Enoughness is a theory of contemporary identity that states that identities are constructed out of a particular portion ("enough") of emblematic identity features.

What is Enoughness?

In a 2011 paper on new forms of authenticity performance in context of online and offline superdiversity, Jan Blommaert and Piia Varis formulated the following theoretical statement;

  • a. Identity discourses and practices can be described as discursive orientations towards sets of features that are seen (or can be seen) as emblematic of particular identities. These features can be manifold and include artefacts, styles, forms of language, places, times, forms of art or aesthetics, ideas and so forth.
  • b. To be more precise, we will invariably encounter specific arrangements or configurations of such potentially emblematic features. The featuresrarely occur as a random or flexible complex; when they appear they are presented (and oriented towards) as ‘essential’ combinations of features that reflect, bestow and emphasize ‘authenticity’.
  • c. We will inevitably encounter different degrees of fluency in enregistering these discursive orientations. Consequently, identity practices will very often include stratified distinctions between ‘experts’ and ‘novices’, ‘teachers’ and ‘learners’, and ‘degrees’ of authenticity. In this respect, we will see an implicit benchmark being applied: ‘enoughness’. One has to ‘have’ enough of the emblematic features in order to be ratified as an authentic member of an identity category.
  • d. Obviously, these processes involve conflict and contestation, especially revolving around ‘enoughness’ (s/he is not enough of X; or too much of X) as well as about the particular configurations of emblematic features (‘in order to be X, you need to have 1,2,3,4 and 5’ versus ‘you can’t be X without having 6, 7, 8, 9’). And given this essentially contested character, these processes are highly dynamic: configurations of features and criteria of enoughness can be adjusted, reinvented, amended.

The point about 'enoughness' was elaborated as follows:

The benchmark for being admitted into an identity category (as a ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ member) is ‘having enough’ of the features specified for them. This is slippery terrain, because ‘enough’ is manifestly a judgment, often a compromise, and rarely a black-andwhite and well-defined set of criteria (…). Competence, to return to what we said above, often revolves around the capacity to make adequate judgment calls on enoughness. Enoughness also explains some of the strange and apparently incoherent phenomena observed in contexts where authenticity is the core of the issue, as in minority cultural groups. We observe in such contexts that the use and display of ‘homeopathic’ doses of e.g. the heritage language can suffice as acts of authentic identity. Greetings and other concise communicative rituals, indigenous songs or dances can prevail over the absence of most of ‘indigenous’ culture as features that produce enough authenticity (…. In contexts of rapid sociocultural change (as e.g. in the case of migration) and the dispersal of contexts for identity work (as in the increased use of social media), we can expect enoughness to gain more and more importance as a critical tool for identity work. One needs to be ‘enough’ of a rapper, not ‘too much’; the same goes for an art lover, an intellectual, a football fan, an online game player and so forth.

The general point to this is that, in actual fact, we build our identities and recognize those of others on the basis of the observed performance of a certain - flexible but not infinitely elastic - dose of emblematic features pointing towards a certain identity category. If one doesn't have enough of such recognizable features, one risks not being included in the identity category. If one has too many of them, one may be seen as "overdoing it" or being "over the top".

Enoughness, small identities and micro-populations

Note two things.

  1. Blommaert & Varis do not talk about "big" identity categories such as those of gender, race, ethnicity and so forth. They address "small" identities that enter into everyday identity work as add-ons to the "big" ones and can be associated with "micro-hegemonies" and with "micro-populations". Such small identities may seem insignificant, and are often dismissed in more traditional research. The point made by Blommaert & Varis, however, is that precisely such identity "accents" are the things that people feel very strongly about and spent a lot of energy on.
  2. The enoughness concept is part of an "empirical heuristics", i.e. it addresses identity not as an abstract concept but as a lived and practiced reality, interactionally organized between people.