Duties of social identity? Intersectional objections to Sen’s identity politics

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-31 (2023)
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Amartya Sen argues that sectarian discord and violence are fueled by confusion about the nature of identity, including the pervasive tendency to see ourselves as members of singular social groups standing in opposition to other groups (e.g. Democrat vs. Republican, Muslim vs. Christian, etc.). Sen defends an alternative model of identity, according to which we all inevitably belong to a plurality of discrete identity groups (including ethnicities, classes, genders, races, religions, careers, hobbies, etc.) and are obligated to choose, in any given context, which among our multiple affiliations to prioritize. While Sen’s model of discrete identity prioritization is a clear advance over single-factor accounts, it overlooks significant lessons about identity from over 150 years of scholarship by feminists of color. In ignoring the experiences of women of color, Sen’s model falsely assumes that identities are in-principle separable for the purposes of practical deliberation; and, in obligating individuals to make such identity-based “reasoned choices,” Sen’s model forces those with multiply marginalized identities to choose from a set of externally defined identity options, none of which sufficiently captures their experiences.

Author Profiles

Alex Madva
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Katherine Gasdaglis
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Shannon Doberneck
University of California, Berkeley


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