Identity and Change in the Network Society

January 7, 2009
Short Description: 

How can a person be both “in Christ” and in a cultural identity connected to family, society at large, and one that is politically acceptable or correct? 

Identity and Change in the Network Society is the title given to the topic of conversation in an interview by Harry Kreisler, Executive Director of the Institute of international Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, with Manuel Castells, Professor of Sociology and Professor of City and Regional Planning at the same University. Recently. faculty members from the City-Region Studies Centre of the University of Alberta have been interviewing municipal leaders as part of a study of Flagstaff County where I live. They were exploring “the nature of urban-rural interdependencies related to economic, social, and environmental sustainability and to determine their impact on the well-being and prosperity of regions.”  The question of identity and change came to the forefront with respect to the very real necessity or possibility of developing new rural regional governance models. I was asked what ‘identity’ and ‘change’ meant to me! I have to admit I was silent for some time – unusual for me!
Eventually I began my response theologically: “My identity is in Christ”.  The conversation proceeded to develop an argument that for change to occur there had to be some crisis to identity and that perhaps to speed up the process of change this crisis might be created artificially?! Indeed, is this a technique?
In a more recent conversation with a professional person, the question of identity and change came up again in the context of conflict resolution. It was opined that conflict and its resolution always involved ‘identity’ – conflict arose with the negation in some way of a person’s identity.  It was concluded that “change will take place when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.” As I continued to research I was struck by the title of Emanuel Castell's book: The Power of Identity: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume II, 2004. The power of identity! Just think about all the various identities a person holds in their sphere of influence.
How can a person be both “in Christ” and in a cultural identity connected to family, society at large, and one that is politically acceptable or correct? Historically there seems to always be a point in time brought on by pressure to ‘identity’, where a line is drawn over which some folk are not willing to move - often at the cost of their physical life. As a Christian I realize that my identity needs to be built on the Rock of my life in Christ Jesus and as a citizen of His Kingdom; constantly watching for His doings; enabled to withstand the crises evolving in our day to walk in truth, love, acceptance, and freedom.  From such a stance of true security we can hold out a hand to others being swamped by the threatening tides of change - economically, governmentally, and relationally.
Georgia Harkness dedicated her book Stability amid Change: Good News for an Anxious Generation (Abingdon Press 1969) to “the oncoming generation, for it is they who must carry forward the abiding elements of the Christian gospel amid the conditions of the unborn future…. Their zeal for a better world is high, and there is ground to stand on if they will find it. Such stability is finally grounded not in changing social structures, though these are of no slight importance, but in the vision of the young man of Galilee who died, still young, outside a city wall.”
May the vision of Jesus and His Kingdom continue to grow in our world!