26 March 2013

Terms from Giddens' "Modernity and Self-Identity"

Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age
Anthony Giddens, Stanford University Press, 1991

A handful of terms and concepts: 

Disembedding: the lifting out of social relationships from local contexts and their recombination across indefinite time/space distances.

Existential contradiction: the contradictory relation of human beings to nature, as finite creatures who are part of the organic world, yet set off against it.

Institutional reflexivity: the reflexivity of modernity, involving the routine incorporation of new knowledge or information into environments of action that are thereby reconstituted or reorganized.

Narrative of the self: the story or stories by means of which self-identity is reflexively understood, both by the individual concerned and by others

Ontological security: a sense of continuity and order in events, including those not directly within the perceptual environment of the individual

Reflexive project of the self: the process whereby self-identity is constituted by the reflexive ordering of self-narratives

Risk culture: a fundamental cultural aspect of modernity, in which awareness of risk forms a medium of colonizing the future

Sequestration of experience: the separation of day-to-day life from contact with experiences which raise potentially disturbing existential questions – particularly experiences to do with sickness, madness, criminality, sexuality and death.

Trust: the vesting of confidence in persons or in abstract systems, made on the basis of a ‘leap into faith’ which brackets ignorance or lack of information

Umwelt (Goffman): a phenomenal world with which the individual is routinely ‘in touch’ in respect of potential dangers and alarms.

21 March 2013

Wendell Berry on Individualism

Earlier this week I posted a bit on Individualism versus Individuation.  It struck me as interesting last night when I picked up a collection of Wendell Berry's essays and flipped it open to read a random passage. This is what I found.

An excerpt from the essay "Think Little," found in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (2002, Counterpoint Press).

What we are up against in this country, in any attempt to invoke private responsibility, is that we have nearly destroyed private life. Our people have given up their independence in return for the cheap seductions and the shoddy merchandise of so-called "affluence." We have delegated all our vital functions and responsibilities to salesmen and agents and bureaus and experts of all sorts. We cannot feed or clothe ourselves, or entertain ourselves, or communicate with each other, or be charitable or neighborly or loving, or even respect ourselves, without recourse to a merchant or a corporation or a public-service organization or an agency of the government or a style-setter or an expert. Most of us cannot think of dissenting from the opinions of the actions of one organization without first forming a new organization. Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism. Dissenters want to publish their personal opinions over a thousand signatures.

The contrast between individualism in this excerpt and that of Jung's thinking speaks to the plurality of perspectives on individuality. Berry is discussing the downfall of self-sufficiency and increased dependency on the corporate state to facilitate our national preoccupation with leisure and convenience. Here, I would say "Go, Individualists!"

Jung, in the short bit I wrote about, takes a more internal psychological view (as usual) lauding not self-centered individuality but the individual as a process of authentic self-realization, individuation. Both discuss individualism but from two different perspectives, equally valid, and all but totally separate.

19 March 2013

Individualism vs. Individuation

I borrowed this image from somewhere else.
Reading through a bit of Carl Jung over the weekend I was struck by his distinction between the concepts of individualism and individuation. These notions compliment related ideas I've had on my mind lately as well. Specifically to recognize that, through the process of our personal Becoming, independence includes a healthy appreciation for interdependence.

In Jung's book Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (trans. by R.F.C. Hull, 1953), he discusses the function of the unconscious and the concept of individuation. This, he writes, means:

...becoming an "in-dividual," and, in so far as "individuality" embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one's own self.

Individuation, Jung suggests, could also be thought of as a "coming to selfhood" or "self-realization." These terms, especially the latter, are so common today that we often take for granted how (and when) they were introduced. It wasn't long ago that concepts such as self-realization did not exist, except perhaps in the collective unconscious, waiting to be borne out by immense thinkers such as Jung.

Self-realization "seems to stand in opposition to self-alienation," Jung writes. Self-alienation would involve the mistaken belief that we get through this world alone and that our individual efforts are worthy of self-centered rewards.

We often grow up to become not our true selves but the self of a persona, of social acceptability, of otherness that gives into external pressures, roles, or imagined meanings. We wear the mask. We do what is expected rather than authentic and thus fail to truly live our own life.

Individuation, Jung suggests, is the ultimate goal in life. When I hear people ask "What is the meaning of life?" it is this concept that answers such a question. The goal in life is to find the courage to Be Who You Are. Individuation is this process. It is an ongoing "psychological development that fulfills the individual qualities given..., a process by which a [person] becomes the definite, unique being" that they indeed are.

Individualistic emphasis, on the other hand, shows a selfishness, a self-centeredness, that stresses how one is different than everybody else rather than how one is related to other beings. The aim of individuation is to "divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona" on the one hand, says Jung, and of the "suggestive power" of the collective unconscious on the other hand.

18 March 2013


Number crunching is not normally my thing but here are a few interesting digits from my own Twitter activity (as of today): 1,988 tweets; following 493; followers 170. 

I don't know exactly when I started dabbling in Twitter but probably sometime in 2010 or so. And I didn't "get it" at first. Now I do. It is an amazing way to engage in a flow of information based on one's own interests. People and organizations from all over the world are accessible in the wink of a hashtag. 

I can share my thoughts and can gain from the insights of political leaders, cultural creatives, business people, top-notch journalists, spiritual leaders, and musicians at all levels. It is unrelenting, to be sure, but dipping a ladle in the flow for a cold sip of intellectual pluralism every day is refreshing and humbling. To manage the nonstop flow into more reasonable categories, I use HootSuite with streams set up for the various groups such as science communicators and journalists (often one in the same), musicians, political junkies, cultural intelligentsia, athletes, spiritualists, and, of course, "people of places." This last group is small but includes a few people, like myself, exploring the connections between people, places, nature, and culture.

Thanks to those who have been following my own little stream of information sharing. And thanks, too, for reading The Topophilian blog. Now leave a comment.

01 March 2013

The Topophilian Daily: Stories of People, Places, Nature and Culture

Just FYI, dear reader, you can see an aggregated set of highlights culled from my various Twitter streams once a day at The Topophilian Daily.

I follow a combination of people, media organizations, musicians, nonprofits, and governmental agencies via Twitter. This adds up to a more-or-less left-leaning, pro-environmental, activist, and journalistic crowd. Everyday the paper.li automated program selects a large handful of interesting links from people my Twittersphere, including tweets that I send or re-tweet.

If you like "stories of people, places, nature and culture," check it out. Let me know what you think.