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John Stuart Mill And The Social Construction Of Identity

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While the importance of moral and national pluralism to John Stuart Mill and later liberals has been the subject of recent debate, little attention has been paid to Mill’s arguments that class and gender ascription fundamentally construct individual identity. Mill argues that the analysis of society in terms of its constituent groups and the power relations between them requires the representation by groups of their own identities and interests in politics — and thus lays the liberal foundations for modern identity politics. Later Idealists and New Liberals, sympathetic to the idea of nationalist self-determination, define national communities as the only groups shaping individual identity, and relegate social groups to the expression of particular interests. The contemporary division in liberalism between identity and interest groups is a consequence of this shift. The recovery of Mill’s social pluralism establishes a liberal basis for deliberative democratic theories based on group differentiation and structures of power.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA, Email:

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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