Different paradigms are competing in the conceptualization of identity. Thus, some authors understand identity as something fixed, as an entity identical to itself and yet other authors understand identity as a process of identification.
In the first case, the idea of identity lies in the existence of an entity with something pertaining to itself, “as the real nature of self” (Leibniz, 1996: 232), a testimony of the existence of a pure self. Accordingly, a common agreement based on etymology situates the word identity as from Latin idem, the same. This tradition offers the certainty of the impossibility to discern between identicals, an absolute correspondence that encourages people to define themselves as identical things coherent with themselves and to see some conditions of identity as something with a centre as a fixed quality. This would be something “unique and singular” (Jung, 1958: 9), crystallized in itself, the owner of static features beyond the eyes of the beholder.
The problem with the belief of identities as something given is that it defines a place of power by arguing the natural right to justify activities of limitation and exclusion to whom belong and do not belong to this body. It sustains the right of a natural order as coming from a gift of god or to invoke a natural selection law to interpret the social field, even if others could be left behind.
Moreover, as this identity is supported in itself, it seems that it does not need anything or anybody else to be explained or even to transcend. Thus, this lack of any external ties or shared features detaches identity from the commitment to the deep recognition of the other as part of it, with no need for the “law of friendship and contracts” among parts (Mauss, 1990: 104), and is a kind of external and magic gift that is coming from the symbolic order. As Zizek points out, “the symbolic order emerges from a gift, an offering that marks its content as neutral in order to pose as a gift: when a gift is offered, what matters is not its content but the link between giver and receiver established when the receiver accepts the gift.” (Zizek, 2007: 12).
©Sebastian Guerrini, 2009