A subject position is a hard place, we cannot read it ourselves; we are given over to others even as we make inevitable public attempts to read our subject position (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak).
Discussion of the complexities of Spivak's notion of the subject in the context of race and/or class and/or gender and/or sexuality and/or nationality.
The question who am I? seems to be an important concern for individuals. They need to understand who they are, to know what their identity is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, identity comes from idem (the same). It comprises two basics meanings: a concept of absolute sameness and a concept of distinctiveness. Like this, identity allows us to situate ourselves in the world in which we live. It allows us to find our position in the society, which gives us the landmarks we need to get ahead. The subject's identity could be defined as the whole of its characteristics. It is different from its personality and its roles, and can include elements such as nationality, race, class, gender, sexuality, and so on. Answering this question deals with the content of our identity, but also with our way of reading it.
How is the identity built? Identity comes from a process including internal and external factors. It is shaped by the individual and by the outside. The extent to which individuals are able to shape their identities has often been put under question. Some argue that we can speak of self identity, giving to the subjects the ability of forming their own identity. On the other hand, a lot of others tempt to say that what people become, and who they are, are influenced or even determined by other factors, outside their control. Such factors include economic, social, cultural, and political elements. If they seem to agree on the fact that identity is both constructed from the inside and the outside, the contemporary thesis seem to put under light the importance of the external factors in the construction of identity, like this minimizing the freedom of individuals in the shaping of their identity, and emphasis their lack of control in the process of construction of who they are. Thus, the content of the subjects' identity seems to be a concept mostly out of their control.
But, if it seems that they can't really control its content, can the individuals succeed in reading their identity, their position, themselves? In the same way that what we are is, for a lot of authors, mostly out of our control, being aware of what we are also depends on others. In this way, Spivak argues that our position is given to us by the others, considering individuals unable to read it by themselves. In which extent do we rely on the others to read our identity, our position, and thus, to find our place in the society? What are, for the individuals, the consequences of this supposed lack of independency? Do we not have any autonomy in the reading of our position?
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[...] “What is called “homosexuality” may have been practised for the whole of human history, the person classified as “homosexual”, as a specific subject, was produced by being into discourse in the nineteenth century”. Categories are not natural; they are constructed, given to the subject. Thus, individuals cannot read their position on their own. A man could not read his “homosexual” identity before the category did exist. Moreover, these categories have a performative effect. It is to say that, if the classifications do not correspond to the reality, individuals finish in adapting themselves to them and integrating them. [...]
[...] You get to know that what you thought “natural” is is actually a question of culture, and constitute, not the way everyone is, but a part of your own, distinct, identity. The others, in showing you what you are not like, give you what you are, and allow you to read your position. Moreover, the identity is read by opposition to the others' position. It is not only in comparing our position with the others' ones that we can read our identity, but also through a process of opposition. [...]
[...] Thus, Spivak's notion of the subject's non-autonomy concerning the reading of their identity leads to some problems for the individuals. But is this absence of autonomy absolute? If the others allow us to understand our identity, the individuals still have the possibility to think of their position in a different way. The others have an influence, but it can happen that the way in which they see us does not correspond to the reality. The example of the black graduated man is an illustration of this problem. [...]
[...] If they seem to agree on the fact that identity is both constructed from the inside and the outside, the contemporary thesis seem to put under light the importance of the external factors in the construction of identity, like this minimizing the freedom of individuals in the shaping of their identity, and emphasis their lack of control in the process of construction of who they are. Thus, the content of the subjects' identity seems to be a concept mostly out of their control. [...]
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