by Martha Minow ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 15, 1997
A moderate, judicious, and ultimately bland look at identity politics. Minow (Law/Harvard) sees the issue of human identity in a pluralistic society as a series of paradoxes. Consider: The struggle to be an individual is apparently universal; it is impossible to have an individual identity in isolation from others; maintaining a tolerant political system requires some intolerance of the intolerant; and the central paradox animating her thoughts on identity, the ""possibility of forging commitment to others without relinquishing commitment to oneself."" She examines the general nature of identity and membership in a group, the role of law in reinforcing group identities, the dilemma of redressing wrongs against groups without sacrificing the individual, the special problems of who should control school curricula and the place of education in establishing identities, and the supposed dangers of political fragmentation along identity lines. The effort throughout to couch the discussion in terms of paradoxes is intriguing and especially illuminating in regard to the legal system (for instance, she notes that even the need to enforce equal opportunity laws requires that people be viewed as members of particular groups), but the indeterminacy is frustrating. True to form, Minow's closing suggestions for moving society in a positive direction are ""linked, but contrasting responses."" Each embraces a ""but also"" that transforms the analytical paradoxes into paradoxical recommendations for action, e.g., permit parents to select schools ""and thus student peers"" for their children, but also ""subject those choices to constraints and incentives to promote exposure to diverse others, not selected by the parents."" Although Minow believes that embracing the paradoxes of human identity will minimize fruitless exchanges between antagonists committed to opposing ideals, there is reason to wonder whether the potential for conflict has really been altered. A fine mind is at work here, but splitting hairs may not suffice in resolving these issues.
Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1997
Page Count: 288
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997
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