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INTRODUCTION Identity in the Academy and Beyond
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Identity in the Academy and Beyond

When I was a candidate on the academic job market in 1996, I had an interview with the dean at a leading university in the South. During that interview, the dean asked me whether I would be comfortable teaching in the English department. On one level, his question made no sense. After all, my first language is English, and I express myself most articulately in that language. Additionally, I received my Ph.D. training in an English department at a major research university (a fact of which he would have been aware), and the literature I write about is composed primarily in English. Also, the job for which I was interviewing had been posted by the English department at his university. Why, then, wouldn't I be comfortable teaching in the English department? On another level, however, I understood exactly why he asked me that question. I am, after all, Chicana. Moreover, since this dean had already mentioned that he was a transplanted Texan, I understood that whatever else he knew, he would have known that some Chicana/os speak Spanish as a first language. Add to this the fact that he would have been aware that the literature I work on is primarily written by Chicana/o and Latina/o authors, and one can begin to reconstruct the reasoning behind his question. He may have presumed that my first language was Spanish and that the literature I work on is written in Spanish. If this were the case, wouldn't the kind of work I do more properly belong in a Spanish department, or, perhaps, an ethnic studies program?

The dean's question about my comfort was thus really a question of belonging and legitimacy. It may have been a question not only about

where in the academy work like mine belonged, but more profoundly, about whether it belonged in the academy at all. Although it was clear to me during that campus visit that the English department very much wanted to make an appointment in U.S. Latina/o literature, it also became evident during my meeting with the dean that he was not as enthusiastic about the appointment as the department was. Apparently, the dean needed to be convinced that the kind of scholarship I was doing was worth the dedication of a faculty billet. He needed to know that the kind of work I do is important.

This experience was just one of many that has revealed to me the complex nexus of identity, experience, knowledge, and belonging that has concerned generations of Chicana/o writers and scholars before me. Some thirty years after the founding of the first Chicana/o studies programs, the cultural productions of Chicana/os still do not occupy a secure place within academia. It is a predicament that mirrors the situation of Americans of Mexican descent who, some 150 years after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, still do not occupy a secure place within the imagined community of the United States. It occurs to me now that the range of responses I might have given to the dean would have invoked at least one of the various strategies of cultural negotiation engaged in by writers such as Juan Seguín, Mariano Vallejo, Maria Amparo Ruíz de Burton, Cleofas Jaramillo, Fray Angelico Chávez, Jovita González, Américo Paredes, and more contemporary Chicana/o writers.[1] Like my antepasados, I found myself in the midst of a negotiation where the terms were not ones I had agreed to. Yet, also like them, I was at a disadvantage; because the dean was in a position of power, he could keep me from taking for granted my existence within the proverbial ivory tower. The experience thus affirmed for me the continuing necessity of justifying a scholarly focus on the lives and experiences of Americans of Mexican descent. My need to justify my interest in the literature of Chicana/os and other marginalized people has surely provided much of the motivation for this scholarly project.

One of my goals in this book is to provide a reconstructed universalist justification for the kind of work being done by myself and other ethnic studies scholars. In the course of making an extended theoretical

argument for the epistemic significance of identity, I demonstrate that studying the texts and lived experiences of Chicana/os (and other marginalized people) is necessary to construct a more objective understanding of the (social and economic) world we live in. I show that while the experiences of Chicana/os are admittedly subjective and particular, the knowledge that is gained from a focused study of their lives can have general implications for all Americans. The texts and lived experiences of Chicana/os and other marginalized people are rich sources of frequently overlooked information about our shared world.

