Authors
Andrew Sneddon
University of Ottawa
Abstract
Monuments commemorating racists are theoretically and practically controversial. Just what these monuments represent is interpreted, in part, on grounds of identity. Since the public nature of such monuments renders them polysemous, ways of reasonably thinking about the relevant identity-based claims are needed. A distinction between an individualistic, psychological notion of identity and an interpersonal, way-of-living notion of identity is drawn. The former notion is illegitimate as a basis of claims about how to interpret public symbols, but the latter notion is conceptually defensible and politically admissible. Use of ways of living to frame discourse about identity and racist monuments generates four sorts of question. These questions raise issues that are respectively a) internal to particular ways of living, b) pertinent to relations between particular ways of living, or c) objective with regard to ways of living, or d) the product of political discussion among ways of living. Such examples as the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia and the (now-removed) statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Victoria, British Columbia are examined to show how polysemy can be recognized and navigated by focusing on ways of living rather than on narrowly psychological aspects of identity. Although in principle both preservationist and removalist positions can be defensible with regard to particular statues, there is reason to think that a general removalist position is prima facie attractive.
Keywords racist monuments  identity  liberal politics
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