by Carla Kaplan

About Carla Kaplan

Carla Kaplan is Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University. She is the author of Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance and of the forthcoming “Queen of the Muckrakers:” The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford. Kaplan also chairs the editorial board of Signs.


One of our most common terms, “identity” is rarely defined. In everyday language, its most common usages—“personal identity” and “social identity”—designate meanings not only distinct from one another but also hierarchically related. Personal identity is often assumed to mediate between social identities and make sense of them. Whereas our social identities shift throughout the day, what allows us to move coherently from one to another is often imagined to be our personal identity, or “who we are”—our constant.