Little Theories

Who are you?

Who are you? The caterpillar asks Alice.

 Identity Politics

If I could write a book on any topic I’d explore the ways that we invent our own realities.

I will call the book, “Little Theories.”

The reason?  When I look at headlines, talk to friends, or just sit down and watch the world, I see Little Theories at work.

Some writers embrace theories.

For example, journalists have begun to incorporate language developed by scholars, such as “agenda-setting,” “framing” and “gatekeeping.”

All these terms arose from research done by my buddies in journalism scholarship.

But theories are late to bloom in everyday parlance.

I wonder if there’s a sort of “anti-theory” bias by folks who hate to be categorized as a “type.”

Alas: we are subject to foibles that befall all muggles.

For example, I read an article in the New York Times today by a reporter who writes about how we are our worst enemy when it comes to behavioral change.

The writer, Tim Herrera, says our biases prevent us from planning for the future.

The reason is that we fail to see ourselves in the future.

Instead we see Jane Doe or Juanita Diaz: not our true self.

Our Future Self sees “that other person”—a representation of our future self who’s really not …. me.

Herrera says that when researchers have folks see images of themselves (their real selves) acting in the future-tense—saving for retirement or exercising for health—we are more likely to make a behavior change.

In other words, if we see our Today Self in a Future Self activity, we make more realistic judgments.

In an era of selfies, avatars and personal brands, being more realistic about who we really seems a good idea.

But who are you?

The phrase “Identity Politics” has taken on new layers of meaning, which Francis Fukuyama explores in his new book.

Fukuyama says that focussing on a constructed identity (rather than our true selves) may harm our relationships, our communities, and even our democracy.


The focus on self separates us from our communities.

We pay attention to our uniqueness, our individuality: our separateness.

Indeed, we praise this separation.

But the danger is that we lose sight of our commonalities by focussing on our differences.


12 September 2018

Image from John Tenniel, who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865










About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american, authenticity, Buddhist, framing, Fukuyama, Identity, nativescience and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Little Theories

  1. Russ L says:

    Hi Cynthia,
    Your post reminds me of 3 cultural definitions of self: doing, being, and being-in-becoming. In this U.S. Society we define ourselves by doing. When we are at a social gathering, one of the first questions we are asked is “What do you do?” If someone were to ask, “Who are you?” I usually think it is phrased as a confrontation. As in “Who are you, and what did you do with the real you”.
    On second thought, it reminds me of one of the later attributions of that old joke by one of the charactors in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1982 book, Deadeye Dick.

    “To be is to do – Socrates
    To do is to be – Sartre
    Do Be Do Be Do – Sinatra”

    Best Wishes,


  2. Thank you, Russ: I always appreciation your words


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