Historical Contingency and the Limits of Identity: Implications for Law and Policy

63 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2018 Last revised: 11 Oct 2018

See all articles by Nancy J. Knauer

Nancy J. Knauer

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: September 7, 2018


This article engages and expands our current concept of identity. Building on the practice of intersectionality, it highlights the evolving and ever-changing nature of socially constructed identities and identifies an inherent limitation at the heart of all identity-based categories, namely historical contingency. This observation has wide reaching implications regarding the practice of intersectionality and the continued use of identity as an organizing force in politics, law, and society. Historical contingency raises a series of important and difficult questions on the individual, group, and societal levels. How does this new temporal lens change our understanding of the production of identity? How do we organize for common goals in the face of an evolving and ever-changing sense of self and fidelity? How do we craft and implement resilient laws and policies that account for the dynamic nature of identity? This article engages each of these questions, in turn, within the context of LGBTQ identities and explores the implication for both identity politics and social movement building. It recommends a politics of articulation where difference is not a point of division, but rather a way to understand our commonality as rooted firmly in the authenticity of our individual lived experiences. It concludes that historical contingency can both enhance and complicate our understanding of identity, subordination, social movements, and the prospect for progressive change.

Keywords: identity, identity politics, LGBT, intersectionality, gender identity, sexual orientation

Suggested Citation

Knauer, Nancy J., Historical Contingency and the Limits of Identity: Implications for Law and Policy (September 7, 2018). Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal, Forthcoming; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-30. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3246113

Nancy J. Knauer (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-1688 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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