Rethinking ‘Identities’

Cultural Articulations of Alterity and Resistance in the New Millennium

by Lucille Cairns (Volume editor) Santiago Fouz-Hernandez (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection X, 262 Pages
Series: Cultural Identity Studies, Volume 20


This volume sets out to re-imagine the theoretical and epistemological presuppositions of existing scholarship on identities. Despite a well-established body of scholarly texts that examine the concept from a wide range of perspectives, there is a surprising dearth of work on multiple, heterogeneous forms of identity. Numerous studies of ethnic, linguistic, regional and religious identities have appeared, but largely in isolation from one another.
Rethinking ‘Identities’ is a multi-authored project that is original in providing – in distributed and granular mode – a hyper-contemporary and wide-ranging applied analysis that questions notions of identity based on nation and region, language, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion or even ‘the human’. The volume achieves this by mobilizing various contexts of identity (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nation) and medium (art, cinema, literature, music, theatre, video). Emphasizing the extreme contemporary (the twenty-first century) and the challenges posed by an increasingly global society, this collection of essays builds upon existing intellectual investigations of identity with the aim of offering a fresh perspective that transcends cognitive and geographical frontiers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Dedication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I Gendered and Sexual Identities
  • Lucille Cairns: Post-Feminist Pornographication or Pro-Sex Feminism? Queer Performativity in the Work of Two French Female Artists
  • Doris Leibetseder: Fem(me) Tracks: Queer Fem(me)inist Strategies of Resistance in Rock and Pop Music, from Angie Reed to Denice Fredriksson
  • Santiago Fouz-Hernández and Adrián Gras-Velázquez: Screening Chueca: Marking the Queer Territory in Spanish Cinema of the 2000s
  • Florian Grandena: From the Sublimated Anus to the Desublimating Hand: An Intersectional Discussion of Work and Homosexuality in French Gay Cinema
  • Part II National and Ethnic Identities
  • Andy Byford: Performing ‘Community’: Russian Speakers in Contemporary Britain
  • Alfredo Martínez-Expósito: Branding the Nation: Resistance and Authenticity in García Berlanga’s París-Tombuctú
  • Diego Santos Sánchez: Performing Nationhood: Theatre and Heterodox Identities in (Multi)National Spain
  • Part III Post-Human Identities
  • Kerstin Oloff: Towards the World-Zombie: The Monstrous, the ‘Human’ and the Dominican-Haitian Frontier in Pedro Cabiya’s Malas hierbas (2010) and Junot Díaz’s ‘Monstro’ (2012)
  • Christopher Lloyd: Redrawing the Boundaries of the Human: Automata, Androids and Clones from Hoffmann to Houellebecq
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix →Acknowledgements

First of all, we would like to thank all the authors of this volume, who gave presentations to the ‘Culture and Difference’ research group of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University (UK) during the period 2009–2012. These presentations inspired the conception of this collection. We also appreciate all the work that they have invested since in producing the final versions of the chapters included here. Secondly, we offer our heart-felt thanks to the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, and to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Durham University for their generous support of our endeavour. We would like to thank Laurel Plapp at Peter Lang for supporting this project from the start, and Helen Chambers, series editor, for her detailed and constructive feedback. At a more personal level, we would like to thank our family, friends and partners for their patience with us during the gestation period. In addition we would like to thank Alejandro Melero Salvador and Christian Mieves for their ideas for our book cover. The ‘Russian dolls’ cover illustration is a design by Christian Mieves based on a concept by Santiago Fouz-Hernández. ← ix | x →

← x | 1 → Introduction

This volume sets out to reimagine and extend the theoretical and epistemological presuppositions of existing scholarship on identities. Despite a well-established body of scholarly texts which examine the concept from a wide range of perspectives, there is a surprising dearth of scholarship on multiple, heterogeneous forms of identity. This multi-authored volume is innovative in providing, in distributed and granular mode, a hyper-contemporary and wide-ranging applied analysis that questions notions of identity based on particular properties. It achieves this by mobilizing various components of identity (gender, ethnicity, nation, sexuality, national belonging) and a range of media (cinema, erotic art, literature, music, theatre, video). Emphasizing the extreme contemporary (the twenty-first century) and the challenges posed by an increasingly global society, the volume builds upon previous intellectual investigations of identity with the aim of offering a fresh perspective that transcends their current cognitive and geographical frontiers. One of the key points emerging from the various chapters is the dramatic degree to which significant political, economic and technological developments in the last quarter of the twentieth century have changed our sense of ‘identity’. Regime changes, mass migration, the human rights movement, economic globalization and the internet have had an important impact on the wide-ranging cultural production reflecting that changing sense of ‘identity’ of the many countries represented here. The volume is born out of a series of research seminars hosted by the Culture and Difference research group within the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University (UK) that has explored the impact our rapidly changing society is having in cultural imaginings of ‘identity’ in the Western world. Like the series, the volume addresses the distinct need for more studies of identity that in fact engage with the cultural material and phenomena that are out there in the real world, rather than remaining content to dwell forever in the abstractions ← 1 | 2 → of theory. Rethinking ‘Identities’: Cultural Articulations of Alterity and Resistance in the New Millennium uses key attributes of ‘identity’ as structural axes, although, as the different chapters show, these axes are by no means mutually exclusive.

