David Gauntlett

 

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Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences
 
David Gauntlett
Published by Routledge, May 2007

This is an extract, from the end of the conclusion chapter:

The idea of 'identity' can seem vague and abstract. Academics have found it difficult to establish what identity means, so that at times it has been reduced to a set of categories such as gender, ethnicity, and physical ability (each of which becomes more fuzzy itself, when inspected closely). In this book I have preferred to approach the concept by seeing what identity means to people themselves. I was surprised to find the degree of clarity with which a wide range of people could picture their own 'identity', on their own terms, and share this story with others. It has also been heartening, if not so surprising, to find that people are philosophers on the state of their own lives before the social theorists come along.

We have followed a number of paths to arrive at a set of findings about personal identities, and how they might be studied. In particular I have proposed a visual and creative research method which encouraged participants to spend time reflecting on their identity, through asking them to build a metaphorical model of it in Lego. This challenge required the hands and mind to be working together in unison, playing with different pieces until conscious or previously-not-quite conscious ideas emerged in the formations of Lego shapes, figures, and animals. I found Lego to be a colourful, appealing and straightforward medium, which almost all of the participants loved - and which, unusually for an art or craft material, meant that everybody was able to produce something which they felt satisfied with - but this kind of approach could, of course, use any of a wide range of potential techniques or materials.

The identity models that were built were complex and often rather beautiful. Although we continue to hear about 'fragmented' postmodern identities in academic publications, the view from this research was quite the opposite. I was struck by 'the will to coherence' - the desire to assemble a solid and unified view of self-identity. It was also possible to see participants asserting their own distinctiveness within the context of an increasingly globalised and mainstream fashion-led culture. The role of the media emerged as the provider of stories - ethical resources which people use to orient themselves towards aspirations. We saw that the sense of a journey was common, with each person as the hero of their own story, often moving away from historical ties towards greater stability, fulfilment, and engagement with the world. Despite the dominance of consumer culture - of which popular media is a part - these goals were not about possessions gained, but about social connections, inner happiness, and a life well lived.