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Identity Politics Then and Now


Identity politics, or collective activism based on embodied experiences of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or nationality, existed before the late twentieth century, but the term was coined in the 1970s and widely circulated in the 1980s as a response to social injustice, widespread prejudice and even assault borne by members of specific minority groups. For lesbians, gays and transsexuals, for ethnic minorities like Native Americans in the US or First Nations in Canada, for women in many Western countries, identity politics has meant working proactively for full legal and social recognition. Feminism often flies under the banner of identity politics with the argument that gender equality is still far from the norm in Western societies and even less so in many Asian and African societies, and in those of the Arab world.

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1 For related discussions, see Jardine, Alice, Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 145–55 ff.; Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 134, 142–9; Spivak, Gayatri on ‘strategic essentialism’ discussed in The Spivak Reader, ed. Landry, D. (London: Taylor and Francis, 1995), pp. 214 ff.; and Diamond, Elin, Unmaking Mimesis: Essays of Feminism and Theater (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 106–9 ff.

2 See Giroux, Henry, ‘Consuming Social Change: “The United Colors of Benetton”’, Cultural Critique, 26 (Winter 1993–4), pp. 532.

3 The Combahee River Collective, ‘A Black Feminist Statement’, in Hull, Gloria T., Scott, Patricia Bell and Smith, Barbara, eds., All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave (New York: Feminist Press, 1982), p. 15.

5 Hull, Scott and Smith, All the Women . . ., p. 16, my italics.

6 Benmussa, Simone, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs (La Vie Sigulière d'Albert Nobbs, Editions des femmes, 1977) in Benmussa Directs (London: John Calder, 1979), pp. 22–6, 75–121.

7 Peggy Shaw and Suzy Willson, Must: The Inside Story (a Journey through the Shadows of a City, A Pound of Flesh, a Book of Love, 2008), a spiral-bound, illustrated, privately published, unpaginated text, divided into eleven sections. These words are from section 1.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-research-international
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