Territorialization Of Identity – OpEd


The concept of identity, as a reflection of one’s own self as an individual, is intricately intertwined with various factors such as birth, sex, and a myriad of social, political, cultural, and economic determinants. These determinants, ranging from class and race to region, religion, gender, and nationality, wield significant influence in the formation of one’s identity.

Moreover, this identity is not static; it evolves over time and adapts to different environments because of experiences, beliefs, and activities. Individual identities are as diverse as the people who possess them, each characterised by personal traits and uniqueness. However, individuals are not solely defined by their individuality; they also belong to various social, cultural, political, and economic groups based on shared similarities with others. These group identities, too, exhibit their own nuances and distinctions.

The process of identity formation is dynamic, shaped by the interplay of time, place, and various processes. Individuals share aspects of their sense of self with others, leading to the emergence of distinct identities based on the context of when, where, and how these interactions occur. Both individual and group identities are subject to change, influenced by shifting circumstances and evolving societal norms. However, the complexity and diversity inherent in these identities pose challenges for institutions and processes of governance, which often struggle to accommodate the multifaceted nature of human identity.

The territorialisation of identity formation, shaped by Westphalian ideology, remains heavily influenced by factors such as birthplace or possession of an official passport issued by a specific nation-state. This process involves the state’s official assignment of identity, a procedure largely beyond an individual’s control, often dictated by bureaucratic and geopolitical boundaries. However, this rigid framework overlooks the diverse nature of identities and their multifaceted material and non-material manifestations. Identity is not solely defined by territorial borders or legal documentation but encompasses a rich and diverse landscape of cultural, linguistic, and experiential elements. Moreover, the rigid territorialisation of identity fails to account for the fluidity and complexity inherent in contemporary global, regional, national, and local societies, where individuals often navigate multiple identities simultaneously. 

The diverse conditions of multiple identity formation pose a significant challenge to the construction of a monolithic society and compliant individuals, as required by various forms of capitalism in the age of techno-feudalism. In this era, characterised by a blend of advanced technology and feudal-like power structures within platform economy, the expectation of a homogenous societal fabric becomes increasingly untenable. Capitalist systems, particularly in their contemporary manifestations, often prioritise conformity and uniformity to streamline consumption patterns and maintain control over labour forces. Ghettoisation of people and their multiple natural and flexible identities is a cultural and political project of capitalism opposed to diversity.

The reality of multiple identity formations disrupts the idealised vision within capitalist frameworks where a culture of compliance shapes autonomous individual identities. In traditional capitalist narratives, there’s often an expectation of a singular, dominant cultural paradigm that facilitates compliance with the prevailing economic system. This narrative assumes that individuals will conform to societal norms and expectations, aligning their identities with the values and behaviours conducive to capitalist productivity and consumption for accumulation of profit. However, the existence of multiple identity formations challenges this assumption. Individuals possess complex, layered identities that are shaped by a myriad of personal, cultural, and social factors. These identities may intersect and diverge in ways that resist assimilation into a singular cultural narrative. As such, attempts to enforce a homogeneous cultural identity for the sake of capitalist compliance are met with resistance and often fail to account for the diverse realities of human experience.

Moreover, the autonomy of individual identities is compromised when subjected to pressure to conform to a standardised cultural framework. Rather than freely expressing and exploring their multifaceted identities, individuals may feel compelled to suppress aspects of themselves that do not align with the dominant cultural narrative. This suppression can lead to feelings of alienation, disconnection, and even internal conflict as individuals navigate the tension between their authentic selves and the expectations imposed upon them by capitalist ideology. In essence, the existence of multiple identity formations highlights the limitations of the idealised vision of capitalism, revealing the complexities and nuances of human identity that cannot be neatly contained within a single cultural paradigm. 

Individuals and their identities exist within intersecting webs of multiple identities shaped by factors such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and more. These multifaceted identities resist reduction into a singular, standardised mould. Consequently, the capitalist pursuit of a monolithic society encounters resistance from the complexities of human diversity. Moreover, in the age of techno-feudalism, where power dynamics echo feudal structures with technology magnifying inequalities, the pressure for compliance intensifies. Yet, individuals with diverse identities bring with them diverse perspectives, needs, and desires, challenging the hegemony of a singular narrative or set of norms. In this context, the tension between the demands of capitalism for compliance and the reality of multiple identity formations becomes stark. Efforts to homogenise society risk marginalising and oppressing those whose identities deviate from the prescribed norm. 

Capitalism leverages both the territorialisation and deterritorialisation processes of identity assignment to undermine collective, communitarian, and diverse forms of individual and societal identities. By emphasising the primacy of national borders and the identities associated with them, capitalism perpetuates a framework that prioritises individualism over collectivism and homogenises diverse identities into a singular, market-friendly narrative. This approach is evident in the reactionary politics of dominant identities mobilised by capitalist systems to sustain their processes of identity formation. By promoting and privileging certain identities deemed advantageous within the capitalist framework, such as those aligned with the interests of the ruling class or dominant cultural norms, capitalism perpetuates systems of oppression and marginalisation. These dominant identities serve to consolidate power and control, maintaining the status quo by marginalising and subjugating those whose identities do not conform to the prescribed norm.

In contrast, the identity politics of marginalised masses emerges as a form of emancipatory politics, seeking to challenge and disrupt the hegemony of dominant identities perpetuated by capitalism. By focusing on the experiences and perspectives of marginalised communities, identity politics serves as a catalyst for social change and progress rooted in diversity and inclusion. It provides a platform for amplifying voices that have been historically silenced and advocating for the recognition and affirmation of all identities, regardless of their alignment with dominant narratives. In essence, while dominant identity politics seeks to preserve the existing power structures and resist change, the identity politics of marginalised masses represents a transformative force that challenges the status quo and paves the way for a more equitable and just society. 

By embracing diversity and advocating for the rights and dignity of all individuals, emancipatory identity politics holds the potential to foster genuine social progress and collective liberation. Recognising and embracing this diversity is essential for the growth of a more inclusive and equitable society that honours the autonomy and dignity of all individuals. Thus, a more inclusive and equitable approach to social, political, economic, and cultural organisation becomes imperative, one that recognises and celebrates the richness of diverse identities while challenging the oppressive structures that seek to erase them within the processes of territorialisation.

It is time to reclaim our identities as global citizens, based on solidarity beyond the boundaries of nation-states and their narrow colonial political, cultural, and economic projects of capitalist territorialisation.

Bhabani Shankar Nayak

Bhabani Shankar Nayak works as Professor of Business Management, Guildhall School of Business and Law, London Metropolitan University, UK.

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