The crooked timber of identity: Integrating discursive, critical, and psychosocial analysis


 Dr David Kaposi, School of Psychology, University of East London, Water Lane, E15 4LZ, UK (e-mail:


This paper seeks to contribute to the growing band of constructionist approaches within the field of identity studies (Wetherell & Moharty, 2010). First, it will review the developments that have taken place since the emergence of these approaches in the 1980s, identifying a state of fragmentation into local discursive, political-moral, and psychosocial levels of analysis. Second, and in order to challenge this fragmentation, it will present a rhetorical psychological (Billig, 1987, 1999a) analysis of the classic exchange of public letters between Israeli historian of Judaism Gershom Scholem and American political theorist Hannah Arendt in the wake of the latter's book Eichmann in Jerusalem (Arendt, 1994a). The analysis will proceed from local discursive action, through political-moral frameworks, to the nature of the writers’ investment in these constructions. It will show that while the participants’ implicitly occasioning of extreme identity categories (such as the ‘Jewish anti-Semite’ and the totalitarian-style religious Zionist ideologue) is a function of apparently incommensurable political-moral discourses, the nature of investment into such constructions may be understood in a mutual commitment to the absolute inalienability of Jewishness. Third, therefore, the paper will conclude that, rather than constituting separate ‘levels’, local discursive action, political-moral intelligibilities, and psychosocial qualities are mutually constitutive of each other. It is only through recognizing their inter-dependent nature that the complexity of identity may properly be addressed.