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Political Studies Program, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, and French Studies Program Present

Wednesday, November 14, 2018
The Political Stakes of Authenticity Claims
Olin, Room 102
4:45 pm – 6:00 pm
Nina Hagel, Bates College

Across the humanities and social sciences, appeals to authenticity have been subject to a variety of criticisms. Developments in postfoundational philosophy have challenged many of the foundational concepts underlying ideas of authenticity, such as a unitary self, transparent self-knowledge, and accounts of authentic roots. Many scholars are particularly critical of how authenticity is deployed in political life: authenticity claims may marginalize those deemed “inauthentic,” they may challenge facts and expertise in the name of feeling, and they may marginalize those who do not identify with their vision of the good. In this talk, I examine the political risks and possibilities of authenticity claims in a particular contemporary discourse—namely, in the self-descriptions of transgender children. At first glance, the authenticity claims in this discourse may generate troubling inadvertent effects: they may disseminate constraining and narrow standards of what it means to be “real,” they may encourage a false presentation of self in order to elicit rights and recognition, they may deem other identities less real and less valuable. I suggest that some of these effects arise from the particular frames we use to read these claims, and offer an alternative framing that may help us better negotiate their risks and grasp the political stakes of authenticity. In what I term a democratic frame, I show how there are certain ways of reading and deploying authenticity claims that can do the work of critique and resistance without becoming mired in potentially depoliticizing debates about ontological truths of the self, genuine self-knowledge, or “realness.” Such a reading separates the political stakes of authenticity from the ontological language often advanced by appeals to the term; showing that we don’t need to believe in a “true self” to grasp the political stakes of these claims. By attending to the ways we read authenticity claims, we might be able to counter the tendency to make automatic and unconscious determinations of authenticity, and enable the term to be deployed in freer and fairer ways.

For more information, call 845-758-4612, or e-mail

Time: 4:45 pm – 6:00 pm

Location: Olin, Room 102