Discursive construction refers to the ways identities related to gender, ethnicity, nationality, race, or any other parameter, are constructed through discourse. Discourse implies relationship and communication, and it can also relate to power differentials. For example, Narayan (1995) refers to the “self serving collaboration between elements of colonial rights discourse and care discourse,” especially related to the “white man’s burden” type scenarios (p. 133). The colonizer had once framed colonization as doing the Other a favor, by “promoting the welfare of the colonized” out of a belief in presumed superiority. Thus, the discourse creates a superior/inferior binary.
Narayan, U. (1995). Colonialism and its Others. Hypatia 10(2).
Subjectivity is embedded in postcolonial discourse and identity formation. In Black Skin White Masks, the author shows how black identities are constructed subjectively as opposed to actively because the colonizer projects values and ethics onto the Other. The poetry of Derek Walcott also evokes the nature of subjectivity and black identity. Injustice, such as that experienced under colonial rule, creates systems of oppression that become internalized. The individual believes the negative ideas presented by the colonizer and becomes subjugated. The shaping of identities matters because of the multigenerational impact colonization has upon a people, which is why postcolonial societies sometimes have a difficult time extricating themselves from the subjective identities and constructs of a bygone era.
Fanon, F. Black Skin, White Masks.
Walcott, D. (1974). The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry? Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 16(1).
In “Between Memory and History,” Pierre Nora discusses self-consciousness, identity, and culture in the context of memory and history. Duty memory refers to the sometimes forced, sometimes mildly encouraged types of memory constructions that can be integral to cultural identity. The remembrance of a war or the Holocaust, for example, are duty memories. Distance memory refers to what Nora calls the “acceleration of history” and the distance it creates with the present moment. Young refers to something called “vicarious memory” to refer to the ways younger generations accumulate the verbal and unspoken memories of their ancestors through cultural symbols and other methods of transmission. The Holocaust is the prime example, which Young focuses on, but other things like Japanese internment camps, slavery, or Armenian genocide serve the same purpose.
Nora, P. (1989). Between memory and history. Representations 26.
Young (n.d.). At Memory’s Edge.
Stuart Hall shows how race is socially constructed and is therefore “floating,” as the construct can change readily even within a single generation. As a “floating signifier,” the values and meaning attached to racial signifiers will change. Race is not real or tangible in any sense, because it is a social construct. The same can be said of gender. The idea of a “floating signifier” can apply just as well to sexual orientation, as well as ethnicity or nationality. Any type of socially constructed identity is floating, and people must take care to construct their own identities rather than allow identities to be projected or constructed for them.
Hall, S. (n.d.). Race, the Floating Signifier.
Cultural capital refers to the subjective value placed on a culture and its artifacts such as language or values. Yosso uses critical race theory to discuss cultural capital. Abdulhadi’s (2003) reference to borders and “fragmented lives” presents a similar critique of cultural capital in light of various forms of oppression and encroachment. Borders provide people with security and a sense of home, but that is a malleable concept. Abdulhadi (2003) uses the Israel-Palestine conflict as an example of shifting views of cultural capital. Whereas the Ottoman Empire ensured the cultural capital of the Palestinians, the creation of the State of Israel devalued Palestinian cultural capital.
Abdulhadi, R. (2003). Where is home? Radical History Review 86.
Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? Race, Ethnicity, and Education 8(1).
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