In an article published at the very beginning of the twenty-first century, Brubaker and Cooper (2000) mount a harsh critique of what they perceive as the over-use of the term ‘identity’. For them, in its ‘soft’ version, in which identity is always qualified as provisional, fluid, non-permanent, and so on, the concept ceases to yield any meaningful conceptual purchase. They endeavour to propose more nuanced and specific alternatives, such as identification and categorization; self-understanding and social location; commonality, connectedness and groupness (Brubaker and Cooper 2000: 14–21). Whilst we acknowledge the risk that the term ‘identity’ may in some cases be used lazily, inaccurately and/or over-capaciously, we do not propose to jettison it. The reason we wish to retain it is at least partially pragmatic: there seems to be no other lexical item that designates the broad ontology of human beings without segmenting that ontology, as do Brubaker and Cooper’s alternative concepts, and without occluding certain elements of it. Furthermore, as the chapters within this volume show, the alternative categories proposed by Brubaker and Cooper are neither mutually exclusive nor easily separable. Ultimately, while we recognize the sometimes formidable flexibility and polysemy of the term identity – its ‘umbrella’ properties – this book frames itself in the post-Foucauldian tradition of what they refer to as ‘soft’ identities. As they acknowledge, those ‘soft’ identities retain immense political significance, particularly for the more minority or contested identity-based groups with which this volume is concerned.

The first section of the volume focuses on gendered and sexual identities. If there is one incontestable statement that can be made about sexual identity, it is that most human beings are born with genitalia that are clearly identifiable as either biologically female or male (intersex babies being relatively rare). But gender, meaning the cultural expectations attached to those two forms of anatomical sex, has long been analytically decoupled from anatomical sex. Similarly, sexuality – as in sexual preference/orientation – has, at least for those able to see beyond heteronormativity, ← 2 | 3 → also been liberated from a mapping that required, for psychosexual health to be decreed, that desire should only be felt for those of the opposite anatomical sex.

So far, so obvious. But it is less obvious that identities of gender and sexuality have similarly incontestable bases, that there are any indisputable certitudes that could prove their self-evident existence. Rather than reifying gendered and sexual identities into objective realities, it may be worth reconceptualizing gendered identities and, perhaps more problematically, identities of sexuality, as enabling fictions. This is not to deny the political expediency of such reifications; in most western countries they have been, and continue to be, indispensable to the achievement of complete legal equality and equity. Nor is it to deny the fact that such reifications will certainly persist outside the realm of academic discourse as unquestioned categories conferring social legibility on everyday interactions. To reconceptualize gendered and sexual identities as enabling fictions is, rather – although not only – to reiterate their constructedness, and to recall Brubaker and Cooper’s point that the term ‘identity’ connotes sameness over time (Brubaker and Cooper 2000: 8) or, in other words, fixed, even essential identities. In its original purist form, queer theory, which informs many elements of this volume, is precisely about resistance to all fixed sexual and gendered identities. Indeed, it could be averred that there is an irreducible antinomy between such original purist queer theory and the very concept of identity, or at least the concept of a stable identity enduring through time. Popular contemporary use of the term ‘queer’ as quasi synonym of lesbian/gay and, to a lesser extent, bisexual, is a social reality, but it is also, arguably, a semantic corruption that may hinder nuanced cognitive work.

Exploring the notion of gendered and sexual identities as enabling fictions does not mean positing these self-understandings as mere illusions or, worse, as falsehoods. Such exploration aims rather to highlight the narrative dimension to these self-understandings that are labelled identities. To understand myself as a woman or a man, as female or male, as feminine or masculine, as lesbian or gay, as bisexual, as ‘queer’ (the inverted commas allude to the dichotomous acceptation of the term queer flagged above) – or indeed as straight – entails my drawing, consciously or unconsciously, on existing ← 3 | 4 → narratives about what such alleged identities have meant for human beings historically and what they mean for human beings today. That is to say, what have they meant in terms of subjects’ lived experiences, or life-stories? To use a term from the lexicon of cinematic theory, we are sutured into the narratives of others’ material, socio-political lives, past and present. Isomorphically, drawing on existing narratives about others whose self-understandings derive from non-heteronormative affinities requires acts of imagination.

Fertilizers of identitarian imaginings have increased rapidly alongside technological advances in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Already in the late twentieth century, it became literally possible to change one’s anatomical sex. Admittedly, this surgical procedure is certainly not without risk, in some cases resulting in a refusal by others to recognize the gender that is normatively associated with the transsexual person’s new genitalia. And in the twenty-first century, the age of internet and digital communications, social media networks have made possible, indeed often blandish us into undertaking, imagined virtual reconstructions of gendered and sexual ‘identities’ (as well, clearly, as identities based on age, class, ethnicity, nationality, degree of ability or disability, and so on).