I approach my task by elaborating and further specifying the details of a postpositivist realist theory of identity that takes seriously the epistemic consequences of identities. This theoretical approach, which is only now emerging in the field of literary criticism, theorizes the concepts of identity, experience, and knowledge in ways that go beyond understandings of those concepts widely accepted within the humanities today. It makes pointed departures from academic postmodernist conceptions of identity even as it explicitly identifies and elaborates the epistemological presuppositions that many ethnic and lesbian, gay, and bisexual studies scholars already work with. My aim is thus to provide a theoretical clarification that affirms the work of some minority studies scholars even as it provokes others to rethink the usefulness of postmodernist theory.[3] As I show in chapter two, some ethnic studies scholars engage postmodernist theoretical frameworks even though they rely on assumptions that are recognizably realist. While their deployment of postmodernist precepts has had the positive effect of garnering for them a certain amount of academic recognition, it has ultimately undermined the cogency of their scholarly projects. Meanwhile, those ethnic studies scholars who avoid postmodernism in favor of realist or materialist approaches have been frequently marginalized and their theoretical insights ignored or misinterpreted.

At best, such work is considered by postmodernist critics who serve as academic gatekeepers to be theoretically naive; at worst, it is labeled essentialist and summarily dismissed.[4] Through my work, I hope to contribute to a situation in which advocates of ethnic studies can reverse this marginalizing trend, and argue successfully for the general epistemic significance of their particular scholarly projects.


At stake in debates about identity is the legitimacy (political and intellectual) of a range of identity-based initiatives that have the potential to materially affect the lives of marginalized people in the United States. Political issues like affirmative action and bilingual ballots, educational issues such as multicultural education and textbook selection, and intellectual projects in the areas of ethnic, women's, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual studies, are all justified by a logic of identity. For example, if there were no sociologically distinct and identifiable groups of people such as “African Americans” who can be shown to have been systematically denied access over a long period of time to economic and educational opportunities, there would be little reason to institute a government-sponsored program to redress those historical exclusions. Similarly, if it were impossible to identify relatively distinct groups of people who differ from each other in culturally significant ways, there would be no logic behind multicultural education. And finally, if there did not exist entire groups of people such as “Chicana/os” or “women” whose histories and accomplishments have been systematically ignored or distorted by previous generations of scholars, then there would be no reason for present-day scholars to devote themselves to a focused study of the histories, socioeconomic situations, political movements, or literary and cultural productions of those groups.[5] The concept of identity is at the heart of each such educational and political project.

Recently, such projects have come under increased scrutiny in the

political sphere and are being attacked precisely because they are identity-based initiatives. For example, conservative political pundits, like the neoconservative minorities whose writings I discuss in chapter three, argue that racial identity is becoming less important as a factor in determining life chances, and that government-sponsored redress movements premised on the salience of racial or gender identities have the negative effect of obscuring what is common to all Americans. Several have advocated the abandonment of the whole enterprise of determining who belongs to what racial group or what that belonging might mean to the lives of group members; they argue that paying attention to racial identities will unnecessarily balkanize our society and obscure the ways in which we are all universally human. Neoconservative minorities like Richard Rodriguez and Shelby Steele further argue against multicultural educational reform efforts on the grounds that cultural difference is not epistemically or morally significant and should be eradicated through cultural assimilation. Finally, as detractors of ethnic studies programs, they consider scholarly projects that focus on the lives and cultural productions of racialized minority groups in the United States to be excessively narrow in scope and, as a result, virtually useless for helping us to understand the world we live in. What politically conservative opponents of identitybased initiatives generally share is a notion that “difference” is overrated and that what Americans really need to do is work toward a common identity.

Such critiques of identity-based initiatives coming from the political right raise some serious questions. Does a focus on particular lives preclude the production of a more general knowledge? Does paying attention to racial identities always obscure our universal humanity? Or is it

