Personal identity in multicultural constitutional democracies

South African Journal of Philosophy 17 (3):179-198 (1998)
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Awareness of, and respect for differences of gender, race, religion, language, and culture have liberated many oppressed groups from the hegemony of white, Western males. However, respect for previously denigrated collective identities should not be allowed to confine individuals to identities constructed around one main component used for political mobilisation, or to identities that depend on a priority of properties that are not optional, like race, gender, and language. In this article I want to sketch an approach for accommodating different kinds of identity within a multicultural constitutional democracy. From a vantage point provided by a definition and explanation of personal identity, I want to show how people define, construct and change their personal identities to make themselves into unique individuals. Next I show how democratic political institutions and the personal identities of individuals reciprocally influence one another. In the final section I sketch ways in which diverse personal identities ought to be accommodated in multicultural constitutional democracies. The conclusion is that a society which gives its members the liberty, space, and opportunity to freely construct their own identities might avoid the formation of closed groups committed exclusively to their own sectional interests.
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