So far, we have considered gendered and sexual identities in terms of individuals’ self-understandings. But self-understanding is not the only alternative to the concept of identity; as mentioned earlier, others proposed by Brubaker and Cooper are identification and categorization; social location; commonality, connectedness and what they call ‘groupness’ (Brubaker and Cooper 2000: 7). Further, as Brubaker and Cooper shrewdly observe, it is important not to consider self-understanding in isolation from social location. In the twenty-first century, part of that social location has been globalization and financial crisis. Globalization, a highly contentious phenomenon, could be viewed as congruent with two of Brubaker and Cooper’s alternatives to the concept of identity: commonality and connectedness. Globalization, some affirm, may promote a transcending of chauvinistic national identities and their potential for parochialism, or worse, for xenophobia.

What might such a transcending mean for gendered and sexual identities? Some would contend that nationalism, and all the historical wars to which it has led throughout recorded history, have at root been masculinist, ← 4 | 5 → with men being almost exclusively the initiators and prosecutors of wars. Here it is worth posing what may initially appear to be an excessively broad question that naively begs many other questions. Does national identity, along with its close companion ethnic identity, matter as much to women as to men? Of course, many women, particularly those of a more conservative persuasion, may feel and advocate a strong sense of national identity. However, the queer women featuring in Lucille Cairns’s and Doris Leibetseder’s chapters manifest no adherence to nationalist and ethnic particularisms. Indeed, the women in question, apart from those in Delorme’s short stories (and even these stories seem in their autofictional form to reference at least some of Delorme’s lived experience), are ‘real’, extra-diegetic women of diverse national, ethnic and racial backgrounds who nonetheless find a commonality, connectedness and ‘groupness’ in their common cause of defying heteronormativity. In the particular intersections of gender, sexuality and national identity found in these women, not all of whom are white, national identity appears to have no importance whatsoever. Is this because these are queer women (and here we use the term in its original, purist sense, not as synonym for LGB) for whom nationalism is by definition a divisive, discriminatory, and masculine-connoted credo?

Maybe. But it is worth noting that perhaps the iconic representation of national supremacist values, namely the United States, is certainly not shunned by these women. Indeed, several of the women in question are themselves North American or have lived in North America, and at no point is there any criticism, either by them or by the other women, of the values metonymically associated with the USA: ‘global’ values of capitalism and neo-liberalism. Nor do the gay men in the majority of the French films examined by Florian Grandena’s chapter critique, far less reject, such values. Indeed, Grandena discerns in these gay men, who, although fictional characters, are located within largely realist cinema, what he calls a conservatization of gay identities/self-understandings. Part of this conservatization, which in his chapter’s initial overview is signally not restricted to gay men in the extra-diegetic world but observed also in growing numbers of lesbians, is an aspiration to marriage and parenthood that has always been conceived as heteronormative. Evidently, there is much to commend the predicate of equality with heterosexual citizens ← 5 | 6 → before the law and the corresponding right to participate in institutions and practices such as marriage and parenthood. However, we might also ask whether such an aspiration partly derives from an unconscious wish for greater commonality and connectedness with non LGBQT society (and here we do not necessarily use these terms in exactly the same way as do Brubaker and Cooper in their text).

This clearly touches upon a well-worn debate in LGBQT discourse, namely the relative virtues of assimilationism and differentialism. Is it possible, in twenty-first-century western societies, truly to participate in the institutions of marriage and parenthood and still retain any form of radical identity, or understanding of oneself as radical? And is there any value anyway in radicalism for radicalism’s sake? Queer was originally defined as resistance to all norms of sex and gender; but if those norms seem, if not to have disappeared, to have at least partly ceded their hegemony, as in the case of certain European countries and certain US states that now allow lesbian/gay marriage and lesbian/gay adoption, is there any role left for queer? We would answer, albeit tentatively, in the affirmative. It seems axiomatic that not all LGBQT individuals wish to marry or parent, and that many still suffer from discrimination qua LGBQT individuals rather than qua LGBQT couples. Here we refer to individuals whose self-understanding is not dependent on the social grafting of that self upon another individual of the same sex within marriage, or on the perpetuation of at least elements – biological or cultural – of that self, through the bearing/rearing of children.


X, 262
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
nation region ethnicity sexuality religion
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. X, 262 pp.

Biographical notes

Lucille Cairns (Volume editor) Santiago Fouz-Hernandez (Volume editor)

Lucille Cairns is Professor of French at Durham University. She is the author of numerous articles both on French women’s writing and on male and female homosexuality in French literature and film, and of five monographs, most recently Post-War Jewish Women’s Writing in French (2011). She was also editor of Gay and Lesbian Cultures in France (2002). In 2009, she was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government. Santiago Fouz-Hernández is Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Durham University. He is the author of the monograph Cuerpos de cine. Masculinidades carnales en el cine y la cultura popular contemporáneos (2013), co-author of Live Flesh: The Male Body in Contemporary Spanish Cinema (2007) and editor of Mysterious Skin: Male Bodies in Contemporary Cinema (2009). He is also the reviews editor of the journal Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas. His current research focuses on Spanish erotic cinema.


Title: Rethinking ‘Identities’