possible to understand the concept of identity in a complex enough way so that an understanding of our particularity contributes to an understanding of the way in which we are all universally human? For the ethnic studies scholar, the necessity of answering these questions is made more urgent by recent developments in the academy that further undermine the concept of identity from a somewhat different angle. Especially within the humanities, the prevalence of postmodernist thought has created an intellectual atmosphere in which invocations of identity, appeals to experience, and claims to truth have been judged to be both theoretically naive and ideologically suspect. For example, in her essay “‘Experience,’” feminist historian Joan Scott maintains that appeals to experience serve to weaken “the critical thrust of histories of difference” because they “take as self-evident the identities of those whose experience is being documented” (24–25). According to Scott, the evidence of experience precludes, rather than enables, a critical analysis of the constitutive workings of the discursive systems through which identities (and experiences) are produced (25). Given its ideological function, Scott is tempted to abandon the word experience altogether (37). Since she cannot do this, she opts to put it in scare quotes in order to render its historically contingent and linguistically constructed nature more visible. She concludes by suggesting that what is needed is “not the reproduction and transmission of knowledge said to be arrived at through experience, but the analysis of the production of that knowledge itself.… Experience is, in this approach, not the origin of our explanation, but that which we want to explain” (37–38). Thus, in her efforts to establish the correct causal (and historical) relationship between discourse, experience, subjectivity, and identity, Scott effectively delegitimizes experience as an authoritative source for knowledge. Critics holding views like Scott's have managed to dominate academic discussions of identity insofar as they have found theoretical support for their position in French poststructuralism.

The significance of French poststructuralism for the concept of identity

is exemplified by the way deconstruction has been applied within social and cultural theory.[8] Postmodernist critics inspired by deconstruction, for example, have tended to analogize and thus understand social relations with reference to linguistic structures. The deconstructionist thesis about the indeterminacy and indeed arbitrariness of linguistic reference leads many U.S. literary theorists and cultural critics to understand concepts like experience and identity (which are fundamentally about social relations) as similarly indeterminate and hence epistemically unreliable. Such critics argue that inasmuch as meaning is constituted by systems of differences purely internal to the languages through which humans interpret the world, meaning is inescapably relative. Meaning is never fully present because it is constituted by the endless possibilities of what it is not, and is therefore always at least partially deferred. Because meaning exists only in a shifting and unstable relationship to the webs of signification through which it comes into being, and because humans have no access to anything meaningful outside these sometimes disparate webs, there can be no “objective” truth. The desire for “truth” or “objective” knowledge is therefore seen as resting on a naively representational theory of language that relies on the following mistaken assumptions: first, that there is a one-to-one correspondence between signs and their extralinguistic real-world referents; and second, that some kind of intrinsic meaning dwells in those real-world referents, independent of human thought or action. Knowledge, insofar as it is mediated by language, cannot be said to be objective.

As a result of the influence of poststructuralism, the terms of the debate in the academy regarding selves and cultural identities have shifted considerably. Broadly speaking, postmodernist scholars in the United States who have been influenced by poststructuralist theory have undermined conventional understandings of identity by discounting the possibility of objective knowledge. Instead of asking how we know who we are, poststructuralist-inspired critics are inclined to suggest that we

cannot know; rather than investigating the nature of the self, they are likely to suggest that it has no nature. The self, the argument goes, can have no nature because subjectivity does not exist outside the grammatical structures that govern our thought; rather, it is produced by those structures. Because subjects exist only in relation to ever evolving webs of signification, and because they constantly differ from themselves as time passes and meanings change, the self—as a unified, stable, and knowable entity existing prior to or outside language—is merely a fiction of thought. Social and cultural identities, it is argued, are similarly fictitious because the selves they claim to designate cannot be pinned down, fixed, or definitively identified. Moreover, identities are not simply fictitious— they are dangerous. They are dangerous precisely because they treat fictions as facts and cover over the fissures, contradictions, and differences internal to the social construct we call a “self.” Inasmuch as the desire to identify ourselves and others remains complicit with idealist assumptions about a fully knowable world—a world that can be described, hierarchized, named, and mastered—identity as a concept will serve oppressive and reductive ideological functions. Under this view, to speak of identities as “real” is to naturalize them and to disguise the structures of power involved in their production and maintenance.

