Identity Politics and Persuasion

Identity Politics is expressive but is it persuasive (a presentation)?

This first slide gives you a three-point summary of what I will talk to you about today:

Identity politics, the central role of social and collective identities in achieving social change and how to persuade the public to support our cause. They are all overlapping but separate concepts.

When I was asked to address this question (above) of identity politics today, I shuddered and balked. Identity is very important to everyone, it reflects who you are and how you relate to others. However, I knew that being part of the social category of autistic and striving for social and political change (for autistic people) meant that my existence would fall under the category of ‘identity politics’ and therefore we would be debating whether we should express our identity as a marginalised one and/or how obvious we should be about it.

When you debate this, please remember it’s our lived experience that you are questioning and that’s personal. Stacey has also communicated that for her personally “and commonly in the autistic community, offence is taken when our right to self-identify is questioned, dismissed or taken away.”

Slide 4: Identity politics definition

Bernstein et al. (2005) defines identity politics “as the activism engaged in by status-based social movements” and emphasizes “research that examines movements organized on the basis of status identities that are, to varying degrees, externally defined, where the identity itself forms a part of the basis of grievances.”

Without being very aware of mainstream discourse of politics outside social justice circles, I initially assumed that when talking about identity politics, what was being referred to, was all those groups of people who are discriminated against and their movements striving for equality. For the most part, that is what it is. However, it’s not just marginalised groups of people who fit the category of identity politics, it can also be those striving for more dominance such as white nationalists.

I decided that if I was going to present on identity politics, I would have to research it from an academic point of view because I was unclear how to proceed given that most of my thoughts were actually feelings and opinions based on my life experiences as a disabled women rather than fact. Although valid, feelings and opinions are more biased and I wasn’t sure how to articulate them. There have been lots of feelings and opinions since Trump was elected President of the United States. I think most people are probably quite concerned about how it came to this and it’s not just Trump but far-right Australian and UK politicians are gaining more power than we expected them to.

Slide 5: Addressing the criticisms of identity politics

  • Identity is integral to a person and cannot be removed.
  • Language and representation as resistance (to externally imposed language and stereotypes) to increase our value.
  • Risk of divisiveness: prioritise commonalities rather than differences and support intersectional identities.
  • Identity politics is necessary for equity for minority groups.

Some people generally, have suggested that it may be that the majority of people are becoming less tolerant of identity politics, they feel it is exclusive perhaps clique-like and that too many demands (which they think are unnecessary) are being made upon everyday people in everyday life. Karen and Paul also brought up concerns about the potential divisiveness of identity politics and that perhaps we need to prioritise our commonalities rather than differences. Karen also suggested being more intersectional in our approach, which I support (for example not leaving out people who don’t identify as a binary gender). Karen poses the question “How do the small groups have their voices heard so that they do not feel their needs are being ignored?”

Many people generally, also don’t understand that the changes in language and representation, which marginalised people insist others acknowledge, are often employed in response to negative stereotypes and language externally imposed upon us that devalue us and make us more vulnerable to discrimination. Paul is concerned about the over-emphasis on language though, in that they believe that “just about anything done or said could be offensive” even if unintended and can be off-putting to conservatives, in particular he refers to “our campaign to address ableist language”. If we become too political we may jeopardize financial support. In addition to words, Paul is also concerned about over-reach with actions and suggests that asking for too much from people (like autism-friendly spaces) may also discourage support.

Some people generally, have suggested that we all need to join together to demand better healthcare, education and work conditions and that it is the fact that we have separated that Trump and far-right politicians like him have gained power. However, this will never address issues of equity among minorities and is the reason identity politics has arisen to the degree that it has. Now proponents of identity politics are starting to adopt intersectional approaches to activism and form coalitions to support the rights of other marginalised people. For example, the recent Women’s March in the USA (which attracted record breaking crowds) took into account and made modifications to their website to support disabled women in response to criticism that it had excluded us.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of academic articles that discuss identity politics, especially very recently. However, a handful of articles proved useful to explaining concepts to me.

Firstly, it is essential to know that identity is indeed central to social change. Not personal identity per se but social identity.

Slide 6: Social identity definition

Tajfel (1981) defines a social identity as “that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group (or groups together) with the value and emotional significance attached to that group membership.”

A social identity is defined as ‘that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group (or groups together) with the value and emotional significance attached to that group membership’

Slide 7: Collective identity definition

“…collective identities can be understood as (potentially) encompassing shared interests, ideologies, subcultures, goals, rituals, practices, values, worldview, commitment, solidarity, tactics, strategies, definitions of the ‘enemy’ or the opposition and framing of issues, it is not synonymous with and cannot be reduced to any of these things.” Fominaya (2010)

In the literature, in reference to social movements, it is referred to as collective identities. Collective identities can be understood as (potentially) encompassing shared interests, ideologies, subcultures, goals, rituals, practices, values, worldview, commitment, solidarity, tactics, strategies, definitions of the ‘enemy’ or the opposition and framing of issues, it is not synonymous with and cannot be reduced to any of these things.”

