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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.

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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

attacked in the street people whose dress infringed political etiquette, treating clothing as both a sign and an active pursuit of counter-revolution. 12 The meaning of appearance is fluent and flexible, arising not from material qualities but from social narrative and perception. As the narratives changed, dress could be condemned as insufficiently modern, insufficiently Chinese, or revealing a bourgeois and counter-revolutionary deviation. 13 But the flexibility of the significance of dress did not diminish the potential violence of its consequences. Whilst it may be

in Cultivating political and public identity

of the demonstration of a number of skills, competencies, and a particular habitus both within the movement and in the Mainstream. Cultural marginality is defined directly in relation to cultural centrality. It is marked often by a squatter’s long-term addiction to drugs and/or alcohol as well as excess aggression, emotional and material dependence on the squatters’ subculture, and displaying a lack of emotional control. I argue that since culturally central people assume that the movement is a space of

in The autonomous life?
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The economy of unromantic solidarity

with the UK, where up until 2012, squatting residential properties was legal and an estimated 25,000 people live in squats in London alone. The majority squatted for free housing and only a tiny minority did so to enact an anarchist counter cultural existence. Furthermore, compared to Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, social centers in the UK are few and far in between and almost immediately evicted by the police. Hence, legal permission, in the UK case, led to squatting for purely “material” reasons

in The autonomous life?
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defines civilisations? What creates them? Is it their materiality, their art or their religious ethics? Are they old and evolutionary, or constituted anew in modernity? How have moderns judged them, or rather discursively cast them? What ideological uses are made of the idea of civilisation and how should they be disentangled from archaeological, anthropological, sociological and historical investigation and methodology? Each question is a debating point. Images of the character of civilisation and civilisations underpin the diversity of explanations. Are they entities

in Debating civilisations