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'when buildings have an identity crisis' - Steve Wing


an e-logue

Identity and the Crowd


yesterday I worked on the "two²" issue of BluePrintReview, and came across a coincidence of themes: there are 2 texts that were submitted for two², both are about different takes of being - and about identity. one is about writing bios, the other a poem on alternate lives. then i browsed possible image matches, and came across the 2-layer photo you sent: “Identity Crisis”.

which made me think that maybe those 3 pieces indeed are the first shape of an own issue, #26 – it could be: “identity”. not all sure yet, but i like the idea.

also, i started to put a submission for qarrtsiluni's upcoming issue "The Crowd" together, and then looked for some theoretic background – and found this: “The Psychology of Crowd Dynamic”.

page 2-4 are introduction, and interesting in many respects. what surprised me is the positive view of crowds:

The second obvious feature of crowd phenomena is that they are not only shaped by society but that they in turn bring about social change.”

and here the next surprise: the introducion even moves to the theme of identity:

“In other words, the psychological processes which relate society to crowd action are those of identity. If we are to understand the nature of crowd action we therefore need a model of identity which explains both how society structures identity and how identity organises action.”

[note: those 2 texts now turned into the opening texts for this issue: "Stream of Consciousness Bio" by Cathy Douglas and "Alternate Timelines" by Michelle Hartmann. the 2layer photo is included above.]

Wow, this is interesting!  The connection between identitiy and the crowd.  Now that you say it, of course they are connected. I would think that the individual surrenders some identity to the crowd, or assumes an identity from the crowd (two ways of saying the same thing, I guess.)  They discuss this but in much less simple terms.

This really makes you think.  For one thing, the term 'crowd' itself is loaded with negative implications, I think. You could choose a different term for the group and get a different feeling. 

Thanks for provoking my brain!  And here's something to provoke you, in quite a different way: fotofriday image: window 

thanks for sending the photo link! again, identity.

what you wrote - "For one thing, the term 'crowd' itself is loaded with negative implications, I think. You could choose a different term for the group and get a different feeling.”

- this connects to the mail Dave [the editor of qarttsiluni] sent after i submitted. he wrote: “So far almost all submissions have taken a negative view of crowds, unfortunately. We're hoping for a little more balance. I'll be interested in checking out that link on crowd psychology - thanks for sending it along.”

and another interesting link: in the wiki article on “the crowd”, it states:

“A crowd is a large and definable group of people, while "the crowd" is referred to as the so-called lower orders of people in general (the mob). A crowd may be definable through a common purpose or set of emotions, such as at a political rally , at a sports event, or during looting, or simply be made up of many people going about their business in a busy area (eg shopping). Everybody in the context of general public or the common people is normally referred to as the masses.”
- wiki/Crowd

I agree, your investigation into the crowd and identity is leading to fascinating connections.  Dave's response is interesting, too. In dictionary.com it is fascinating to look at the definitions for crowd, especially the last one:

"Sociology - a temporary gathering of people responding to common stimuli and engaged in any of various forms of collective behavior." 

I think that is one of the key things, collective behavior.   which I think is a short way to say what the wiki article explains. And then if you click on the Thesaurus tab, you get a marvelous list of crowd terms.


But then if you look at the definition of identity, you find "A person's individuality" (among other things) which really is in some way the opposite of collective behavior.  And yet in life we really are a blend of both.

Which got me thinking about identity, how we commonly say things like:
you are what you eat
the clothes make the man

and the way people identify with a football team
or a country, or a church

or feel defined by their family
or their income
or their education
or their job
their car(s) says who they are
and their house(s)
their neighborhoods
and their vacation
and their friends

which almost all seems external, like missing some essential point, even though most of these are expressions of self.

would it be better to start the discussion with things like honesty, compassion, kindness?

or is it even more fundamental, something that does not even involve another person

who you are
who was missing before you were born
who will be missing when you are gone

and does identity change through life?
or is it immutable?

not that I have answers for anything....

these are so interesting, the themes that are opening these days: crowd / group / identity.
almost like a psychology or sociology class.

the thesaurus “crowd” entry, it almost makes me think of copying it and submitting it to qarrtsiluni, there is so much included.

and then your mail yesterday, on how we define ourselves through owning certain things or through belonging to a certain group: a company, a neighbourhood. but what remains when this is taken away?

there is so much included in this topic. and it's vaster and different to think of identity when ther also is the crowd / group aspect included. also, it makes it almost ridiculous in some places, like with cars / clothes: mass product articles. but that's where the advertising kicks in, loading products with “key tags” for identity. “if you drive this car, you will be energetic, powerful, charming...” -- and if you wear this clothes / drink these beverages / you will be perceived as xx / yy.

yesterday, the identity theme popped up in another place, too: in the “Asian American Review”, the editors were so kind to send me a copy. and reading a story of it, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett, i came across this line:

“In the west, it always seems so important for us to signal on the outside how we believe we exist on the inside. Hence the trend for piercings and tattoos, a political stance against Starbucks, bumper stickers—anything that can give the casual viewer a sense of just how unique you believe your soul to be. The friends you make will probably share these external habits. There are times when I find this constant advertising to be not only glib, but exhausting. Does it really get at anything essential?

In Japan, to paraphrase a friend of mine, it's the opposite, but not exactly how you think.”

reading the words, i returned to your mail, and this line, which even carries the very same 2 key words: external / essential:

“and the way people identify with a football team
or a country, or a church.. or feel defined by their family
which almost all seems external, like missing some essential point”

so interesting.

i looked for it, the story from Marie Mutsuki is also online, here: Compartment Comportment


This is fascinating about crowd identity, group behavior. What you said about the advertising connection, which often is  'use this product and girls will have sex with you.' It made me realize also this is used extensively in politics.  Get one issue that people identify with, like abortion or immigration policy, and they will vote you in even when it is not in their own best interest. And who knows where else your insight into this connection will lead?  It seems like a basic principle of society!  Of law, of order, and of disorder, graffiti rules.

This passage by Marie Mutsuki really does summarize an important point, and an important difference:

“In the west, it always seems so important for us to signal on the outside how we believe we exist on the inside."

I think that is true, that somehow we sense that our identity stops with our outermost layer of skin unless we do something to project it further out, like that excerpt says. 

And not to wander too far from the crowd identity discussion, but another result of this western identity seeking I think it that it distracts us from understanding aspects of our identity.  Like that we are not self sufficient units, that our skin is not where we stop.  How interdependence is part of identity too. 

Here some lines from a section in this issue of Poetry where people write about what poetry means in their lives.  Some lines from the poet Bill Yale:

trees are our lungs turned inside out
& inhale our visible chilled breath
our lungs are trees turned inside out
& inhale their clear exhalation

It is perhaps one aspect of the opposite way, to seek your identity instead of trying to create it.

this poet's lines are touching, like a breathing meditation. yes, our skin isn't our border.

following the theme of crowds, yesterday was decision day for the german team in the world soccer cup: either win or leave. people geared up for the match from afternoon on, going to public view places, dressing up in team colors. in contrast to that, i was at yoga class, and even there the soccer games were a theme. one thing our teacher said made me perk up: “the euphory of being in a crowd takes energy from you. so be a bit careful these days.”

it makes sense, even on a physical level: crowd energy is coming from doses of individual energy, and adds up. and if you leave the crowd, you feel a kind of down / emptiness / lowness at some point afterwards.



Steve Wing, Florida (about & more) + Dorothee Lang (blueprint21)


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BluePrintReview - issue 26 - identity