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Oppression and (un)intelligibility: Resistance, moral agency, and the remaking of social identities

Newman, Nell (2015) Oppression and (un)intelligibility: Resistance, moral agency, and the remaking of social identities. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis explores the idea that reinvention of their social identities is a possible means for members of subordinate social groups to demonstrate competencies in moral agency. As well as being considered morally inferior in the wider community, members of subordinate social groups may experience diminished moral agency as a result of external social constraints and the internalisation of negative stereotypes. Since a person's social identity is implicated in both their oppression and their potential for resistance, identity is problematised by positing that all persons have a multiplicity of identities, as proposed by Maria Lugones, including both privileged and oppressed identities. Social identities are further conceived as both mutable and possessing fluid boundaries. Being able to reinvent themselves depends upon persons developing feelings of self-worth and a sense of self-respect, which in turn rely upon the acquisition of appropriate self-knowledge through situational awareness. Crossing over the boundaries among their different identities and situating themselves critically in the margins provides oppressed persons with the social and discursive space to lay claim to new and reinvented selves. Since self-knowledge and self-direction are key to developing capacities in moral agency as well as to selfdefinition, I suggest that, rather than rely on political force to effect change, individual group members are able to resist systematic oppression based on their group memberships by making their social identities, relationships, and practices intelligible in their moral accounts. Limitations on self-knowledge and the possibilities of others attending to us, however, mean that these accounts can only be partial, and that persons with non-standard identities also expose themselves to the moral risk that their identities, relationships and practices may be unintelligible to others because they lack a shared interpretive framework. Nevertheless, it is argued that the imperfect nature of these moral accounts does not invalidate the potential of self-reinvention as a tool to enable the development of the competencies necessary for the exercise of moral agency.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Bowden, Peta and Surma, Anne
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