The debate over the role of identity politics within the American Left surfaced after the Democrat’s defeat during the 2016 presidential election. In this project, I establish theoretical frameworks using the works of Émile Durkheim and Jean-Jacques Rousseau that explain the rise of identity politics within the American Left and the subsequent critiques of the practice. First, through a comparative analysis of the works of Durkheim and Rousseau’s writings on the relationship between the individual and the state in contemporary society, I demonstrate how the rise of identity politics is explained by the existence of a non-inclusive collective force. This comparison will also show how a disagreement between the theorists over the function of government as a regulator of the cohesion in society is critical to understanding the contemporary critiques on the role of identity-based political groups in American politics. Lastly, I argue for Durkheim's side on this disagreement and show how a Durkheimian approach to identity politics can bridge the gaps between identity groups and their critics, ultimately leading to more successful political outcomes. This project will allow for a way out of this contentious debate.


Fitz Gibbon, Heather

Second Advisor

Weber, Desiree


Political Science; Sociology and Anthropology


Identity Politics, Durkheim, Rousseau, Political Sociology, US politics, Pragmatism

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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