Puzzling Identities

Monday, 15 November 2010, 6:00pm - 8:00pm

1. Who’s Who? Three Kinds of Identification

2. Myself and My Self: Being Oneself, Having a Self

3. Collective Identities: How Can My ‘I’ Become a ‘We’?

IWM Lectures in Human Sciences

According to most contemporary philosophers and social scientists, it is quite normal, in a time of global change, to worry about one’s identity. They do not mean that forgetting one’s name or one’s past is a common experience in modern times. Rather, they take the term “identity” in the sense it has acquired in the work of the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson: “identity” is this sense of oneself which is at stake in an “identity crisis”. I will begin by asking why we keep speaking of an identity crisis, since it seems that having an idea of what I am or of what I am worth cannot be derived from the knowledge I have of which individual I am among human beings. Having a strong identity is not a matter of being strongly identical to anything, neither to somebody else nor to myself.

I will distinguish three kinds of identification: 1) by way of an identity judgment (finding that we deal with the same thing, e.g. at two distinct occasions); 2) by way of a psychological fusion (identifying with somebody or something, in the sense of extending one’s sense of self to some part of one’s world in order to include it within one’s limits); 3) by way of a reconfiguration of my self-image around various significant links to people and places around me. Then the task will be to explore the connections between “being identical”, “being identificatory” and “being identitary”.

Vincent Descombes, Directeur d’études, Centre de recherches politiques Raymond Aron, EHESS, Paris; Visiting Professor of French Literature, University of Chicago.


Dernieres nouvelles du Moi (with Charles Larmore and Jean-Cassien Billier), Paris: Presses Universitaires de France – PUF, 2009
Le platonisme, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France – PUF, 2007
L’inconscient malgré lui, Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2004

In cooperation with Institut Français de Vienne