By Sep’Tisha Riley
Does the saying “we’re a product of our environment” coincide with the idea of assemblages?
In the text “I Would Rather be a Cyborg Than a Goddess” Paur discusses the possible pitfalls of both intersectionality and assemblages, as well as what they each “do” in terms of creating and understanding identity. The term assemblage sets out to produce a collaborative product. Here, “definitions of assemblage lean more to collection, combination, assembling” (Puar,4) This is helpful because it decenters the human individual and relies on a collaborative approach to understanding the individual identity. It relies on understanding the human outside of the human, which includes a focus on environmental and social factors. One’s environment impacts their interactions with not only others outside of their normal environments but the way they interact and understand new environments. This approach or understanding may take into account human reliance on outside factors in their own development. Identity is a result and reaction to structure and though “structures, surroundings, and context make difference to outcomes, but they are not quite vibrant matter.” (29) I believe identity development this is where the use of assemblages is most beneficial. Assemblage is an understanding of one thing in relation to another. It does not center the human or the thing but demonstrates each human and nonhuman as the result of collaborative forces.
Viewing environment in terms of identity provides an alternative to the intersectional approach of identity. Puar states that “intersectionality attempts to comprehend political institutions and their attendant forms of social normativity and disciplinary administration…(10)” which is limiting because it looks at what separate identities do when they come together in a certain space but doesn’t completely look at the ways in which certain spaces produce an individual. Intersectionality challenges narratives of the norm and discusses the product of overlapping identities but in this analysis environment is very much needed. Intersectionality looks at separate identities together, producing the other while assemblages takes separate entities and produces separate identities collectively. It doesn’t treat various sects of identity as fractions of the whole but looks at the individual as an accumulation of everything in which it has interacted with. An assemblage is a product of exchange and accumulation, one is always changing themselves and the environment around them. Through understanding that we are products of our environment, we can see the various outcomes of individuals without reliance on only human factors.
When discussing individual its necessary to address experience and environmental factors. Environment shapes one’s identity and impacts the social interactions they have, there is a direct interaction that occurs between the individual and their environment. This can be applied to both identity development and social development. The production social interaction depends on one’s environment which has contributed to their identity. The use of environment and social relationships to assess identity is formed amongst individuals in relation to environment intends to show how they each influence each other similarly to the self and other. The environment can be understood as extrinsic and the identity which drives interaction can be described as intrinsic to understand the connection of social and environmental factors. Environmental impact on identity may help us to consider the interplay of social context and historic context when exploring and creating new means of understanding assemblages. Social institutions and social context shift the meanings and the way in which an individual is understood and identity and the individual as an accumulation of their experiences and environments must involve a holistic assessment.
Bronfrenbrenners Ecological theory stresses the importance that one’s environment has on the development of their identity and life experience. Bronfenbrenner’s theory is based off environmental impact on one’s development, his belief that the source of learning is through environmental contact aligns with the social creation of identity. Bronfenbrenner divided the environment into five different levels, consisting of a microsystem, mesosytem, exosystem, macrosytem and the chronosysystem. The microsystem is described as the habits of interactions created by a person and can occur in multiple settings. The mesosystem is the interactions that connect various microsystems. The ecosystem contains social settings that the infant is not a part of but is affected by. Similarly, but not limited to social settings, the macrosystem consists of intangibles that affect the individual like cultural values. All levels of the ecological systems theory play a role in one’s identity development. The use of the microsystem as a basis mainly supports the use of this theory into the understanding individual identity as an assemblage.
The microsystem refers to the individual and what they bring into the world, sex, race, etc. along with the habits and interactions created by the individual. The microsystem has the closest relationship to the individual and its created habits. This particular system consists of the family and is important to an individual’s development. This direct contact makes the microsystem notably influential. One’s growth or development is based on the interactions they encounter daily and these interactions are bidirectional, meaning that each person in each relationship or interaction affects one another. These social interactions are internalized demonstrating the relationship between the larger society and the self. This particularly fits in with my understanding of assemblages and individuals being impacted by, and impacting those they encounter.
One’s environment and past interactions that have occurred may serve as a type of schema or future reference when they act in social settings. Rather than these ‘schemas’ dictating the entire experience, certain familiar reference points may be utilized when assessing how to interact in similar social situations that have occurred in one’s life. Schemas can be thought of in terms of assemblages because it takes various moments and experiences and shapes them into one collective understanding. The relationship of the individual in a set environment can be used as a guide to understand the assemblage in terms of identity.
Identity goes beyond the human and the question to assess is to what extent does environment produce the individual? How can an intersectional approach begin to involve one’s environment?