Self-identification, group-membership, and the race-gender analogy

  • Kim Laura Kopec

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


Self-identification is often quickly dismissed as a possible criterion for group-membership. I explore what self-identification might be and how it might figure into group-membership. I set out desiderata for an account of group-membership that considers the analogy between race and gender to have some merit as well as the broad theoretical framework underlying discussions around the nature of race and gender. I argue a constructivist framework of some kind is most appropriate as it has the potential of being maximally inclusive as well as ameliorative. I criticize Haslanger’s ameliorative account, which focuses on social positioning as a membership criterion, based on its lack of recognition of the interactive nature of social groups and its normativity. Haslanger’s account lacks the inclusion of individual “choice” on one’s individual identity. I explore Jenkins’ inclusion problem and argue that her solution of multiple and equally weighted target concepts has some shortcomings as she fails to consider that these concepts might conflict when they are practically applied, and hence cannot be equally weighted. I distinguish between self- identification and self-declaration. I argue that the former has more relevance pertaining to actual group-membership rather than perceived membership. I argue that, especially in the case of race, it cannot be the sole criterion due to arbitrariness objections and the interactivity of social concepts. I further lay out why it cannot be one of many equally weighted criteria: The risk is self-identification will be outweighed by other criteria, which would result in it not figuring into group-membership after all. This risks entrenching historical injustices, and is similar in structure to my objection against Jenkins.

Hence, I put forward that self-identification might come into play when other criteria don’t give a clear indication. This is also where the race-gender analogy might fall apart as the restrictive criteria might differ. However, examining this stipulation is outside the scope of this project. This dissertation aims to contribute to a clearer understanding of race and gender concepts as they have practical policy implications.
Date of Award30 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorDerek Nelson Ball (Supervisor)

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