Identity in Difference to Avoid Indifference

In Helen A. Fielding and Dorothea E. Olkowski (ed.), Feminist Phenomenology Futures. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 313-327 (2017)
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Sexual and racial differences matter. Indeed, facile assumptions of sameness born from the desire to claim universal truths persist as a dangerous tendency. Difference matters and we have yet to fully understand what difference means. But claims of absolute difference have a history of justifying colonization and recently can justify slipping into indifference about people with different embodiment. In philosophy of race’s emphasis that race has ontological significance, such emphasis on difference can leave differently racialized and sexualized people living in isolation from each other. Absolute sameness and absolute difference are not true to phenomenological experience. Philosophy has long debated the relation between identity and difference, from its metaphysical origin in the relation between monism and dualism, to Hegel’s formulation of a dialectical relation between identity and difference. But the idea of an identity-in-difference explores a more immediate relation between the two. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s work explores the idea of an identity-in-difference throughout his phenomenology in both its epistemic and ontologic senses. This paper explores at least four instantiations of the relation of identity-in-difference in Merleau-Ponty’s work to argue for upholding the value of both difference and sameness in developing our understanding of race.

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Emily S. Lee
California State University, Fullerton


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