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Identity: Unstable? Or Redefined?

lcastrejon's picture

Name: Leslie Castrejon

Professor Jody Cohen

Educ. 270

Date: 10/10/14

Legal/Policy Analysis Paper

Identity: Unstable? Or Redefined?

            As the world keeps turning and life keeps moving forward, human identity has developed (and continues to develop) to be more complex than ever before. Identity is composed of a variety of different aspects that in reality have always been present but have taken time to be acknowledged and discussed about within society. Lennard J. Davis’ article, The End of Identity Politics: On Disability as an Unstable Category, discusses the issues of disability identity and goes on to explain how all other aspects of identity that are different from the normative have also become unstable within America. As a result, as identity aspects continues to unwrap itself and merge itself into other categories, it has become challenging for authoritative figures in society to classify and accommodate groups of people and particular situations that identify as/include more than one aspect of identity. An example, of an authoritative figure in society that are mentioned throughout Davis’ article are the arena of the courts. With so many changes happening within society in terms of identity, courts are being forced to not only consider more than just scientific facts but re-evaluate state laws/policies to even the federal constitution. In order to gain a better understanding of Davis’ claims of identity instability, this paper will analyze identity aspects such as, gender and disability on why its unstable and how it has been treated by the courts.

            Unlike the other two topics that will be discussed about in this essay, gender has been an identity aspect that is not new to the American society especially the courts arena in terms of women’s civil rights. Yet, even though women’s rights have been brought to the forefront in America, how did it get its start and why is it still an issue to this day? According to Davis’ article,

“the political and academic movement…is..a first- or second-wave enterprise. The first wave…[implying] a pulling together of forces, an agreement to agree for political ends and group solidarity, along with the tacit approval of an agenda for the establishment of basic rights and prohibitions against various kinds of discrimination and ostracism” (264).

            And so in terms of gender, the first wave would indicate the pulling together of women and allies who agreed and supported the approval for the establishment of women’s rights (now known as, the feminist movement) and intolerance towards the discrimination and ostracism against women. Meanwhile, the second wave is stated as such,

“a newer generation of people within the identity group, ones who have grown up with the libratory models well in place…are comfortable about self-examining, finding diversity within the group, and struggling to redefine the identity in somewhat more nuanced and complex ways” (264).

            In other words, as the newer generation takes on the feminist movement, they reshape it to fit their own personal identity rather than unifying the group, which is interesting, yet draws a conflict within the group. For instance, when the feminist movement began, it was originally set up to help White woman meanwhile women of color were unable to take part and enjoy these privileges even though they were women. In addition, this also causes an affect on how different aspects of society such as, the courts should proceed in handling cases concerning gender. For instance, according to Davis’ article, courts are now facing a dilemma with women and having the right to do as they wish with their bodies. A specific example, is whether or not women have the right to abortion and if so, under what circumstances are they allowed doing so? What other factors are considered when determining these circumstances in court? Why is this even being brought into question in the first place? Court policies and regulations vary by state and so, depending on what state a woman is in, she either has the right or not to get an abortion and if she does then there’s a certain timeframe in which, she would be allowed to do so. As one can see, gender identity has developed to be a lot more complex now that “self-examining” and much more is occurring within this particular group causing questions to be raised and disunity within the group to occur.

            Although there are many other aspects like gender that are also undergoing similar developmental paths, disability is a known aspect of identity however is still new in terms of taking a firm stance and being visible within society. For instance, in the beginning of his article, Davis mentions that,

“When [he] discussed the idea of clouding the issue of disability identity, a prominent disability scholar advised [him] not to pursue this line of thinking. ‘We’re just not ready to dissolve disability thinking. We are just beginning to form it’” (263).

