Identity politics - What does it constitute? Who is it there for?

We want to create a space for power-critical engagement with debates around identity politics.

The foundation has been concerned with different dimensions of discrimination and exclusion for years. More than ever, we are taking account of the interconnection between, for instance, racism, sexism, and classism. It strikes us that discrimination is (re)produced in controversial debates on identity politics. If identity politics is a reaction to discrimination, then it needs a consistent human rights and justice-oriented perspective. Because only in this way do strategies for the increased participation of excluded and discriminated groups emerge.

We are aware that political interests – what we stand for – correlate with our perspectives on the world. Identity politics is a politically charged term that, depending on political positioning, can have different meanings. Identity politics can be progressive as well as retrogressive. In other words: It is always either of matter of challenging power structures or preserving them. Hegemonic, i.e., power preserving identity politics strives to maintain the better position of privileged groups. Progressive identity politics demands justice for discriminated groups, i.e., equal participation for all.

We are shedding light on debates around identity both in Germany and internationally, thus reflecting the approach of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s educational work.

We do not lay a claim to completeness with the selected contributions and are convinced that what we select is subjective and not detached from our own perspectives, experiences of discrimination, and positions of power. The selection of contributions made here therefore makes no claim to be ‘neutral’, ‘objective’ or ‘balanced’ in depicting different positions.

Structurally, we have decided on a threefold division. We begin with the history of the term. The term ‘identity politics’ was first introduced into political discourse by a Black feminist collective in the USA. But the phenomenon of conducting politics through identity is much older. The struggle for civil rights for women that began with Olympe de Gouges during the French Revolution is also identity politics, as was the class struggle formulated by Marx and Engels, or the anticolonial independence movements of the mid-20th century, to name a few examples. Each time, demographic groups who were structurally refused equal participation in society were made visible and mobilised.

In the second part, we present different perspectives characterised by human rights approaches, critical perspectives on discrimination and voices from the field of the politics of memory. Current debates in Germany are complemented by contributions to discussions from other countries, which reveal the similarities and differences, for instance, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, Chile and Tanzania.

Finally, the dossier is rounded off with visions of a coexistence without discrimination and for empowerment. Here you will find artistic contributions we invited as part of an open call, such as poems, photographs and essays, as well as an audio contribution.

We wish you inspired reading.