'Ich in trockenen Tüchern' by schuschu http://www.flickr.com/photos/schuschu

Research Team

"Identity as a sign-based process"

Faculty of Philosophy, Leibniz University Hanover

(German Linguistics, Educational Psychology)


Identity concepts are controversial. It has become increasingly questionable, in the fields of cultural studies, sociology and psychology, whether or not a continuous, temporally stable form of identity can be postulated. Also unclear is how some of the stock terms of the old European tradition of thought, like "subject", "person", "I", and "self", can resist the attacks of de-construction.

Traditional positions define identity as a firmly structured, temporally stable entity. The interdisciplinary research team aims to reformulate and revise the identity concept, taking the transdisciplinary scepticism of these traditional positions as a starting point. The main hypothesis is that the phenomena subsumed under the term "identity" can be viewed as highly complex, sign-based processes in which the participants in communicative interactions negotiate a dynamic concept of self. Our central hypothesis can be summed up as follows:

Identity is a phenomenon which is flexible with regard to its characteristics, its scope and its temporal dimension. It is negotiated by individuals in communicative (sign-based) processes, which encompass interactive as well as narrative forms of communication.

The notion of identity as a sign-based process is, by necessity, associated with the assumption that human language contains a set of inherent structural features, which are essential for the ability to form a model of an autonomous self and to develop competence in dealing with such a model of self awareness in a reflexive way. The project aims to bring out these linguistic features (which are, e.g., inherent in indexical signs, discourse structures, grammatical categories, and all those linguistic entities displaying "subjective" meaning). Beyond investigating linguistic sign usage, the project is also concerned with semiotic processes pertaining to other media (in particular pictorial representations).