Cultural critics drawn to postmodernism have thus seen themselves as articulating the conditions of possibility for a new kind of political practice, one based on the impossibility of objective knowledge.[9] Although

they employ a variety of methodological approaches, they unite in their efforts to expose the lie of universalizing systems that, in the process of categorizing, normalize some people and practices while rendering others abnormal or deviant. Such critics have seen the epistemological and political dangers of essentialist conceptions of identity; in the absence of attractive alternatives, postmodernist deconstructions of identity seem to be the safest, most progressive way to go. For example, French philosopher Michel Foucault, whose genealogies have influenced the work of generations of postmodernist scholars, explores “the history of the relations between thought and truth” in order to weaken the hegemonic power of our present-day truths by revealing them as discursively constructed and historically contingent (“Concern for Truth” 256).[11] According to his interpreters, Foucault's refusal of the possibility of a truth that can transcend a particular discursive formation is motivated by liberatory as well as epistemological concerns.[12] The idea is that when we can see our present-day truths as socially constructed and historically contingent we will be free to imagine new, less repressive social practices and ways of interacting.

The postmodernist approach to identity should thus be understood partially as a corrective to a prior social and intellectual tendency toward essentialism. By refusing to privilege any one viewpoint or valorize any one identity, postmodernist theorists hold open the possibility that previously subjugated knowledges can become manifest; previously subordinated identities can become intelligible. For instance, in her influential essay “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” feminist theorist Donna Haraway heralds the arrival of a “cyborg world” in which “people are not afraid…

of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (196). Haraway's contention is that by disrupting mythic unities (like women and nature) through mechanisms involving irony, blasphemy, and the refusal of a privileged perspective from which to view the world, critics maximize their ability to unmask the repressive social practices that contribute to the construction and domination of those beings produced as “women.” According to Haraway, “the political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point” (196).[14] From this perspective, the postmodernist denial of objectivity seems profoundly liberating: it appears to offer a way of apprehending the world that acknowledges the existence and validity of alternative perspectives, practices, identities, and knowledges.

The success of postmodernist theories of identity is perhaps best exemplified by the tremendous intellectual influence of scholars such as Judith Butler, a postmodernist feminist philosopher who bases her critique of identity on the poststructuralist deconstruction of the subject. In Gender Trouble, the book through which she has had the most influence upon academic theorizations of identity, Butler understands selves (and the subjectivities through which they come into being) as having no existence apart from the discourses that produce them. She recognizes the existence of subjects, but portrays them as existing only as a result of the grammar through which they are mobilized. She admits of no aspects of the self that are prior or external to discourse, and acknowledges no “doer behind the deed” in the sense of an intentional agent who exercises effective choices and displays discernible intentions (25). According to the line of reasoning she follows in Gender Trouble, the subject is not an authorial agent, a conscious intender, or the bearer of natural attributes. Rather, the subject is the site of a complex and contingent network of discourses and social practices that are seen as constructing it. Furthermore, in characteristic postmodernist fashion, Butler extends the deconstruction of the subject to call into question the very possibility of identities based on the social categories of gender and race. Because the subject has been

exposed as an effect of discourse or a mask for social practices, gender and racial identities are no longer taken to be essential or foundational, but are now revealed to be “arbitrary,” “fictive,” and even politically “dangerous.” As a result, identity has been denaturalized, put under erasure, or—as the subtitle of Butler's book announces—subverted.

Thinkers like Butler assume that the problem lies not only in the way we have conceived of identity, but in the very existence of categories that are seen as logically prior to and constitutive of identity. Their critiques focus on these categories because access to sociopolitical power and material resources has historically been conditioned by our social identities and by how well we have been able to trade on them. Thus, identities have been central to the oppression of entire groups of people as well as to individual and group efforts to shift their status relative to others in the same society. The political force of arguments like Butler's thus derives from the presumption that if we can do away with categories of identity—that is, if we can “subvert” them—we will no longer benefit, or be denied benefits, on the basis of the identities we used to have.

