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Historical Perspectives on Social Identities
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Historical Perspectives on Social Identities (Hardback)

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Synopsis

This collection of work on the theme of identities was the result of a conference held in the spring of 2005 at Edge Hill under the auspices of The Centre for Liverpool and Merseyside Studies. Whilst a significant proportion of the research focused on Liverpool and the North West, the theme of identities was sufficiently broad to entice scholars from diverse and varied fields. This collection, therefore, reflects the range of work presented and discussed at the conference and the multi-layered and multi-facetted nature of identity. Contributors to this edited collection examined the concept of identity in Britain through a range of historical perspectives, concerning themselves primarily with the later modern period. They reflect the extent to which nineteenth and twentieth century British social, cultural and political change has given rise to pluralist, fragmented and fractured identities and highlight the extent to which class, gender, religious and institutional frameworks have shifted continually.

This publication will therefore be of interest to those working in diverse fields but who share an interest in the importance of identity as a decisive cultural, social, economic and political determinant. Questions of identity have centred a good deal of debate in the social sciences, especially since the reception of Foucault's work in the English-speaking world in the last couple of decades. This has often taken a theoretical form. Attempts to link theory with analytical practice have been strongest in the field that might be characterised as the 'politics of identity'. At any rate this has provided an important instance of theoretical and practical conflict. Herethe focus of the debate has been around questions of gender, nation, language, economy, security and race. It has tried toto clarify crucial divisions in the analysis of identity as between explanatory and constitutive models, and between positivist and post-positivist procedures. For the most part these intense and extensive concerns have passed by largely unnoticed among historians practising in Britain in the well-found but conventional idioms of political and social history.

What this conference volume seeks to do is to help redress thedeficit, to domesticate some of the theoretical and polemical exchanges around 'identity' into a world of practical,yet conceptually aware historical work. This is a difficult but surely worthwhile task: to broach various imaginaries of identity, issues of identitarian politics, and questions of identity formation on a series of relatively familiar historical contexts. Of course, no selection of subjects for practical research in this way can be exhaustive. The group of essays offered here is sufficiently wide, and occasionally gratifyingly unexpected, at least to begin the job, to stimulate others and, most importantly, to interject theoretical concern into historial fields sometimes lacking it. Ten essays are included, together with the editor's introduction. The pieces are bound together by a common strategy not a shared empirical territory.

They range from studies of gendered identity formation , to regional identities formed around seaside resorts, to empirical questions of class and capitalism and their identitarian politics, to historical analysis of mourning, and on to language, nationality, deafness, motherhood and their inflection in identity in past time. This well-edited combination of shared conceptual purpose and variety of empirical form seems to me to work well. The book will be widely used in a variety of historical fields, not least in those which have been the most resistant to recenttheoretical innovations in the social sciences. Keith Nield Editor SOCIAL HISTORY 'This is a fascinating and wide-ranging collection of essays linked by the over-riding theme of identity. While primarily historical in their focus, the essays will be of interest to more than just historians. They raise a variety of interesting conceptual and theoretical issues, from, for instance, the significance of the staymaker in the formation of eighteenth-century female identity, to the relationship between regional identity and late-nineteenth and early twentieth century Lancashire seaside resorts.'

Sam Davies, Professor of History, School of Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University

Alyson Brown is a Senior Lecturer in History at Edge Hill College of Higher Education. She is on the management board of the Centre for Liverpool and Merseyside Studies and was organiser of the 'Identities' conference (2005) for this research centre. Her main research interest is English penal history and she has recently published English society and the prison (Willan, 2003). She has also published several chapters and articles on this subject area.

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