When applying the “first- or second-wave enterprise” towards disability identity, it can be said that based off of what the prominent disability scholar had said to Davis, disability identity can be considered to be at the first wave. In other words, like the feminist group, this group of people is composed of those (known as, People with Disabilities (PWDs)) who, identify with having a disability or are an ally that support the establishment of basic rights and intolerance of discrimination against those with a disability. The scholar whom Davis spoke with does not believe that this aspect of identity has reached the point where it can be considered a second-wave yet after the PWDs formed a movement, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), was put in place. As a result, the act included “conditions like obesity, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, skin conditions, and hundreds of other conditions” (271). Because the ADA included a variety of different conditions, it can be said that the group can be considered a second-wave enterprise since more than just one kind of sub-identity is included within this group. However, when it comes to dealing with this certain aspect of identity, courts are also facing problems because,

“the protected class is too large…[since] too many people with minor conditions were qualifying as disabled, the federal courts have issued very narrow interpretations of disability” (271).

In other words, there are a significant amount of people who are qualifying to be disabled when in reality most of the reasons as to why there are so many people identifying to be within this particular group is because,

“disability is presented as a social and political problem that turns an impairment into an oppression either by erecting barriers or by refusing to create barrier-free environments” (271).

            Davis is stating that a possibility to the increase in amount of people listed as disable could be due to the common misunderstanding that disability and impairment have completely different meanings. For instance, disability is known to be the “social process that turns impairment into a negative by creating barriers to access” (265). Meanwhile, impairment is “the physical fact of lacking an arm or leg” (265). This is important to understand because if the courts were to be more familiar with these terms and disability identity in general then they could exercise their power to ensure that employers or the city/town etc. make changes towards providing the proper accommodations for people who need them such as, making sure the building is wheel chair accessible by providing a ramp. Even so, courts still have other policies and laws that must be taken into consideration when deciding the end result for disabled identity situations.

            Throughout this essay, two particular aspects of identity have been discussed in order to gain a better understanding of Davis’ article claiming identity instability and how courts have handled these particular situations. As a result, there have been particular aspects of identities where newer generations have had the ability to delve further into a particular identity in search of diversity and reshaping it to suit their own unique identity. For example, gender has grown to be more than just about men and women. Earlier it was mentioned how women gathered together to fight for women’s civil rights however, because today’s generation is able to enjoy these rights, there have been women who have looked into other areas that have been called into question. For instance, the right for abortion which can be seen as an internal right since it has to deal more with one’s own body rather than an external right such as, the right to vote. Until recently, courts have had no reason to set these kinds of policies and laws centered around what one can do with one’s own body because it had never been brought up before. However, now that this particular aspect of identity has been brought up into question, courts have had to re-evaluate their laws and policies in order to provide the best laws/policies that will ensure the safety and protection of society. Meanwhile, a relatively new aspect of identity that is discussed through this essay in which, Davis mentions in his article is disability identity. According to a prominent scholar in disabilities, disability identity is not ready to be “dissolved”. In other words, this scholar is stating that disability identity has not been widely discussed enough for today’s generation to feel comfortable enough to reshape it and apply it towards one’s own identity. As a result, it can be possible to say that this generation who identity to be disabled are unable to delve deeper into this aspect of identity. However, Davis also points out that the reason as to why this generation is unable to do so is because of miscommunication and misunderstanding of the key terms (disability vs. impairment) that play an important role in determining societal outcomes. If courts take time to revise and assess the classification of certain situations as either a disability or impairment, then the way they handle these particular cases could be completely different. Although in his article, Davis claims these aspects of identity to be unstable, based off of the kind of situations these forms of identities bring up and how its made the courts arena go about handling them, can we really say that identity is unstable? As newer generations become more able to comfortable explore new areas within these identity aspects, wouldn’t that mean that these identities are instead being redefined? Based off of what Davis has included in his article and what has been discussed in this essay, it can be said that Davis is right in his claims that identity nowadays is unstable but only because a variety of its aspects are now being redefined into new more complex meanings and that is what makes it an unstable identity.






















Works Cited

  1. Davis, Lennard J. "Chapter 20: The End of Identity Politics: On Disability as an Unstable Category." The Disability Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2010. 263-71. Print.