The Indispensability and Impossibility of Teacher Identity

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For many, the term ‘teacher identity’ carries purely positive associations, as something that provides a reassuring source of professional solidarity and support. Yet identity is something of a paradoxical and problematic notion. In thinking through the problematic of identity, and its relation to teachers’ lives and work, I draw on psychoanalytic theory, where identity, far from being characterized by harmony, completeness or self-sufficiency, is a site of conflict, fragmentation, and alienation. For psychoanalysis, this alienation derives from the external location of our primary sources of identification, including imaginary identifications with the specular image of the other and symbolic identifications with the demands and desires of the Other embodied in law, language and discourse. In other words, we are never quite ‘at one’ with ourselves because the source of ourselves – our identities – lies outside us. I explore the implications for teachers of the paradoxical nature of identity as at once indispensable and impossible.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch on teacher identity and motivation
Subtitle of host publicationMapping challenges and innovations
EditorsPaul Schutz, Ji Hong, Dionne Cross Francis
PublisherSpringer Netherland
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-93836-3
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-06728-1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2018


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