CHID 480 F: Special Topics: “Mediating Identities: Technologies of the Self”
Monday/Wednesday 10:30 AM-12:20 PM
“The sameness of a person or thing at all times or in all circumstances; the condition of being a single individual; the fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else; individuality, personality.”
“Who or what a person or thing is; a distinct impression of a single person or thing presented to or perceived by others; a set of characteristics or a description that distinguishes a person or thing from others.”
—“Identity,” Oxford English Dictionary
Carla Kaplan, in Keywords for American Cultural Studies, frames the difficulty of defining “identity,” saying, “One of our most common terms, ‘identity’ is rarely defined” (123). Rather, in everyday language, we have a “personal identity” and have, depending on situation, multiple “social identities.” Kaplan continues, “Personal identity is often assumed to mediate between social identities and make sense of them. Whereas our social identities shift throughout the day, what allows us to move coherently from one to another is often imagined to be our personal identity, or ‘who we are’—our constant” (123). Outlined by the above definitions of identity is a tension, even contradiction: on the one hand, identity is seemingly fixed, intelligible, innate to an individual, or on the other, something that is performed, constructed, contextual, and perhaps changeable. Our class will take up this unsettledness of identity and investigate its intersections with and co-constitution by technology. In other words, in a world of increasing technological ubiquity, how might we imagine and define a “technological identity?” What are the relationships between identity and technology? How does technology shape our identity or identities and vice versa? We will explore everyday technologies like fashion and consumer culture, cyberspace technologies like video games and social networking sites, and body modification technologies like cosmetic surgery and bioengineering. Through literature, scholarship, digital media, and real world examples, our class will trace and trouble theoretical and vernacular understandings of identity and technology. We will engage critical questions about subjectivity, embodiment, race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, post- and transhumanism, and how these things link up to discourses and ideologies about individuality, personhood, and power. Texts may include in whole or in part: Michel Foucault, Dick Hebdige, John Perry Barlow, Sherry Turkle, Allucqere Rosanne Stone, Vernor Vinge, William Gibson, Alan Turing, Julian Dibbell, Donna Haraway, Thomas Foster, Lisa Nakamura, Judith Butler, Octavia Butler, Judith Halberstam, and others.