It has been shown that collective identity is necessary for social change and the commitment to action is dependent upon the effects of group emotion (such as moral outrage regarding injustice), group-based efficacy (belief in the ability to achieve change), and the groups action norms (what we actually do).

Slide 8:

I believe that families and supporters of autistic people could easily have a shared identity with autistic people based on norms, values and beliefs of our right for support and inclusion, to be considered valuable and contributing members of our communities and to be free from discrimination and violence.

All forms of social and collective identity are constantly in flux as people share their feelings, beliefs, values, actions etc. within the group. There are also sub-groups and hierarchical levels of social identity which becomes very important when discussing how to influence the views of the majority to support the minorities cause (referred to as political solidarity).

Slide 9: Higher-order identity

“It is the hierarchical organization of the social self that makes inter-subgroup solidarity (and inter-subgroup division) possible by allowing for subgroup differences to be understood with reference to higher order identity norms, values, and beliefs.” Subasic (2008)

There are three main actors in political solidarity:

The minority, the majority and the authority

The authority represents people in a position of social power emanating from a sense of shared identity and provides the authority with the capacity to persuade, influence, and wield legitimate authority over some relevant social majority. The authority could be perceived as the government.

“Authorities derive legitimacy from the perception that they share the relevant norms, values, and beliefs with the majority. Those authorities seen to violate such a shared sense of “who we are” will be questioned and their legitimacy potentially reduced.”

So it is that the minority must convince the majority that the authority is violating its shared identity by not supporting the minority adequately and the minority must also appeal to the majority’s norms, values and beliefs to convince them that treating the minority better fits a shared identity more congruent with them.

Slide 10:

I believe that the majority could develop a shared higher-order identity with us (minority) if we appeal to their norms, values and beliefs around not discriminating against autistic people in schools and workplaces and that we should be free from violence. The majority could also believe that the government (authority) are not doing enough to prevent restraint in schools, bullying and discrimination. This is the ideal situation leading to wide-spread adoption of our cause.

I believe that the majority could easily have a shared identity with our collective identity in that they have may share/develop norms, values and beliefs that autistic people should not be excluded by a lack of inclusion from schools, workplaces and the community and that we should not be bullied and abused. The majority could easily be perturbed that the government are not doing enough/anything (given the knowledge from various inquiries etc.) to reduce the violence against disabled people and autistic children being restrained in schools, now that they are aware of it.

A good example of political solidarity in action recently would be the methods used by Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO and ‘public face’ of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) to persuade the majority (or a large number) of Australians to pressure the Australian government to relocate the refugees stranded on Manus and Nauru islands.

These are a few of his most recent tweets (February 2017):

Slide 11:

Treating #refugees as human beings is not optional. Protecting #refugees is not optional. These are core values of any democratic society.

What makes Australia great is our #Indigeous culture, our thriving #Multiculturalism, compassion, welcome & freedom of religion. Protect it.

You can see that here Kon is drawing attention to the values of treating people well, having compassion and supporting freedom. Values that he states Australians should have if we identify ourselves as members of a democratic society. I will just give you a moment to read those two tweets…

Slide 12:

I’m now up to “46 real ways across Australia that you can help #refugees” right now to stand up a/g Trump/Turnbull & our values. Thread.

25 real things you can do right now in Australia to help #refugees as a way to stand up a/g Trump’s #RefugeeBan #MuslimBan. Thread.RT please.

And in these two tweets you can see that Kon is pointing out how the Authorities (Trump and Turnbull) are violating our shared values. I think Kon must have read the same journal article that I did because it’s a perfect example on how to persuade the majority of Australians to support refugees using the political solidarity approach.

Although Paul believes “we should not rely too much on identity politics” for concern of losing conservative support”, Karen, Stacey, myself and Paul all believe that identity politics can be persuasive but that it also depends how we go building our alliances and what strategies we employ to appeal to them.

Thanks to Karen, Stacey and Paul for their contributions.


Bernstein, M. 2005. Identity politics. Annu. Rev. Sociol. 31:47-74

Tajfel, H. 1981. Human groups and social categories: Studies in social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fominaya, C. 2010. Collective identity in social movements: Central concepts and debates. Sociol Compass. 4(6):393-404

Thomas, E., McGarty, C., & Mavor, K.  2009. Aligning identities, emotions, and beliefs to create commitment to sustainable social and political action. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 13(3):194-218

van Zomeren, M., Postmes, T., & Spears, R. 2008. Toward an integrative social identity model of collective action: A quantitative research synthesis of three socio-psychological perspectives. Psychol. Bull. 134:504-535

Subasic, E., Reynolds, K., & Turner, J. 2008. The political solidarity model of social change: Dynamics of self-categorization in intergroup power relations. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 12(4):330-352



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s