A couple of weeks ago I pointed you at an article in The Economist on the subject of Identity Economics. It seemed to me to be a very promising way of approaching economic and social issues, though the implications of actually understanding it well were quite scary.
Tom Slee has also taken an interest in the subject, and has produced this lengthy essay reviewing the book by Akerlof and Kranton around which all of this discussion is based. Now I’m even more interested.
Most of Slee’s discussion is based on race, but towards the end of the essay he makes brief mention of Judith Butler and wonders whether Akerlof & Kranton’s theories can help us understand why some societies cling so desperately to the gender binary while others tolerate a more fluid approach. He also spends a lot of time discussing why people cleave to minority groups and outsider behavior even though it is apparently economically disadvantageous for them to do so.
It occurs to me that there is a very interesting study to be made of the trans community, in which people feel pressured to choose between joining mainstream society, with the attendant economic advantages but the ever-present danger of having a secret past, or joining the trans activist community which provides friendship and support but guarantees lifelong outsider status.
Of course in an ideal society people would choose to live in a way that felt comfortable and natural to them, and would be allowed to change their lives without fear of condemnation from both the identity group they have left and the one they want to join. Sadly, the real world doesn’t work like that. Economic and social pressures are always pushing us towards conforming in one way or another.
Coincidentally, Jeanette Winterson had a few things to say on this subject when interviewed at Hay over the weekend.