Skip to main content


Education Theory Reading Network

A platform for discussion centered around issues in education theory - all welcome

Event details

We agreed at the last meeting to continue the focus on identity and this time to read Amartya Sen’s ideas about identity. We have two brief papers to read (both 6 pages).

Here is abstract from one by Sen in the Journal of Peace Research. The other is based on an interview in Prospect with him in 2006 about his ideas following his book on identity and violence.

The article discusses two main approaches to explaining violence in contemporary global society. Theories based on the culture of societies, among which the theory of the clash of civilizations is the most influential, attempt to explain violence by referring to antagonisms between collective identities. Theories of the political economy of power and inequality seek the sole cause of violence in economic factors. While each approach has some plausibility, both are inadequate on their own. When applied as sufficient explanations, they may distort our understanding in a way that undermines the possibility for both alleviating poverty and reducing conflict. The causal mechanisms are more complex than economic reductionism is capable of accounting for. Poverty and inequality are importantly linked to violence, but must be seen together with divisions between factors such as nationality, culture and religion. In turn, these factors must not be based on a false image of solitary identities and unavoidable antagonisms between cultural groups. The article suggests that the coupling between cultural identities and poverty increases the significance of inequality and may contribute to violence. Approaches to explaining violence should avoid isolationist programmes that explain violence solely in terms of social inequality and deprivation or in terms of identity and cultural factors. 

Sen_Violence__Identity_politics.pdf (1290K)
Sen_Illusions_of_identity___Prospect_Magazine.pdf (610K)