Last week at the ITU-T meeting in Geneva there were some folks making the assertion that Identity was all about one’s credentials starting first and foremost with one’s birth certificate. Clearly credentials that are abstract representations of our selves have value in our world and let us do things that we were not able to do when identity was just social. Much like the fact
Hernando DeSoto points out in the Mystery of Capital that abstract representations of ownership of things (like deeds of ownership of houses – that say you own your house) has value because now you can do new things you couldn’t do before when ownership was just social (my neighbors know I own my house because I do – no piece of paper says this).
I think loosing the understanding that Identity is first and foremost a social construction would be disastrous. We had a great conversation last week in Brussels with Doc and JP in the ‘because of effect’ I will work on writing up my notes from that while at CFP today.
I am staying at a friend’s house in Montreal and picked up Oppenhimer: The Tragic Intellect on the coffee table. In the Preface the author says this:
The recent biographies all, in different ways, place Oppenheimer’s life in the context of the transformation of science and American society and politics during the Cold War. My aim in this book has been to provide a biography that draws together individual character structure and social structure, looking at the social processes and collective work through which the individual identity is constituted. It is sociological biography, which looks at the collaborative and interactional shaping of the individual in the web of relationships. In that sense, it aims to break down the division between individual and context, treating both in terms of social processes. This is a difficult task. Sociologist Norbert Elias has written, ” Whenever one looks, one comes across the same antinomics: we have a certain traditional idea of what we mean when we say ‘society.’ But these two ideas, the consciousness we have of ourselves as society on the one hand and as individuals on the other, never entirely coalesce…What we lack, let us be clear about it, are conceptual models and, beyond them, a total vision with the aid of which our ideas of human beings as individuals and as societies can be better harmonized.” This study attempts to use the narrative form of a sociologically conceptualized biography to weave together the threads of the “individual” and the “social.”
I continued reading it last night as I went to sleep and found another paragraph I will post tomorrow.