This is the political and theoretical context within which my entry into the debate about identity must be located. And, although the general

political aims of postmodernist critics diverge from those of neoconservative minorities, the theoretical framework postmodernists employ dovetails with the neoconservative minority critique of the epistemic value of identity. The necessity of affirming the significance of identity is thus a project that confronts any cultural critic attempting to work within the area of ethnic studies. Over the course of this book, I put pressure on various neoconservative minority and postmodernist theorists’ claims in an effort to test the political and epistemological adequacy of the assumptions they employ. Contra neoconservative minorities, I show that while they are justified in their efforts to identify a core of humanity which is universal to all people, they make a serious mistake when they identify that core with a historically and culturally particular model of humanity. Against postmodernist theorists, I show that the extreme linguistic constructivism informing postmodernist conceptions of identity impedes rather than enables the achievement of the liberatory political goals they claim as their own. Through an elaboration of the postpositivist realist theory of identity, I demonstrate that effective political agency is best located in the project of examining and explaining, rather than dismissing or subverting, identity.


The postpositivist realist theory of identity I elaborate in this book is an adaptation and extension of the epistemological framework known as philosophical realism. The postpositivist version of realism I defend in this book emerges partly from within the philosophy of science and from analytic philosophy more generally, and is particularly indebted to the work of Charles Peirce, W. V. O. Quine, Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Boyd. While disagreement exists among those who would call themselves realists, the most sophisticated versions of realism today entail a postpositivist conception of objectivity, together with the anti-idealist thesis that the world exceeds humans’ mental conceptions of it.[17] In using

realism to illuminate the theoretical and political significance of identity, I develop and extend the work of the literary theorist Satya Mohanty, who was the first to bring an explicitly realist approach to bear on the consideration of cultural identities (“Epistemic Status”).

First and foremost, realism about identity involves a commitment to the idea that identities refer outward—albeit in partial and occasionally inaccurate ways—to the social world within which they emerge. Contra postmodernist theorists, who argue that the relationship between identities and the “real” or “material realm” is arbitrary, I argue that the “real” is causally relevant to our epistemic endeavors (including the formation of our identities) because it shapes and limits our knowledge-generating experiences. It is on the basis of this precept that I argue that humans, working from within their particular social locations, can develop reliable knowledge about the world. But simply because I look to the “evidence of experience” does not mean that I am a naive empiricist; I do not hope to simply flip the poststructuralist critique on its head and return to an uncritical belief in the possibility of theoretically unmediated knowledge. Rather, consistent with a generally postpositivist realist orientation, I refuse the terms through which postmodernists have defined concepts such as “identity” and “experience.” I understand identities to be socially significant and context-specific ideological constructs that nevertheless refer in non-arbitrary (if partial) ways to verifiable aspects of the social world. Moreover, I contend that it is precisely because identities have a referential relationship to the world that they are politically and epistemically important: indeed, identities instantiate the links between individuals and groups and central organizing principles of our society. Consequently, an examination of individual identities can provide important insights about fundamental aspects of U.S. society.

An important feature of the postpositivist realism I defend in this book is a rethinking of the idea of objectivity. Just as the postmodernist dismissal of identity is based on a denial of the possibility of objectivity, so my realist reclaiming of identity is based on a reaffirmation of the possibility of (postpositivist) objectivity. The reason postmodernists deny the possibility of objectivity is that they have an impoverished view of what can count as objective. For postmodernists (as for positivists), objective knowledge is knowledge that is completely free of theoretically mediated bias. And since postmodernists rightly conclude that there is no such thing as a context-transcendent, subject-independent, and theoretically unmediated knowledge, they therefore conclude that there can be no such thing as objective knowledge. Postmodernist literary critic

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, for example, employs a positivist conception of objectivity in her response to feminist legal scholar Robin West. In that response, Smith understands the “rhetoric of objectivism” as involving “the invocation of self-evident truth and objective fact, of intrinsic value and absolute right, of that which is universal, total, and transcendent” (Belief and Resistance 5). Smith later defends a standard for evaluating theories that is similar, in some crucial ways, to a postpositivist conception of objectivity, suggesting that theories can be “found better or worse than others in relation to measures such as applicability, coherence, connectibility, and so forth.” Crucially, however, she notes that these “measures are not objective in the classic sense, since they depend on matters of perspective, interpretation, and judgment, and will vary under different circumstances.” Like the positivist, Smith assumes that any standard for deciding between competing theories or positions that involves matters of perspective, interpretation, and judgment must be, by definition, “non-‘objective’ ” (77–78).[18]

