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carolyn.j's picture

"Place, Movement, and Identity: Rethinking Empowerment"

Miller, Marjorie C.  "Place, Movement, and Identity: Rethinking Empowerment."  Feminist Politics: Identity, Difference, and Agency.  Ed. Deborah Orr, Dianna Taylor, Eileen Kahl, Kathleen Earle, Christa Rainwater, and Linda López McAlister.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.  173-183.  Print.

Miller's essay connects empowerment as related to identity, and identity related to a place - physical, social, etc.  Given such a tie to place, identity's interaction with empowerment is such that it is construed as a movement, wherein an identity metaphorically moves its location from the periphery to the center of social understanding.  Yet this becomes problematic, because as more groups self-identity and move to the center, group identities become more and more narrow, such that some new group is always excluded and left on the periphery. 

In contrast to this Miller addresses the postmodern/poststructuralist understanding of identity, that holds identity not as fiexed but rather performed and entirely subjective.  This does not satisfy Miller either; she critiques it as unproductively apolitical for its denial of an identity group's capacity to seek social empowerment through movement to the center.  Instead, Miller argues that identity should be conceived of in terms of "situation" over "location," because a situationally constructed identity reinforces intersectionality and interplay of group identity, while still allowing movement and empowerment of any individual group.

Miller's initial synopsis of how identity is constructed locationally was, for me, and important explicit articulation of a phenomenon I had seen and accepted but never put words to.  Similarly, contrasting that with the poststructuralist concept of performative identity was useful.  I agree and have many sympathies with poststructural theories, but had not considered how it intersected with identity politics in this way.  I still agree in many ways that identity is performative and subjective; but at the same time Miller has much cause to be calling postmodernists out on the apolitical nature of their approach.  For all that their position on what identity is may make sense and can be agreed upon, it remains that identity (as with everything, really) necessarily is/becomes political, and as such we need a way to conceptualize it such that it can be utilized in an effective political matter.  To this end, Miller's fusion of locational and performative identity is an important argument to consider when working within identity-driven or identity-related politics.

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