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Identity Politics


Explanations > Identity > Identity Politics

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Identity politics is based on the principle that people build their personal sense of identity with a primary focus on a particular group. In general, this group can be gender, religious, demographic, and so on. Politics based on such social group ideals is then described as 'identity politics'.

In this way, political parties will, for example, attempt to capture particular demographics through their identity affiliation. They may also encourage people to identify with particular issues and ideas, such as gun ownership or control. If a person thinks 'I am an X' then they will offer strong support of policies associated with X.


The need for a sense of identity is an extremely powerful force on us and much of what we do is to support this. When we 'identify with' something, we make it a part of who we are. Things that affect this subject then change who we are, which can be a very disturbing and result in passionate reactions. It is this power that identity politics taps.

Identity can be complex in having many attachments, such as to family groups, hobbies, friends, work and so on. Identity politics seeks to take one or more of these and amplify related issue. For example a party may make a big issue about immigration to build a nationalistic identity. Perhaps the most common identities used include gender, sexuality and ethnicity, although there are many other possibilities.

We naturally form into identity groups when we join clubs, societies, institutes, universities, companies and so on. 'Birds of a feather flock together' is a saying that indicates the tendency to find people with common concerns. Even when we do not have similarity with others, we will quickly develop a sense of group when we are put together, even if this is by random selection. We also tend to band together when we feel threatened, which is one reason why minority groups often find identity together and may resort to identity politics as a method of defending themselves, as well as promoting their cause.

Identity politics often takes the form of fighting for minorities and oppressed groups. It hence often uses the banner of equality as a primary argument for fairness. This may be contrasted with viewing fairness as 'keeping what I have' for groups who fear that they will have to somehow pay to redress unequal balances that are defined by identity politicians. Identity politics may become polarized black-and-white, good-and-bad, when it is used to justify essential actions that must be taken and casts those with opposing identities as not just misguided or wrong but bad and even evil.

Identity politics can be problematic when we belong to multiple groups, as many of us do. In forming identity groups, politicians may encourage their followers to downplay identification elsewhere and increase identification activity in the target area. This is a method used by cults and others in promoting conversion to their group.

Identity politics may also be used as a scapegoat or explanation for why people mindlessly follow opposition ideals. The argument here may be that they have been brainwashed into unthinking action and that reason may bring them back from this. In this way, the term 'identity politics' can lose any meaning when it is used to describe any ideology that is not liked or which disagrees with one's own views. Identity politics has also been blamed for politicians losing touch with former constituencies as they seek to attract and represent various other identity groups.

See also

The Need for a Sense of Identity, Groups, Conversion techniques


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