Defenders of a post positivist conception of objectivity, by contrast, stake out a less absolutist and more theoretically productive position. As a realist, I conceive of objectivity as an ideal of inquiry necessarily involving theoretical bias and interest, rather than as a condition of absolute and achieved certainty that is context transcendent, subject independent, and free of theoretical bias. I can thus assert (without contradiction) both that (1) all observation and knowledge is theory mediated (that is, mediated by language, bias, or theoretical presuppositions—as, indeed, postmodernists argue) and that (2) a theory-mediated objective knowledge is both possible and desirable. Because I have given up the dream of transcendence, I understand objective knowledge as an ongoing process involving the careful analysis of the different kinds of subjective or theoretical bias and interest through which humans apprehend the world. Rather than trying to free my inquiry from bias, I work to bring into view the presuppositions I am working with, as well as to distinguish “those biases that are limiting or counterproductive from those that are in fact necessary for knowledge, that are epistemically productive and

useful” (S. P. Mohanty, “Can Our Values Be Objective?”). Moreover, by conceiving of objectivity as an ideal of inquiry rather than an achieved condition, I am able to avoid one of the more familiar traps of postmodernist epistemologies. Unlike postmodernist critics, who are so concerned about rejecting a (positivist) notion of objectivity that they are hard-pressed to justify their theoretical and normative commitments, I justify my commitments with reference to a normative conception of the human good—one that I am willing to interrogate, and if necessary, revise.[20]

Realists can be further distinguished from postmodernists in that they replace a simple correspondence theory of truth with a more dialectical causal theory of reference in which linguistic terms (and identities) both shape our perceptions of and refer (in more or less partial and accurate ways) to causal features of a real world. Because, for instance, I am willing to test my hypotheses and truth claims against the world, I can modify my beliefs in the light of new or more convincing evidence. I do not shy away from making truth claims, but (following C. S. Peirce) I understand those claims to be “fallibilistic”—that is, like even the best discoveries of the natural sciences, open to revision on the basis of new or relevant information. In fact, it is my realist willingness to admit the (in principle, endless) possibility of error in the quest for objective knowledge that enables me to avoid positivist assumptions about certainty and unrevisability that inform the (postmodernist) skeptic's doubts about the possibility of arriving at a more accurate account of the world. Just as it is possible to be wrong about one's experience, I contend, so it is possible to arrive at more accurate interpretations of it.[22] The result is a theoretically productive approach that enables a richer analysis of the different kinds of subjective or theoretical bias or interest involved in projects of knowledge production.


Another feature of my realist understanding of objectivity is a rejection of the positivist idea that objective knowledge should be sought by attempting to separate the realm of hard facts from the realm of values. Because I understand that all knowledge is the product of particular kinds of social practice, I recognize the causal constraints placed by the social and natural world on what humans can know. Moreover, because humans’ biologically and temporally limited bodies enable and constrain what we are able to think, feel, and believe and because our bodies are themselves subject to the (more or less regular) laws of the natural and social world, I know that what humans are able to think of as “good” is intimately related to (although not monocausally determined by) the social and natural “facts” of the world.[24] Consequently, humans’ subjective and evaluative judgments are neither fundamentally “arbitrary” nor merely “conventional.” Rather, they are based on structures of belief that can be justified (or not) with reference to their own and others’ well-being. These judgments and beliefs have the potential to contribute to objective knowledge about the world.[25]

Postpositivist realism therefore provides an interpretive approach that resolves the dilemmas that attend absolutist conceptions of identity, objectivity, and knowledge, going beyond both dogmatic certainty and unyielding skepticism. Moreover, the postpositivist realist theory of identity is able to do what other theories of identity cannot. It can account for

the causal influence that categories of identity like race, sex, and socioeconomic status have on the formation of identity, even as it accounts for how identities can adapt to changing historical circumstances. It is, I argue, the sophisticated and nuanced theory of identity needed by ethnic studies scholars who are moving into the twenty-first century.


