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The Sovereign Self Pitfalls of Identity Politics

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2023-01-24
  • Publisher: Polity

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The toppling of statues in the name of anti-racism is disconcerting, as is the violence sometimes displayed towards others in the name of gender equality. The emancipation movements of the past seem to have undergone a subtle transformation: the struggle now is not so much to bring about progress but rather to denounce offenses, express indignation, and assert identities, sometimes in order to demand recognition. The individual’s commitment to self-definition and self-appreciation, understood as the exercise of a sovereign right, has become a distinctive sign of our time.

Elisabeth Roudinesco takes us into the darker corners of identity thinking, where conspiracy theories, rejection of the other, and incitement to violence are often part of the mix. But she also points to several paths that could lead us away from despair and toward a possible world in which everyone can adhere to the principle according to which “I am myself, that’s all there is to it” without denying the diversity of human communities or essentializing either universality or difference.

This bold and courageous interrogation of identity politics will be of great interest to anyone concerned with the state of our world today.

Author Biography

Elisabeth Roudinesco is Professor of History at the University of Paris

Table of Contents



1. Assigning Identities

Beirut 2005: who am I?


The politics of Narcissus

Berkeley 1996

2. The Galaxy of Gender

Paris 1949: one is not born a woman

Vienna 1912: Is anatomy destiny?

Highlights and disappointments of gender studies


Inquisitorial follies

Psychiatry in full retreat

New York: Queer Nation

Disseminating human gender

I am neither white nor woman nor man, but half Lebanese

3. Deconstructing Race

      Paris 1952: race does not exist

      Colonialism and anticolonialism

      “Nègre je suis”

      Writing toward Algeria

      Mixed-race identities

4. Postcolonialities

      “Is Sartre still alive?”

Descartes, a white male colonialist

Flaubert and Kuchuk Hanem

Tehran 1979: dreaming of a crusade

The subaltern identity

5. The Labyrinth of Intersectionality

Memories in dispute

“Je suis Charlie”

Iconoclastic rage

6. Great Replacements

Oneself against all

The terror of invasion

“Big Other”: from Boulouris to La Campagne de France


Works Cited



Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

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