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Identity as Network

We are more than one identity only.

Kathleen Wallace offers some helpful insights to combat the current identity politics which is rending the nation in her article, “You are a network,” (Aeon, 18 May 2021).

Wallace demonstrates that we are not merely one identity, but many, and that our identities are not defined only by what goes on in our mind or environment, but by the network of relationships we sustain. “Relational views signal a paradigm shift from a reductive approach to one that seeks to recognise the complexity of the self. The network self view further develops this line of thought and says that the self is relational through and through, consisting not only of social but also physical, genetic, psychological, emotional and biological relations that together form a network self.”

Not only is the self a network, it is also a process. We are in a continuous state of flux and change: “the temporal spread, so to speak, of the self means that how a self as a whole is at any time is a cumulative upshot of what it’s been and how it’s projecting itself forward.”

Given this, we ought to work for transformation toward a more desirable identity. We all have room to grow and improve. Wallace explains, “Transformation can happen to a self or it can be chosen. It can be positive or negative. It can be liberating or diminishing.”

We must resist the temptation to reduce people to one identity only, since “selves are more complex and rich. Seeing ourselves as a network is a fertile way to understand our complexity. Perhaps it could even help break the rigid and reductive stereotyping that dominates current cultural and political discourse, and cultivate more productive communication.”

Thinking of ourselves as networks can lead to richer and more mutually beneficial approach to life: “The network self view envisions an enriched self and multiple possibilities for self-determination, rather than prescribing a particular way that selves ought to be. That doesn’t mean that a self doesn’t have responsibilities to and for others. Some responsibilities might be inherited, though many are chosen. That’s part of the fabric of living with others. Selves are not only ‘networked’, that is, in social networks, but are themselves networks. By embracing the complexity and fluidity of selves, we come to a better understanding of who we are and how to live well with ourselves and with one another.”

This way of thinking lines up well with the Personal Mission Field idea that we live for Christ and seek His Kingdom within the network of relationships, roles, and responsibilities we engage in every day. It also matches the Christian view that we are defined within a community of like-minded members of the Body of Christ.

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