Identity and social meaning

In a world of global flows of wealth, power, and images, the search for identity, collective or individual, ascribed or constructed, becomes the fundamental source of social meaning.

This is not a new trend, since identity, and particularly religious and ethnic identity, have been at the roots of meaning since the dawn of human society. Yet identity is becoming the main and sometimes the only, source of meaning in a historical period characterized by widespread destructuring of organizations, delegitimation of institutions, fading away of major social movements, and ephemeral cultural expressions.

People increasingly organize their meaning not around what they do but on the basis of what they are, or believe what they are.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, global networks of instrumental exchanges selectively switch on and off individuals, groups, regions, and even countries, according to their relevance in fulfilling the goals processed in the network, in a relentless flow of strategic decisions.

It follows a fundamental split between abstract, universal instrumentalism, and historically rooted, particularistic identities.

Our societies are increasingly structured around a bipolar opposition between the Net and the Self.

(Manuel Castells “The Rise of the Network Society”- p3)