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Why plumage matters

This book presents the rich fabric of language, clothing, food, and architecture which forms the diverse religious, political, cultural and ethnic identities of humanity. The colour of a scarf, the accent of a conversation, can unite people or divide them, and the smallest detail can play its part in signalling who are allies and who are enemies, as much for elites as for citizens in a democracy. Human identity is neither rigidly determined nor unpredictable and spontaneous, but between those two extremes is the forum on which the public life of humanity is generated. After a century in which an assumption was held across the ideological spectrum from left to right and from Marxists to economic individualists that the rational pursuit of material gain underlay social and political activity, the fundamental importance of the cultivation and preservation of identity is re-emerging across the whole spectrum of politics in which Britain is one example only. Yet while identity is the dimension in which public life is conducted, it is inherently paradoxical: on the one hand people cultivate their identity by association with a group, or religion, or nation, whilst on the other hand they distinguish themselves from their associates within those groups by presenting an intensified or purer form of the qualities which otherwise unite them. So identity simultaneously generates equality and inequality, between identification by association, and identity by exclusion and differentiation; it is both the engine of public life, and the cause of its confusion and conflict.

This Open Access edition was funded by London School of Economics and Political Science.

. The action remains at the level of global class relations and it is through understanding these that the Third Way is exposed as a sham which diverts from the real issues of power and domination. While it is important to reveal how political projects may be subservient to enduring material interests, how they are deployed to contain contradictory and potentially antagonistic social relations or even

in The Third Way and beyond
Open Access (free)
Ontologies of connection, reconstruction of memory

obligation. The Gift (1969) reviews ethnographies of potlatch, Kula and other forms of reciprocity with a focus on the power of exchange in evoking obligation and sociability and in organising the consociation of different islands. While his comparison of such complexes in Melanesia and Polynesia –​and with pre-​Brahmanic India and north-​west America as well –​presents an internal picture, larger-​scale interaction also appears. Pacific societies are characterised by a paradigm of organisation of material and moral life that empowered trade and exchange across greater

in Debating civilisations

nature and the natural world. Britain has the oldest industrial-urban population in the world. Most Britons are now five generations from the land and from working the natural environment. Indeed, for most of the last century the British rural environment has itself been subject to the processes of industrialised agriculture to meet the demand for food and raw materials. While environmentalism is manifestly of long

in Understanding political ideas and movements

criteria. That advantages them as locations for associative activity. What is old is new again, this time fuelled by material changes in communications. Meanwhile, community at the local level supplies some indirect evidence that community can exist in conditions of greater mobility. This possibility contradicts Bauböck's insistence on birthright citizenship and transgenerational community, both of which appear necessary to citizenship in

in Democratic inclusion
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solidarity that harm inflicted during eating is considered the worst form of treachery. To poison one's guests is to reveal the depths of one's own moral descent and one's departure from the society of civilised or socialised humanity. Conversely, the common table is the stage at which the solidarity of the family is cultivated, as is the solidarity of both secular and religious collegial bodies, clubs, corporations, and professional associations. Eating together expresses and cultivates a shared identity, and a sharing of the material resources which surround and extend

in Cultivating political and public identity
Open Access (free)
Association and distinction in politics and religion

that human actions and human creations are needed as metaphors of an infinite and unknowable identity. So arises the seeming paradox of a truth and an identity which is further removed from human life than any other, but which is nonetheless approached by a fuller and more extravagant use of human creativity than any other more apparently mundane or material arena, both in the immediate garments, words, music, and movements of the faithful and in the artefacts which they produce. That is the logic of the icon lurking within the apparently merely strategic advice of

in Cultivating political and public identity
Open Access (free)

in human action. In that case it might appear that a politics of identity will be replaced by a politics of interest or of biologically grounded needs and responses. That would be to misrepresent the relation between interest and identity, and between ubiquitous needs and their particular expression and pursuit. The preceding discussion has presented human life as being about meaning, justification, identity, and esteem. The acquisition and use of material goods has been presented as carried out as part of this activity, not as a separate or prior or fundamental

in Cultivating political and public identity
Open Access (free)

identity and its associated meaning and justification are cultivated and expressed as a dimension of public action: language, dress, the choreography of government and of politics, and the shapes and sounds of social and public life. The physical, created dimensions of identity, from clothes to architecture, are not only the constructed material setting for action, but are also themselves public actions which cultivate, generate, and constitute social persons. To say that artefacts are part of identity is different from attributing purpose, character

in Cultivating political and public identity
Open Access (free)

the late fourth century BC. Stoicism sought virtue as the greatest good and taught that self-control of one’s feelings and passions, especially in the face of adversity, was the mark of a good man. The conventional meaning of the term ‘property’ is of course tangible material goods and wealth. From a liberal viewpoint, if one’s wealth increases, then one’s freedom, in

in Understanding political ideas and movements