It is always nice to get an understanding of our basic terms before starting a new course. Identity is one that seems to have had some subtle shifts over the years. According to my COED (5th edition, 1964 vintage) the meaning is ‘Absolute sameness; individuality, personality‘ as well as some mathematical meanings which are not relevant. The modern meaning of the word appears closer to the old COED definition of individuality, ‘Separate existence; individual character, esp. when strongly marked; individual tastes, etc.’

The course notes (I&P, p10) quote the Oxford Encyclopaedic Dictionary definition of Identity, thus: ‘(a) the quality or condition of being a specified person or thing. (b) individuality or personality (c) identification’ . The online version of the Oxford Dictionary ( gives the following, ‘The fact of being who or what a person or thing is.’ and ‘The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.’

The online Cambridge Dictionary ( gives a further useful insight through its definition, ‘who a person is, or the qualities of a person or group that make them different from others’ . The extra dimension opened by that last definition is important. It is not enough to know who a person is, we need also to know who he isn’t, and why not.

The ‘Who are we?’ section of the course notes (p10) shows that we must consider more than just the stereotype ‘name, rank and number’ or the physical features of a passport photograph but a whole raft of characteristics: occupation, social class, sexuality, religion, political opinion etc. Some of this is externally labelled and some is internally self-defined. Some aspects are fluid, others remain as fixed as our National Insurance number. The interesting part, from the viewpoint of this course, will be capturing or expressing it photographically.


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