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Identity and experience: Theories of representation and justice in selected narrative forms

Rodan, Debbie Suzanne (2000) Identity and experience: Theories of representation and justice in selected narrative forms. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The primary objective of this thesis is to explore social and cultural identity from two constructions of knowledge: the conception of identity on the one hand as stable, coherent, and fixed, articulated in the Enlightenment and developed through modernity; and on the other hand a postmodernist, postcolonial construction of identity as fluid, multiple and fragmented. While I have not completely discarded the project of modernity, neither have I wholly embraced a postmodernist position. I demonstrate that Enlightenment ideas, which constructed knowledge in terms of ‘identity’ and ‘difference’, as Michel Foucault has argued in The Order of Things, are still with us in the late twentieth century. The underlying logic threaded through this thesis takes on Jean-Frangois Lyotard’s sense that postmodernism does not signify the end of modernism, but that, rather, the latter remains constant within the developing state of the postmodern construction of knowledge.

This thesis ascertains that the construction of identity as either ‘sameness’ or ‘difference’ reduces identity formation to a simplistic binary. I argue that identity formation is complex, and is contingent upon the historical conditions and social structure of the Tifeworld’ (Jurgen Habermas) into which one is born, or in which one lives for a substantial period of one’s life. When these conditions are taken into account it is no longer possible to argue that in terms of identity in liberal societies “we” are all the ‘same’, or “we” are all ‘different’. This thesis argues that while identities are not fixed and are fragmented, there is, nevertheless, a boundedness to identity which is contingent on historical and social conditions.

One of the essential points that I make is that identity is constituted intersubjectively, in that one is part of a communicative process with others within any social and/or cultural order. In other words, one not only names oneself, but crucially the ‘other’ names us too. Whilst one can claim a particular social or cultural identity for oneself, the way one is represented in the social order is a product of certain legitimations that are constituted by public and legal discourses. For this reason, questions of representation and justice are central.

The particular contribution, which this thesis makes to feminist and postcolonial studies, is an examination and deconstruction of ideas about identity that derive from Enlightenment constructions of knowledge. These ideas about identity are deeply embedded in our twentieth century social order, and so need to be destabilised by a number of disciplines. This thesis contributes to this process of deconstruction and re-formation of knowledge in the fields of literature and cultural studies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): De Reuck, Jennifer
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