The Social and the Individual in Identity

For this week, we read authors that came up in previous weeks, like Biesta on emancipation in education and life long learning. In addition, this is the second time we are reading Gee. I think reading authors more than once in addressing different issues is exciting because we get to see how their thought and arguments develop within different domains. Similar to last week, I enjoyed reading Gee’s paper and I walked away with a useful analytical tool to analyze identity.

According to Gee, identity can be viewed through four different, albeit interrelated, ways. The distinctions between nature, institution, discourse, and affinity identities is a useful approach to identity that challenges the assumptions of identity as innate, fixed, and internal. For instance, the ADHD child in each domain provides an excellent case for how identity comes from many different angles.

This challenge is also taken up by Hand and Gresalfi (2015) and Esteban-Guitart and Moll (2014) when they draw from funds of knowledge  (or situative) that understand identity as “the historically accumulated, culturally developed, and socially distributed resources that are essential for a person’s self-definition, self expression, and self-understanding” (Esteban-Guitart and Moll, 2014). This notion challenges the cultural deficit model minority students are given to in education and social life. In addition, the fund of knowledge, and funds of identity, is directly practical resource for educators that desire to make learning in the classroom more meaningful to students of diverse, non-dominate backgrounds.  Although what I think is missing from Hand and Gresalfi (2015) and Esteban-Guitart and Moll (2014) is the notion of power (hegemony). Although it was mentioned in both papers, I believe the role hegemony plays in identity should have been more pronounced. I would be curious to see how funds of knowledge and identity would understand the hegemonic role that there can be a psychological cost to having underrepresented minority students’ culture, customs, and practices treated as secondary (or even erased) from the classroom and/or curriculum. This is where Gee’s (2000) and Urrieta, Jr paper (2007) makes up for what I believe is lacking in Hand and Gresalfi (2015) and Esteban-Guitart and Moll (2014). For instance, by citing Gramsci, Gee argues that non-elites are meant to conform to an identity of inferiority created by the elites. Accordingly, non-elites express their agency whether they take up or resist this identity and as a result, form counter identities.

Thus, identity is not only about merging the communities of knowing across contexts, but understanding the agentic contributions individuals make to social categories, such as identity. Urrieta Jr., taking up Holland et. al’s “figured worlds” also mentions the notion of power in constructing identities, although not as explicit as Gee “Figured worlds distribute power and teach their participants how power works explicitly and implicitly, both in societies at large in relation to figured worlds and their participants, and within figured worlds themselves” (2007).

Overall, the debate between how does identity fit within the individual and the social world is still prominent. All the papers for this week attempted to resolve this dichotomy of individual vs social of identity. According the literature, even though research has grown significantly in addressing this gap there still persists the assumption that identity can be studied as separate from learning and other cognitive-related process and that the learner can be studied as an isolated variable separate from its socially situated nature. Drawing from Martin (2007), I believe in different degrees, all papers have a communal sense of self in the theories they argue. This communal self is always embedded in a co-constitutive self-other dialogue and communication. It is a self that is “cut from the fabric of those sociocultural conventions and ways of life into which we are born as biophysical human beings, and come to exist and understand ourselves as particular kinds of persons” (Martin, 2007, p. 83).

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