I begin my extended theoretical argument in chapter one, “Post-modernism, Realism, and the Politics of Identity: Cherríe Moraga and Chicana Feminism.” I start by calling into question postmodernist theorists’ ability to create the conditions necessary for the emergence of alternative perspectives and new voices. My reading of the work of influential postmodernist feminists Judith Butler and Donna Haraway suggests that the voices of so-called “others”—in this case, Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga—are as silenced by postmodernist theory as they have been by an abstract individualist ideology that judges their views as “subjective” and therefore epistemically unreliable. To the extent that these “others” speak of being women, of being racialized, of seeking to understand (in order to change) the world, postmodernist theorists tend to misinterpret, ignore, or dismiss their ideas as theoretically naive. In the second section of the chapter, I elaborate the details of a postpositivist realist theory of identity that goes beyond essentialism by disclosing how identities are grounded in the social categories of race, class, gender, and sexuality, without being determined by them. I establish the link between identity and social location as mediated through experience and argue that there is an epistemic component to identity that enables us to read the world in particular ways. Finally, I provide my own realist reading of Moraga, one that is consistent with her “theory in the flesh.” By resituating her work within the cultural and historical conditions from which it emerged, I show that Moraga's elaboration of a “theory in the flesh” gestures toward a realist theory of identity. A realist reading of Moraga's work presents a strong case for how and why the theoretical insights of women of color are necessary for understanding fundamental aspects of United States society.

In chapter two, “Chicana Feminism and Postmodernist Theory,” I deepen my critique of prevailing postmodernist theoretical tendencies by examining their influence on theorizations of Chicana identity and subjectivity. I focus on the attempts of the Chicana theorists Norma Alarcón and Chela Sandoval to rework an identity-based politics by incorporating

and revising postmodernist deconstructions of the subject. I have found that these Chicana theorists demonstrate an ambivalent relationship to postmodernist theory even though they accept many of its pre-suppositions and claims. I argue that the presupposition of a fragmented subjectivity seriously limits these thinkers’ efforts to theorize the agency of women of color. Norma Alarcón, for example, proposes a theory of subjectivity without attending to the question of identity. Consequently, while her theory of multiple subjectivities can account for the demonstrable fact that identities are not essential, self-evident, or fixed, it finally cannot account for the process of identity formation. The failure to attend to the question of identity formation is a characteristic weakness of postmodernist theories of subjectivity: they are unable to explain the persistent correlation between certain kinds of bodies and certain kinds of identities. My reading of Chela Sandoval focuses primarily on the inconsistencies in her argument generated by her postmodernist-inspired epistemological denial. Although I acknowledge the value of Sandoval's theoretical typology, and appreciate her political vision, I demonstrate that her attempts to refigure an identity-based agency would be better served by a realist theoretical framework. In order to propose a more appropriate theoretical trajectory for the critic concerned with representing the cultural productions and experiences of women of color, I recast la facultad —the “survival skill” described by Gloria Anzaldúa and theorized by Sandoval—as a realist concept in order to interrogate its epistemic value. I conclude by arguing that Chicana identity should be seen not as a principle of abstract oppositionality, but as a historically and materially grounded perspective from which we can work to disclose the complicated workings of ideology and oppression.

In chapter three, “Cultural Particularity vs. Universal Humanity: The Value of Being Asimilao, ” I work forward from this premise to argue that even those identities that do not work well as explanations of the social world are worth examining. To the extent that an identity fails to refer adequately to the central organizing principles of the society from which it emerges, it can help reveal the contradictions and mystifications within which members of that society live. Taking the writer Richard Rodriguez as exemplary, I examine the writings of neoconservative minorities to trace the contours of a neoconservative minority identity politics. Prompting my inquiry into their politics is the conviction that the outcomes of the debates in which neoconservative minorities engage (about bilingualism, affirmative action, multicultural education) have significant cultural, material, and epistemic consequences for all those

who reside within the borders of the United States. The conclusions Americans come to regarding these hotly contested political issues have serious implications both for what we think our future society should be like and for how we will try to educate the ideal citizens of that future society. At stake is nothing less than the definition of American identity and the future well-being of our already culturally diverse society.

