Identity and Identification is an inspiring attempt to chart the obsessive ways modern and contemporary western societies have categorised and classified social groups, minorities and individuals through the adoption of often dubious techniques, from the fascinating yet discredited experiments of the phrenologist Franz Joseph Gall to the latest scientific breakthroughs such as DNA profiling. Against this increasing need to name, to define and to identify, the book juxtaposes the essentially elusive and impermanent character of identity, highlighting the dangers of imposing narrow identities onto others and the creative ways individuals or groups have escaped the traps of reductive definitions. A unique feature of the book is its 16 in-depth interviews exploring the immediate social, cultural and political themes that shape contemporary identity issues. The interviewees include singer, songwriter and political campaigner Billy Bragg, scholar and writer Ziauddin Sardar, political exile Yasmin Alibhai Brown, neuroscientist Paul Broks, geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys, philosophers John Searle and A C Grayling, and transgender critic and writer Roz Kaveney.
Each interviewee approaches the subject from a very personal and original perspective, shining light into themes such as gender, minority politics, science, ideology, race, and class, and these themes' relationship to who we are, and how others define us. The interviews are interspersed with six visual essays, each one focusing into the lives and work of specific individuals - figurehead personalities to specific aspects of identity. These include April Ashley, one of the very first people in Britain to make the transition from male to female; surrealist artist and photographer Claude Cahun, whose work into self-portraiture gracefully explored the intersections between identity, sexuality and self-representation; Franz Joseph Gall, the nineteenth-century phrenologist who attempted to correlate skull-shapes with criminality, creativity and other character traits; Francis Galton, the Victorian scientist known for his attempts to classify and measure human qualities; the twins Charlotte and Emily Hinch, separated in age through the freezing and delayed development of one embryo; and actress Fiona Shaw, whose work is, in her own words, a gradual process of "becoming herself".
Featuring an impressive collection of writings and stunning visual material, from diary extracts, newspaper cuttings, nineteenth-century wood engravings and photographs, to eccentric, fascinating artifacts and other paraphernalia, Identity and Identification is an invaluable, timely contribution to the hotly debated issues of how we know who we are, how we are identified and how the two are related.