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Hall charts the progress of three epochal subjects:
The enlightenment subject is endowed with the capacities of reason, consciousness, and action, whose ‘centre’ consists of an inner core which first emerged when the subject was born, and unfolded with it while remaining essentially the same throughout the individual existence.
The sociological subject was formed in relation to ‘significant others’. Identity, in this conception, bridges the gap between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ – between the personal and the public worlds.
Self-identity is not a distinctive trait, or even a collection of traits, possessed by the individual. It is the self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of her or his biography . (1991:53)
Social identities … are associated with normative rights, obligations and sanctions which, within special collectivities, form roles. The use of standardised markers, especially to do with the bodily attributes of age and gender, is fundamental to all societies, notwithstanding large cross-cultural variation which can be noted. (1984: 282-30)
Five ‘Ruptures in the discourses of modern knowledge’ (Hall, 1990: 285) have contributed to this de-centred subject:
In Louis Althusser ´s interpretation of Marx´s writings he negates individuals as the ‘authors’ or agents of history, since they could only act on the basis of historical conditions made by others into which they were born, and using the resources provided to them from previous generations.
The impact of feminism questioned the classic distinction between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, ‘private’ and ‘public’, and replaced the idea of a coherent subject by introducing the notion of sexual difference.
In Foucault's writings the all-encompassing character of the administrative ‘disciplinary power’ illustrated the paradox that the more collective and organized the nature of the institutions of late-modernity is, the greater the isolation, surveillance, and individuation of the individual subject.
‘ [Foucault’s approach] suggests that discourses themselves construct the subject-positions from which they become meaningful and have effects. Individuals may differ … but they will not be able to take meaning until they have been able to identify with those positions which the discourse constructs, subjected themselves to its rules, and hence become the subjects of its power/knowledge .