Identity and Identification
Published to coincide with the exhibition ‘Identity: Eight rooms, nine lives’ at Wellcome Collection, 'Identity and Identification' is a challenging exploration of the philosophical, biological, historical and sociopolitical issues underlying our conception of self and identity.
'Identity and Identification' is an inspiring attempt to chart the obsessive ways modern and contemporary western societies have categorised and classified social groups, minorities and individuals through the adoption of often dubious techniques, from the fascinating yet discredited experiments of the phrenologist Franz Joseph Gall to the latest scientific breakthroughs such as DNA profiling. Against this increasing need to name, to define and to identify, the book juxtaposes the essentially elusive and impermanent character of identity, highlighting the dangers of imposing narrow identities onto others and the creative ways individuals or groups have escaped the traps of reductive definitions.
A unique feature of the book is its 16 in-depth interviews exploring the immediate social, cultural and political themes that shape contemporary identity issues. The interviewees include singer, songwriter and political campaigner Billy Bragg, scholar and writer Ziauddin Sardar, political exile Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, neuroscientist Paul Broks, geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys, philosophers John Searle and A C Grayling, and transgender critic and writer Roz Kaveney. Each interviewee approaches the subject from a very personal and original perspective, shining light onto themes such as gender, minority politics, science, ideology, race and class, and these themes’ relationship to who we are and how others define us.
The interviews are interspersed with six visual essays, each one focusing on the lives and work of specific individuals - figurehead personalities to specific aspects of identity. These include April Ashley, one of the very first people in Britain to make the transition from male to female; surrealist artist and photographer Claude Cahun, whose work into self-portraiture gracefully explored the intersections between identity, sexuality and self-representation; Franz Joseph Gall, the 19th-century phrenologist who attempted to correlate skull-shapes with criminality, creativity and other character traits; Francis Galton, the Victorian scientist known for his attempts to classify and measure human qualities; the twins Charlotte and Emily Hinch, separated in age through the freezing and delayed development of one embryo; and actress Fiona Shaw, whose work is, in her own words, a gradual process of "becoming herself".
Featuring an impressive collection of writingsand stunning visual material, from diary extracts, newspaper cuttings, 19-century wood engravings and photographs to eccentric, fascinating artefacts and other paraphernalia, 'Identity and Identification' is an invaluable, timely contribution to the hotly debated issues of how we know who we are, how we are identified and how the two are related.
Editors: Ken Arnold, Mick Gordon, Chris Wilkinson
Publisher: Black Dog Publishing
Publication date: October 2009