9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN07 Sociology of Culture

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 Old and New Individualisms II Building II, C4.07

"Cybernetic" cultures of the self - the rise of a new individualism

The rise of romantic individualism in consumer capitalism, spiritual milieus, and therapy is reinforced and at the same time challenged by a renaissance of the subject in scientific discourse since the 1960s. Departing from this observation, the paper will discuss the repercussions between everyday lifestyles, scientific discourse and the rise of digital media, which find expression in the competition of varieties of individualism: The economic sciences and economic institutions advertise the "enterprising" self (M. Foucault; U. Bröckling), countered by the social sciences and their (de-) constructivist critique of entrepreneurialism. In the perspective of a sociology of knowledge both, affirmation and critique of the "entrepreneurial self", constitute the discoursive (and economic) practices of "heroic individualism".

Drawing from a soon-to-be published study (discourse analysis, ethnography, interview methodology) on the history of therapeutic practices in alternative medicine and the corporation ("coaching" and "consulting"), I will present empirical findings on the development of this therapeutic culture and corresponding culture of the self, which indicate the emergence of a third culture of individualism, differing from romantic and heroic individualism. My approach combines the theoretical perspective and methodological stance of the sociology of knowledge with governmentality studies and discourse analysis, further drawing from media studies.

Alternative therapeutic practices aim at reconciling romanticist and heroic notions of individualism by drawing ecclectically from elements of both in the context of self-help and management. In the communicative practices coaching and consulting, therapeutic and everyday techniques of the self aim at a feedback-based exploitation of personal and social resources, thereby subjectivating, ?activating?, and responsibilising its clients in a manner wrought by tensions and contradictions. This culture of the activated, "cybernetic self" has been vastly successful in shaping the reorganisation of the welfare state (as recently described by S. Lessenich), corporate culture, and a new milieu of white-collar "project work" within European nation-states (cf. L. Boltanski/E. Chiapello). The "third individualism" I describe thus entertains a guiding and legitimizing relation with the "third way" political projects of realigning citizenship and statehood, the public and the private, profit and solidarity in the context of globalization and New capitalism.