Amartya Sen (b. 1933)

Amartya Sen (b. 1933)

Nobel Prize winner (Economics, 1998) Amartya Sen presents us with a pertinent critique of identity-based thinking, which has important implications for the ways in which many make nationality and ethnicity the sole basis of social, political and cultural analysis. Arguing against the reduction of human experience to single identities, Sen reminds us of “the broad commonality of our shared humanity, but also many other identities that everyone simultaneously has”.[i]

His political aim here is to restrain the exploitation of a specifically aggressive use of one particular categorization over others. Sen’s main motivation is to explain the origin of religious and ethnic conflict in the modern world; but he also targets the risks of a multiculturalism turned into a “plural monoculturalism” in which different cultures “pass each other like ships in the night”. He rejects a view of interpersonal relations reduced to “singular intergroup terms”, which pays no attention to the many other social groups to which individuals also belong: based on gender, social, political or cultural connections.[ii] Nationality represents a relatively minor aspect of what characterises humanity. Therefore, any social science that makes the nation or national identity the sole focus of analysis risks diminishing human experience.

© Axel Körner, 2015

[i] Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence. The Illusion of Destiny. London: Penguin, 2007, 3 f.

[ii] Sen, Identity, XVI, 156.

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