a form of identity politics within the wider international community, as well as within individual countries. The broader categories of identity politics are Separatism, Irredentism, Revanchism, and Jingoism.

Specific types of identity politics include, but are not limited to:

See also[]

External links[]

fr:Communautarisme identitaire