Heidegger and social identity: A phenomenological analysis of judgments of cultural identity and difference

David Joseph Zoller, Fordham University


This dissertation analyzes the difficult epistemology of judgments that the person judging and her interlocutor inhabit the same or different cultures. Contemporary social theory, for example, the work of Seyla Benhabib, has focused helpfully on the ethical and political negotiations in which cultural identities emerge, and has worked to tie the meaning of identity to those negotiations to help us avoid an artificial cultural separatism or "Balkanization." Yet too little work has been done analyzing, in their own right, the actual acts of judgment in which we think of ourselves or other persons as members of a certain culture. A phenomenological analysis of these judgments, such as I offer in the dissertation, can help to address the problems and impasses created by certain kinds of cultural difference judgments as they are made within the everyday "lifeworlds" of individual persons. The dissertation rules out certain kinds of "holistic" difference judgments as problematic and inapplicable to living persons. The dissertation accomplishes these tasks by sorting out the possible contents of our judgments about an individual's cultural context. I analyze those contents phenomenologically, that is, by looking at the essential structural features of these judgments that give them the meaning that they have for a person who is making the judgment. In course, the dissertation analyzes Heidegger's pre-Being and Time interaction with the notions of culture that emerged from the 19th-century. While phenomenology, and Heidegger in particular, is often assumed to have taken up those Romantic ideas about enculturation uncritically—and thus to have conceived of the self as a microcosm of cultural presuppositions and projects—I demonstrate that Heidegger's earliest, pre-Being and Time work show that he had a more complex critical relationship to these early notions of cultural identity. Heidegger's pre-Being and Time work provides us with a general critical theory of descriptive judgments about human existence (Dasein). This dissertation is the first attempt to collect this critical material from Heidegger's earliest work, and to show that his early work can and does function as a critical theory of implicit and explicit identity judgments in social science and public discourse.^

Subject Area

Sociology, Theory and Methods|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Zoller, David Joseph, "Heidegger and social identity: A phenomenological analysis of judgments of cultural identity and difference" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3466730.