Bauman and Maffesoli on Identity, (de)Individualisation and Neo-Tribal Sociality

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Hörsaal 34 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Elias LE GRAND, Stockholm University, Sweden
This paper discusses the relationship between identity construction and individualisation in the context of neo-tribal forms of sociality. Originally developed by Maffesoli, neo-tribes or tribus are typically conceived as elective, ephemeral, affective, non-instrumental and tactile forms of associations. As such neo-tribes are seen as resulting from a breakdown of traditional class structures and processes of deindividualisation – a massification and ‘tribalisation’ of (Western) societies. But for Bauman and other commentators neo-tribal associations are rather a response to increasing individualisation in that they re-embed individuals in society and serve as a source of belonging and meaning, however temporary. Maffesoli also argues that in the postmodern era, the notion of the individual has been replaced by what he calls ‘persona’, a fragmented sense of self likened to a changeable mask in which different roles are enacted in interaction. Critically engaging with Bauman’s and Maffesoli’s arguments, the paper seeks to complicate the elective and fragmented character of neo-tribes and their role in identity formation. Rather than elective and open to everyone it is argued that individuals’ involvement in neo-tribes are tied to social inequalities. This is partly acknowledged by Bauman who argues that the poor lack the financial means to participate in neo-tribes. However, he underplays the role of cultural and symbolic resources in structuring such participation. Similarly, the paper argues that while individuals participate in a plurality of neo-tribes serving to express different facets of their selves and senses of belonging, neo-tribal lifestyles may still be chosen and constructed according to some core organising values and tastes, the appropriation of which are tied to the acquisition of valued resources unequally distributed among different groupings of individuals. These arguments are developed via a discussion of recent research on ‘foodies’ and on different food-oriented contexts of neo-tribal sociality, particularly sites of ‘alternative’ food provision.