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Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time (Norton Paperback)) [Paperback]

Amartya Sen
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Feb 2007 Issues of Our Time (Norton Paperback)
In this sweeping philosophical work, Amartya Sen proposes that the murderous violence that has riven our society is driven as much by confusion as by inescapable hatred. Challenging the reductionist division of people by race, religion, and class, Sen presents an inspiring vision of a world that can be made to move toward peace as firmly as it has spiraled in recent years toward brutality and war.

Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; Reprint edition (16 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329292
  • Product Dimensions: 20.9 x 14.1 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,060,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Sen is now Asia s preeminent philosopher of freedom. . . . This is an indispensable book. --Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia"

About the Author

Amartya Sen is Lamont University Professor at Harvard. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge 1998-2004. His last book, The Argumentative Indian, was also published by Penguin. His books have been translated into thirty languages. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I expected more 12 Jun 2010
I have to admit i expected more of this book. It felt as if Sen had just two points to make which is that (1) people have multiple identities and (2) we should not define people solely in terms of one of those identities, namely religious affiliation.

While both points are true i felt he never really got to the heart of why people prioritise particular identities in certain contexts (place, time, circumstances).

Nor did he seem to understand that an identity constructed in terms of multiple identities is an identity in itself. This is significant because it is this "meta-identity" that Sen himself prioritises. The book seemed to me to be about a perceived threat to Sen's identity rather than about identity, the concept.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An outstanding contribution to contemporary discourses on the politics of identity, `Identity and Violence - The Illusion of Destiny' is reminiscent of the intellect and wisdom only a scholar of Amartya Sen's stature could offer in the face of this prime challenge of our time.

Recognising the complex and multifaceted nature of our modern identities, Sen argues that communitarian and cultural thinking that is the bedrock of conventional communal and collective identities results in a divisive reductionism that is bound to evoke conflict. He then articulates an alternative approach founded on the view that individuals form their identities through their diversely different set of attributes, associations and affiliations. These pluralities of human identity, he believes, cut across each other and work against a sharp separation along one single hardened line of impenetrable division.

In other words, in a strategic alteration of the relation between the core concepts, he challenges our currently dominant paradigm of thinking and offers a richer, more flexible and more comprehensive framework of perceptions. This new approach, he convincingly argues, enables individuals and societies to rise above their divisions; transcend superficial boundaries and barriers; and reach a new understanding that unites mankind, not in spite of, but precisely because of her rich diversity.

Luckily in this work he has used accessible everyday examples throughout the book, making the argument easy to understand for average but enthusiastic readers, in spite of the abstract and complex nature of the subject matter.
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Sen brings a refreshingly lucid voice to the ongoing debates centred around the inter-faith and multi-cultural conflicts that threaten all our futures; and in particular their role in fuelling global terrorism through feeding the roots to ever more divisive fundamentalism. Sen takes an altogether more rational and reasoned approach to comprehending the nature of this multi-faceted conundrum, by highlighting the plurality of our identities as the source of hope for increased understanding and empathy between hostile groups. Key to his thesis is the misguided framing of the various conflicts that seems to drive the discourse to date - pointing out where the fault lines lie - in terms of the attempt by hegemonic powers to engender simplistic thinking (be it racial, religious, ethnic or cultural polarization) that focuses on imposing singular overarching identities on our fellow man, (to brainwash the uneducated into seeing a mass of one dimensional stereotypes, that threaten their way of life!) enabling the fundamentalists in the process to de-humanise their imagined enemies in order to incite violence to protect, preserve and uphold what are ultimately spurious conceptual realities, and in so doing diminish all hope of identifying with "supposed enemies" as fellow human beings. His suggestions as to how we can get on a more constructive path to resolving many of the fundamental issues at the heart of all identity based violence, come down to a number of critical distinctions in the way we think about freedom. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars a great book 10 Oct 2011
a really great book by a great man. The answer to Wilders, lePen and their freinds and that little racist/sexist/simplifying corner in everybodys mind.
The one thing it lacked was a strict editor, because at the end it becomes tedious. That cost it a fifth star;
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This book makes one supremely important argument very well: to identify ourselves with an identity, no matter which, is both incorrect and dangerous. Most of us don't have ONE identity, but many. If one of them takes excessive precedence over the others, and we therefore identify ourselves mainly with it, we start down a slippery slope of exclusion of those who do not belong to it, even though we may share several of our other identities with them. The step from this process of exclusion to conflict and war is a short one to take.

I am a man who is or has been during his life an Italian citizen, a secular agnostic, a European, has lived many years in the United States, philosphically sceptical and politically cynical, a political scientist, an economics amateur, an international civil servant, a military analyst, a diver, a photographer, a consultant, heterosexual, a defender of civil liberties, an opponent of capital punishment, a believer in universal values, an existentialist, someone who is strongly attracted to Buddhism, a lover of classical music and cool jazz, someone who can't stand heavy metal and sports programs on TV (except the soccer world cup!), pro choice, in favor of birth control, someone who never watches TV, a hater of cigarettes who likes his pipes and a cigar once in a while, gastronomically and enologically curious, and many other things it would be too long to list.

Therefore, I can identify with many categories of mankind indeed. These categories are all like overlapping circles. Together, all of them make my identity, so I find it easy to be tolerant because I can share one or more of the above with most people alive on this planet.
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