Identity Politics and the Limits of Moral Pluralism

  • Katherine Smits


Identity groups define the essentials of group membership in different ways, not surprisingly, depending on the exigencies of their social situations. Such definitions also change over time, as a group’s social standing comes under new and different pressures relative to other groups. In many cases, groups that emerged with strong claims of shared and deep identity, go on to complicate and qualify their claims to such an extent that some internal critics worry aloud that the claim of commonality has ceased to be meaningful. Feminism offers a good example of this: when the second-wave women’s movement began, feminists argued that women shared a fundamental identity based on sex. Women of color and lesbians first challenged this essential commonality on political grounds; postmodernist feminists have since deconstructed it philosophically. The political claims identity groups make and the bases for them have also differed, depending upon whether groups represent race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexuality (to list some common but hardly nonexhaustive social cleavages). The variations here turn on the impact of membership upon individuals, and the degree of public recognition they seek. Some identity groups claim a determining relationship between group membership and individual identity; some a looser and more complex connection. Some have demanded political autonomy; some, recognition in existing political institutions, such as guaranteed seats in parliament; some, the inclusion of group history and culture in educational curricula.


Identity Group Autonomous Agency Moral Belief Liberal Theory Identity Politics 
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© Katherine Smits 2005

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  • Katherine Smits

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