Defining My Own Oppression | Historical Materialism
Neoliberalism and the Demands of Victimhood, by Chi Chi Shi
Identity politics has come to the fore as the dominant battleground of contemporary Left politics. However, what is meant by ‘identity politics’ is often poorly defined and politically contentious. I contend that the meanings and uses of identity politics have shifted from the New Social Movement era, which has led to a theoretical confusion as to how we understand identity-based organising. On the one hand, the concept of ‘identity politics’ has been tarred with the brush of essentialism, particularism and cultural determinism. This can be seen as an acknowledgement of the failures of identity-politics movements to be attentive of intragroup difference, thereby unwittingly reproducing structures of dominance within the movements themselves. On the other hand, identity as ‘experience’ has become a commonly-accepted litmus test for political legitimacy in activist circles; it is a commonly accepted claim on the Left that the oppressed have a better understanding of reality because it is grounded in their identities, in their experience of oppression. Paradoxically, the simultaneous prevalence of these two seemingly-opposed claims has resulted in a confused terrain, where ‘identity politics’ is derided even as the central political importance of identity is affirmed.