Fragile Identity: Interpreting Furedi (part one)

For my Sociology assignment I am analysing two studies of Identity. This topic is focused on Frank Furedis Fragile Identity chapter “Hooked on Self-Esteem”. I’ve decided to break down each of the chapter segments in my interpretation of what he is saying.

*This is going to be quite a long topic and will be divided into six parts, followed by a similar interpretation structure for the next analysis paper.

The Inward Turn

In the introductory part of this chapter, Furedi is imparting his perspective of “the therapeutic ethos”, which he also refers to as “therapeutic culture”. He makes some excellent points as to how and why we feel the need to focus so heavily on our ‘sense of self’. This preoccupation with the self is described as a distinctly modern phenomenon, which has forged it’s dominance by disregarding the customs of a status-based community. Main driving forces behind the desire to understand our inner selves are the downfall of monarchies and the establishment of industrial capitalism, fuelling an onset of societal individuation. This desire for individuation can been seen plainly in most consumer marketing strategies. Furedi goes on to suggest that the need for self-understanding is one of the legacies of modernity.

Modernity is defined as being “both a historical period (the modern era), as well as the ensemble of particular socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices that arose in post-medieval Europe”.

Consequentially, there have been many alterations in our ‘sense of self’. It is becoming routinely common for people to select and define identities of their own. As with many things, there are good and bad elements of this system of choices. As we become more in touch with our ‘selves’ we are generating a society of free thinkers and innovation beyond historical comparison. On the other hand, we’re routinely monitoring our sense of selves. We are also losing touch with our sense and relation to the natural world- as can be seen in the rise of technological advances (another direct result of industrial capitalism).

The concept of inward feelings, as described by Furedi, is for the individual to seek meaning in life through the experience of the inner, emotional life. From an economic perspective, the increased demand for unnatural production is vastly decreasing the value of our natural world, depleting the earth of many essential resources. Rather than ‘feeling bad’ by acknowledging the dramatic affects this consumer based society is imparting on our planet, we become more and more caught up in the fanciful world of marketing. This facade enables us to ‘feel good’ about our consumer behaviour and ourselves.

Furedi is claiming that our sense of self is being increasingly measured by the criteria of health and illness. When we believe that our feelings are defining the self, authenticity is interpreted through the language of our emotions. He states that the emotional expression of communication has now become taken over by psychological and medical discourse. The main indicator for health has shifted into the metaphor of our self-esteem. High self-esteem is symptomatic of a desirable state of mental and physical health, and low levels of self-esteem indicates the self is ill and faces a crisis. The Inward Turn section of this paper concludes that therapeutic culture aims to improve society by raising self-esteem, and that this is perceived as being an act of civic responsibility.

At this point of my readings, I think he is definitely on to something. I’m interested to learn more about his perspective on the therapeutic culture because I don’t fully understand it yet. Ironically, I’m finding it really helpful with my self esteem issues.

Warm regards, xxx

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