January 8, 2009

Inventing Our Selves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood

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Inventing Our Selves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood
BY NIKOLAS ROSE
Cambridge University Press (December 28, 1998)
236 pages

Book summary by Alice Kim

In Inventing Our Selves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood, Rose questions some of our contemporary certainties about the kinds of people we take ourselves to be, with the aim of  helping to develop alternative ways in which we might begin to think of ourselves. He problematizes our contemporary regime of the self by examining some of the processes through which this regulative ideal of the self has been invented.  A central argument of Rose’s book is that this regime of the self is often localized in distinct practices with particular presuppositions about the subjects that inhabit them and thus this regime of the self is more heterogeneous than is often allowed.   

In response to the question how should one do the history of the self? Rose proposes an approach termed ‘the genealogy of subjectification’, which takes the individualized, interiorized, totalized, and psychologized understanding of what it is to be human as the site of a historical problem, not as a basis for a historical narrative.  Further, he argues for a particular approach to the history of psychology that helps us think about the conditions under which what we take for truth and reality has been established.  He refers to this approach as ‘critical history’.  According to Rose, critical history reveals the fragility of things that seems solid and the contingency of things that seem necessary.  Its aim is not to predetermine judgment, but to make judgment possible.  Rose claims that psychology, and all the psy knowledges, have contributed significantly to the reorganization of the practices and techniques that have linked authority to subjectivity over the past century and that psychology is a profoundly social science, where even the most ‘individualistic’ experts of psychology must be connected into the social field.

Rose proposes the concept of techne to think about the characteristic ways that psychology has entered into a range of ‘human technologies’ - practices seeking certain outcomes in terms of human conduct such as reform, education, or cure.  He argues that psychological modes of thought and action have come to underpin a range of diverse practices for dealing with persons and conduct that were previously thought of and legitimated in other ways.  He also examines the links between social psychology and democracy, claiming that social psychology written in the 1930’s through to the 1950’s makes frequent references to democracy. According to Rose, to rule citizens democratically means ruling them through their freedoms, choices, and their solidarities and that social psychology is constitutively linked to democracy, as a way of organizing, exercising, and legitimizing political power.

Rose concludes his book by proposing that psy has played a key role in the ‘folds’ through which we have come to relate to ourselves and that analyses of these psychological ‘foldings’ help us understand how we have been brought to recognize ourselves as subjects of ‘freedom’.  According to Rose, we seek to govern the psychological being under the regulative ideal of freedom, which is “an ideal that imposes as many burdens, anxieties, and divisions as it inspires projects of emancipation, and in the name of which we have come to authorize so many authorities to assist us in the project of being free from any authority but our own” (p. 197).

            

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