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Adam B. Lerner, PhD candidate at CDS, awarded the 2018 Emanuel Miller Prize

last modified Nov 07, 2018 02:55 PM

Adam B. Lerner, a PhD candidate at the Centre of Development Studies, was awarded the 2018 Emanuel Miller Prize from St. John's College for his essay 'The Useful Fiction of Identity in International Politics.' The prize recognises achievement in Philosophy of Science with special reference to the behavioural sciences (psychology and social science) and is open to all members of the University of Cambridge community. An abstract of the essay is included below:

Over the past few decades, International Relations (IR) scholarship has wrestled with the concept of identity. Early constructivist IR scholarship introduced identity as a variable mutually-constitutive with the international system, but later work began to question whether identity was too nebulous a concept at even the individual psychological level to be scaled up to the macro-social world of states, nations and other transnational actors. Do macro-social entities have identities akin to those of individuals? Are the identities macro-social dynamics impose on individuals not simply artificial impositions of continuity on variegated human experience? This essay argues that the term identity, as it is used in IR scholarship, serves as a 'useful fiction,' suitable for encouraging conversations between the social, behavioural and natural sciences on how individuals and groups variably articulate and internalise narratives of self. In this sense, identity as a concept is ontologically fluid—a heuristic suitable for organising interdisciplinary study of the pushing and pulling influences that shapes patterns in these narrations over time. To demonstrate this fluid ontology, this essay breaks down the memory content behind identity narrations by drawing on psychologist Endel Tulving's seminal typology of memory—particularly his distinction between semantic and episodic memory. Incorporation of Tulving's typology problematizes some scholarship's simplistic division between individual and collective identity and suggests that identity is best understood not via its amorphous structure, but rather via analysis of the different blends of memory content that can constitute it. The essay concludes by suggesting that identity's fluid ontology should orient IR scholarship towards analysis of the political motivations at play in various identity constructions, rather than trying to pinpoint their ever-changing structure.