Who are we?: Modern identities between Taylor and Foucault

Philosophy and Social Criticism 35 (5):533-553 (2009)
Charles Taylor and Michel Foucault offer two very different descriptions and analyses of modern identities. While it can be argued that Taylor and Foucault are thematizing two very different aspects of identity — Taylor is focusing on first-person, subjective, affirmed identity, and Foucault is focusing on third-person, or ascribed, category identity — in practice, these two are very much intertwined. I argue that attention to identities of race, gender, class and sexual orientation demands that we combine a Foucauldian power analysis with a Taylorean understanding of authenticity. Taking Nancy Fraser's and Linda Gordon's example of the `single black mother on welfare' as the `icon of dependency' in America and Charles Taylor's example of the `householder' who understands himself in relation to an ideal of independence, I show that neither individual can develop either self-knowledge or freedom without engaging in a quest for authenticity that involves both analysis of relations of power and identification with resistant identities. This requires moving beyond both Taylor and Foucault to an understanding of identity in terms of critical relations with defining communities. Key Words: authenticity • critique • Michel Foucault • freedom • identity • meaning • power • self-knowledge • social being • Charles Taylor.
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