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Identity

The Concept of Identity
The insights of Ricoeur (Ricoeur, 1990) and Beller and Leerssen (Beller, Leerssen, 2001) provide good starting points for an interdisciplinary investigation of the concept of identity.

Paul Ricoeur (Ricoeur, 1990) differentiates the idem identity type and the ipse identity type as ‘two sides of the same coin’. The idem identity type can be related to what other authors have called the “diachronic meaning of identity”, as it accentuates the permanence and continuity of an identity.
As Beller and Leerssen remark: “Identity becomes to mean being identifiable, and is closely linked to the idea of ‘permanence through time’: something remaining identical with itself from moment to moment” (Beller, Leerssen, 2001, p.1). This type of identity is used in domains such as law, governmental affairs, profiling, marketers and assurances. Stressing the idem identity type is attractive because of the possibility to identify an individual as “the same self” (Ricoeur, 1990). Stressing ‘sameness’ is important in these domains because one needs to categorise persons on the basis of certain characteristics. For example, “In legal proceedings it is of paramount importance to establish a certain and continuous chain of identity for exhibits of proof and for the link between perpetrator and accused: ‘this is the man who committed the crime last year’; ‘these are the gloves found on the crime scene’.” (Beller, Leerssen, 2001, p.1).
 
Sameness is based on comparison: no cognition without recognition. Human beings have the need to compare new information with what they already know. In fact, even unconsciously, people categorise information to identify risks and opportunities, for instance about people they meet, in order to decide how to interact with them.
By presenting people’s identities as clusters of permanent and continuous categories, people can be identified, but does this mean that we ‘capture’ their unique identity? Though it seems evident that the idem type permits a useful conceptualisation in domains as law, marketing etc, from a multidisciplinary point of view this understanding of identity seems to be too narrow.
Ricoeur and Belsen and Leerssen reveal ‘the other side’ of identity by referring to what Ricoeur (1990) calls ipse identity, which can be related to what Beller and Leerssen call the synchronic meaning of the concept of identity (Beller, Leerssen, 2001, p.1).
The synchronic meaning of identity refers to the ‘unique sense of self’ that a person has about his own being (Beller, Leerssen, 2001, p.4). Ipse identity concerns a first person perspective. This sense of self is continuously in development as one to fits one’s auto-biographical narrative with the ever changing actions and reactions experienced in real life. The process of rewriting the story of your life enables you to reinterpret past experience and is essential for acting as a person with a sense of self in the present and the future. (Hildebrandt et al., FIDIS Del D7.4, 2005, chapter 3)

We can refer to the work of the Norbert Elias, when he writes: “individuals are humans in process. (…) Individuals are developing. And when we speak of a development, we mean the immanent order of continuous succeeding processes in which a latter shape results out of the former without interruption, (…) human is a process” (Elias, 1970, p.130). So our ipse identity is social in that we need others to reconstruct our sense of self over and over again in life.
 
The ipse identity of a person cannot be captured in typologies of roles
or in lists of fixed (group) characteristics used to describe the idem
identity of individuals. In doing this, we would act as if the ipse
identity is equivalent with idem identification. This is not the case,
because the idem identity takes a more objective, or third person
perspective. However, it is important to stress the link between the two
types of identity.
In constructing their ‘whole outlook on life’ (Elias, 1970) people are
dependent on the idem identity types they perceive others to attribute
to them. The way you are identified and categorised - by others and by
yourself – does influence your ipse identity (Jenkins, 2003). In an
advanced information society it could be the case that technologically
mediated profiling practices, as they become ever more ubiquitous and
are increasingly performed by unknown third parties, affect our sense of
self in a larger degree than profiling did before.

One of the values of our European constitutional democracy is the mix of positive and negative freedom that empowers citizens to take part in public life (positive freedom) and to retreat in their private realm (negative freedom, which includes some control of the access to personal information). People need to enjoy this negative freedom in order to build a sense of self. This self-construction is mediated by the narratives we invent to tell the story of our life, which narratives are of course determined to a large extent by our interactions with others. However, from the point of view of the individual sense of self, as connected with human autonomy and dignity, citizens need a certain amount of control over the borders between self and others to flourish and partake in human society.

http://www.fidis.net/resources/fidis-deliverables/mobility-and-identity/int-d111000/doc/18/