I begin my analysis by looking at the centerpiece of neoconservative minority identity politics: the insistence that minorities be required to assimilate to mainstream American culture. As part of my evaluative project, I examine the central claim of Rodriguez's intellectual autobiography—that he has been successfully assimilated. After demonstrating the role of interpretive error in the formation of Rodriguez's neoconservative minority identity, I show that neoconservative minorities’ erroneous conception of what is “universal” to all humans causes them to make policy recommendations that hinder, rather than facilitate, the development of productive cross-cultural interaction. I then turn to the postpositivist realist theory of identity elaborated in chapters one and two to posit one way in which progressive intellectuals might go about fostering the conditions conducive to working toward a better society. I argue that when we pay the right kind of attention to our own and others’ particularity, we position ourselves to develop a more productive understanding of our universal humanity. Working with a reconstructed notion of the human universal, I end by defending the value of cultural diversity on the basis of an understanding of multiculturalism as epistemic cooperation.

In chapter four, “Learning How to Learn from Others: Realist Proposals for Multicultural Education,” I extend the realist theory of identity into the realm of multicultural education. I begin by reviewing the central debates surrounding multicultural education and by discussing the implicit claims about the nature of culture and the value of cultural diversity held by key opponents and proponents of multiculturalism. Working with accounts written by educational researchers who have studied the implementation of multicultural educational initiatives in primary and secondary public schools in the United States, I demonstrate that the postpositivist realist theory of identity can account for the complex intercultural dynamics these researchers have observed in educational settings. In response to some of the dilemmas identified by multicultural educational researchers, I propose eight postpositivist realist principles that I believe should be central to the pedagogical practice of educators and researchers who are interested in promoting a truly democratic

and culturally diverse society. I conclude by showing that the realist conception of multiculturalism as cooperative crosscultural inquiry into the nature of human welfare provides the strongest justification for multicultural education yet proposed—even as it helps us to understand how and why some initiatives that rely on a model of multiculturalism as cultural pluralism have failed.

In chapter five, I bring the various strains of my argument together in a reading of Helena María Viramontes's remarkable novel Under the Feet of Jesus. By examining the expanded notion of literacy that Viramontes develops in her novel, I show that the novel dramatizes what I describe elsewhere in this book as a postpositivist realist approach to understanding and knowledge. On a metaphorical level, Viramontes analogizes words to tools to figure the act of interpretation as a materialist engagement with the world. On a structural level, she employs the narrative strategy of focalization to emphasize the epistemic status of identity. Finally, on a thematic level, the novel documents the young protagonist's transformation of consciousness and her personal empowerment by tracing the process through which she becomes a better reader of her social world. I show that it is in part by guiding her readers’ processes of identification through the narrative technique of focalization that Viramontes powerfully contests the outsider status typically accorded to migrant farmworkers. By encouraging her readers to enter into a relationship of empathetic identification with Estrella and her family and by exposing them to the moral and epistemic blindness of those Americans who would view migrant farmworkers as outsiders to American society, Viramontes implicitly invites her readers to transcend their own particular perspectives, to complicate their own previous understandings of the world, and to reach for a less partial, more objective understanding of our shared world. Viramontes's expanded notion of literacy is thus more than a pious statement about the importance of learning to read; rather, it is an implicitly postpositivist realist vision of social justice. Her vision of how humans can become better “readers” is intimately wedded to her moral vision of how humans most effectively interact with one another.

However well I have argued my case, I do not imagine that the publication of this book will suddenly or substantially change the conditions within which I and other minority scholars live and work. Nevertheless, I do believe that ideas can be very powerful. I also believe that humans are agential beings with the (admittedly constrained) capacity to employideas

in the service of transforming the conditions of their existence. Thus, it was with a certain amount of faith in my fellow human beings that I began this scholarly project. It is in the same spirit that I offer my analysis of the ideas, insights, and visions of the artists and intellectuals whose writings have inspired this book.

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INTRODUCTION Identity in the Academy and Beyond
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