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Questioning identity: Gender, Class, Nation

Kath Woodward
Routledge: London
2000
0415222877 (hb)
40.00 (hb)
165

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Front Cover
With the current expanding interest in 'identity' in sociology and beyond, numerous edited collections and readers focussing on the area have been published. This edited collection is the first in a new series produced to complement the Open University's level one course 'Introduction to the Social Sciences: Understanding Social Change'. However, this book stands out from many recent publications and would be of use to a much broader audience of students.

The book is composed of four chapters, 'Questions of Identity', 'Identity and Gender', 'Identity, Inequality and Social Class' and 'Identity and Nation'. A central organising principle of the book is 'questioning', asking questions about the conceptualisation of identity, and of the reader.

Consequently, chapter one "Questions of identity", is organised around some fundamental questions about the processes of identity, such as 'Who am I?' 'Who are you?' 'Who are we?' 'What do you do?' 'Where do you come from?' and 'Who do you want to be?' The chapter explores the role of identity in everyday social interaction and the relationships between the personal and the social. This is related to theoretical debates about the changing nature of identity in contemporary society. The reader is actively encouraged to consider how identity operates as a process.

Chapter two "Identity and Gender" explores gender identity and categorisation and development, and the relationship between gender and academic achievement. Concepts and debates are effectively explained and activities invite the reader to reflect on their own perceptions of gender development.

Chapter three "Identity, Inequality and Social Class" looks at the experience of poverty, work, income and inequality, class, and social exclusion. The chapter is broad in scope, and would be of use to students on a wide range of courses, not only those specifically concerned with identity. Indeed, the emphasis on identity in the chapter may provide students with fresh ways of thinking about and applying material covered on courses concerned with social stratification, inequality and exclusion, for example.

The fourth chapter "Identity and Nation" examines national identities, with a focus on Britain. The sustenance of national identity and the relationships between culture and national identity are explored, in addition to the fragmentary nature of 'nation' in the British context. The latter aspect of Britain is explored through the examples of Scottish nationalism and devolution, and multiculturalism.

The potential 'Englishness' has of becoming a diverse national identity is explored, introducing the reader to debates about 'race and ethnicity' in contemporary Britain. However, throughout the book, but particularly within the final chapter, greater use could be made of research and debates that address the relationships between 'race' and 'identity'. However, the coverage in the final chapter does act as an effective introduction to the area, and the book by and large succeeds in mapping the complexities of 'identity'.

The focus of the book is firmly on Britain and British experiences. At certain points the book may have been enhanced through examples drawn from a wider international scope. The final chapter "Identity and Nation" may have benefited here. This could encourage the reader to consider the implications of globalisation for 'national identity', for example.

However, the predominant focus on Britain could also encourage British students to question their own identities. This is a theme throughout the book, where tasks encourage the reader to think reflexively about their perceptions of their own identity and how they perceive others.

Throughout, the book is effectively illustrated, with well selected and thought provoking examples, photographs and exercises. It is also broad in its focus and is genuinely inter- disciplinary. The book is highly accessible, and is written in a lucid and understandable style. Key ideas and concepts are highlighted and emphasised and are explained effectively.

"Questioning Identity: Gender, Class, Nation" is recommended to students and to those who design and deliver courses which concentrate on identity. It is also recommended to those studying or delivering a range of other courses, who will find much material here of relevance, particularly the chapters concerned with gender, class and inequality and the nation and nationalism. The emphasis on 'questioning identity' has produced a book that introduces students to core debates and ideas, in a manner that encourages considered thought and enquiry.

Catherine Walker
University of Sheffield

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