20 Jun 2013 5:00pm - 6:30pm SG1, Alison Richard Building


The French Embassy has generously sponsored a cycle of lectures and workshops which bring to Cambridge leading scholars from France to interact and foster research collaborations with experts in Cambridge from across the Schools of Arts and Humanities and Humanities and Social Sciences. In this second year of collaboration, the cycle of talks and workshops will explore the complex theme of identity in 21st-century France and beyond.

The lectures, which will be given in English, are open to any member of the University.  

In this fourth lecture, co-organised by the Department of French,  Professor Vincent Descombes (L'École des Hautes Études on Sciences Sociales)  will give a talk on Criteria for Collective Identities.

The lecture will address the question whether there is any connection between two concepts of identity: the logical concept on the one hand, i.e. 'identity' as we understand it when we make an assertion of identity ('the Morning Star = the Evening star'), and the psychological concept on the other hand, i.e. the kind of identity we have in mind when we are speaking of an 'identity crisis' or putting forward a programme of 'identity politics'.

Firstly, Professor Descombes  will consider whether there are identity criteria for collective entities such as cities, schools, churches, countries, etc. This is basically a question about the ontological status of instituted groups.  Secondly,  he will ask who is in a position to define the criteria to be applied to a group in order to make judgments as to its identity over time.  This is a question about the idea of a collective consciousness and a moral psychology of people in groups.  Can a group entertain a self-definition like an individual person? Having such a power is what it takes to have an identity in the psychological sense. He will attempt to make sense of such an ascription of a psychological identity to groups by spelling out the semantics of the pronoun 'we'.

About Vincent Descombes


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk