When SPRITE+ originally put out a call for expert fellows linked to any aspects of the TIPS agenda, I filled in the form from my own perspective – a social scientist, focused on links between language, identity, and belonging. In my own research, identity is a “squishy” thing, constantly evolving, linked to the communities we feel connected to. Of course, I was aware of identity theft, proof of identity, etc., but I somewhat feared that the way I consider identity might very much be in the minority within the project community…but is it?
Over the past year or so, since the beginning of SPRITE+, I have had the opportunity to engage – both through SPRITE+ events and through our own, project-organised meet-ups – with NGOs, researchers, and companies. As part of these exchanges, I have begun to reconcile the various aspects of “identity”. Proving “who you are” is not as static as it might seem, and we heard examples of this from the transgender community and the refugee community as part of our meetings. On a personal level, as a European immigrant, I also had to wrestle with the idea that “Proof of Settled Status” is not given to the individual who might need the proof, but lives, intangibly, in a computer only, an unsettling (pun intended) concept. If I extrapolate (from my, and other research) that our identity is confirmed, as least in part, through a sense of belonging, then what does it do to someone’s sense of belonging if a government is unwilling to hand the individual the tools to prove that they do, indeed, belong? I suppose this is where the “Trust” and the “Identity” aspects merge and become blurry, raising questions around power imbalances within the TIPS agenda.
In fact, our group is called “Digital Technologies, Power and Control”, and as such has strong links to social justice ideologies – how can, does, and should technology support our identity? When we use social media, for example, we not only create a digital footprint, but we curate our identities through every photo we post, every comment we make. Essentially, we build an online portfolio of ourselves – our “selves”, our identity. If our sense of identity changes, while legally, the Right to Be Forgotten (UK: Right to Erasure) is in place, in reality, erasing or changing our identity to one that corresponds better to our current sense of self is a lot trickier. Technology, however, also gives us the opportunity to affirm our identity – for example through assistive technologies that allow us to access content, goods, places, or knowledge that might otherwise be out of reach. It also has the power to connect, support and galvanise marginalised groups, to facilitate that sense of “belonging” that is part of our identity, and potentially, to support activism which may help address power imbalances that are in place.
While our project is still grappling with what the various aspects of the TIPS agenda mean for the marginalised groups we are hoping to work with, it is clear to me that, in order to understand identity, companies and corporations need to engage with those who identify with that identity – with all the “squishiness” that entails.