Individuals vs identities: can we move beyond ‘tribal’ politics?

Sunday 3 November, 12:0013:00, Exhibition Hall 1Moral dilemmas


Just as politics is becoming increasingly lively and potentially more open, paradoxically the public sphere seems increasingly marked by a demand to conform with particular group identities and ‘tribal’ outlooks. In workplaces, universities or institutions, responses to a wide range of political and social issues often seem to seem less motivated by principles and reasoned debate and more by culture and identity.

With adherence to social, racial and gender identities creating bitter altercations and divisions, there is a strong desire to conform to the view of our own ‘tribe’. Rather than working things out for ourselves, based on our own thoughts and interests, ‘tribal’ thinking suggests we follow the lead of a group or act according in the way that other people think our ‘tribe’ should. Validation comes in ‘likes’ on social media for saying the right thing and showing allegiance to the tribe.

Why is tribalist thinking so strong in contemporary society and how do we move beyond it? Many of us instinctively recognise the destructive potential of groupthink and ‘echo chambers’. Those prepared to think and act autonomously, who decide for themselves what is good and bad and which of their inclinations and tastes they choose to follow, are often viewed with hostility and as a threat to community and social solidarity.

Yet there is much to be gained from working together in groups and communities, in showing acts of solidarity. Where different people come together for a shared purpose, rather than a shared identity, the result can be invaluable, from improving the lives of local communities to achieving major political or social changes.

In this lecture, Nikos Sotirakopoulos explores some of the themes in his forthcoming book Identity Politics and the Culture Wars. With respondents, he will explore how can we maintain democracy and a politics of solidarity in an age of ‘tribes’? Can we still celebrate people as autonomous individuals, rather than simply as members of their various groups and avatars of their identities? Are self-centred narcissism and tribalism antithetical, or two sides of the same coin?