Identity After Identity Politics

Author's School

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Additional Affiliations

Professor, Department of History; Professor, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program; Susan E. and William P. Stiritz Distinguished Professor of Women's Studies; Faculty with the Feminist Critical Analysis Seminar

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Originally Published In

Linda Nicholson, Identity After Identity Politics, 33 Wash. U. J. L. & Pol’y 43 (2010), http://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_journal_law_policy/vol33/iss1/4


Linda Nicholson’s Article tackles the complexity of how identity politics manifest in the 2008 election. In Identity after Identity Politics, she notes that during the election political and popular commentators continued to speculate about how race and gender were affecting the election, even as people proclaimed that "the era of identity politics was dead" and ushered in a post-identity world. Attempting to explain this contradiction, Nicholson urges an historical explanation rooted in two different visions of identity "difference" that emerged in twentieth century. Identity after Identity Politics investigates how environmental explanations for race and gender differences were put to different political uses. On the one hand, some used environmentalism to minimize the importance of differences, urging a politics of commonality and individualism and a legal regime of anti-discrimination. Others acknowledged these differences but contended they were products of environment, often using the denomination "culture" to describe and value these differences. Using radical feminism and Black Power as her case studies, Nicholson shows how these latter activists built political movements predicated on preserving and valuing these differences as culture, not eliminating them. While valuing difference differently, Nicholson contends that both frameworks depict race and gender as "relatively stable bodily and behavioral characteristics whose effects . . . are stable across social contexts." She rejects these assumptions, instead contending that race and gender should be understood as symbolic or linguistic means "by which bodies, behaviors, and their relationships with each other and with diverse social situations are variously interpreted." In this sense, Nicholson brings a Butlerian approach to refute articulations of race and gender as "social constants," instead urging their context specificity.