Dilemmas Of American Self

Dilemmas Of American Self

Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Dilemmas Of American Self
    Book Description:

    Charles Horton Cooley Award of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, 1990 "According to Hewitt, the essence of modernity is tension between community and society. This ambitious, sophisticated, and well-written book is a tonic for those who weary of simplistic sermons on the condition of American culture." --Choice This book explores stability and change in American social character and identity, and offers a theory about what it means to be an individual within contemporary American society. Skeptical of the widely-accepted thesis that the self, at least in America, has drastically changed, John P. Hewitt assumes that there is more historical continuity and that the culture is filled with internal contradictions. Combining the insights of social psychology, with those of writers who have offered critiques of the larger society and its influences on the individual, he revises our understanding of the person in American society. Hewitt examines the theories of such authors as David Riesman, Allen Wheelis, Christopher Lasch, Erving Goffman, Carl Rogers, Ralph Turner, and others. He treats their emphasis on the decline of transformation of the self not as social theory to be tested, but as cultural text that reveals some of the main historical and contemporary features and fault lines of American culture. "American culture is best characterized not as relentlessly individualistic or as lacking in the capacity to conceive of or discuss community, but as torn between individualism and communitarianism, thus creating serious felt difficulties of social adjustment and personal meaning." Proposing a symbolic interactionist theory of culture, Hewitt emphasizes inherent polarities of meaning and dilemmas of conduct that shape the experience of self: conformity versus rebellion, staying versus leaving, and dependence versus independence. He constructs a theory of identity that views personal identity and social identity as contending means for securing the continuity and integration of the self, and applies the theory to American society by depicting autonomous, exclusivist, and pragmatic strategies of self-construction. "This theoretically sophisticated work is very ably organized and marked by superior scholarly and expository craftsmanship. It will be hailed, I believe, as an important contribution to symbolic interactionism and the sociology and social psychology of everyday life. Hewitt's treatment of self, identity, conformity, differentiation, community, and modernity is a fine example of creative scholarship." --Charles H. Page, University of Massachusetts (Emeritus) "Hewitt has set himself the ambitious task of providing a symbolic interactionist analysis of culture, society, and self, and has succeeded admirably in the effort. I found his rich description of cultural types to be especially insightful. It is no exaggeration to characterize this book as a landmark work in the development of symbolic interactions." --Morris Rosenberg, University of Maryland-College Park

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0357-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. CHAPTER I The Ubiquity of the Self
    (pp. 3-18)

    The self is omnipresent in contemporary life. Everyday conversations are larded with references to identity, self-concept, self-esteem, self-image, self-fulfillment, self-actualization. Therapists and best-selling books promise to teach assertiveness, raise consciousness, enhance self-esteem, or improve relationships. Celebrities parade their psychic wounds before television audiences, and the language of self-reference has become a widely accepted part of popular vocabularies of motive. Men and women measure happiness against the standards of “self-actualization” and “self-fulfillment.” They speak of “finding themselves” and of their “real” selves, as if the self could lose itself or be mistaken for another self.

    It is not only among ordinary...

  5. CHAPTER II Social Theory as Cultural Text
    (pp. 19-65)

    The task of showing how theories of the person constitute discourses that realize American culture calls for conceptual tools. At the outset, two concepts—culture and discourse—will suffice. The conception of culture with which I will begin is that of Clifford Geertz, who summarizes it as

    essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.¹...

  6. CHAPTER III A View of American Culture
    (pp. 66-108)

    Contemporary discourse about the self weaves its account of the nature and fate of the person in American society from the strands of three related cultural themes. First, there is a preoccupation with the nature, essence, constitution, meaning, significance, and substance of the person. Although this interest in the person is now far more apt to be expressed in scientific discourse than in the language of religion, there are strong echoes of a Puritan past in which the individual’s state of grace was a matter both of inner preoccupation and of public discussion. In the discourse of psychologists, social critics,...

  7. CHAPTER IV Modernity, Society, and Community
    (pp. 109-148)

    If we are to grasp the full impact of American culture upon the self, we must understand it as a particular expression, perhaps the epitome, of a more general phenomenon of modernity. American culture was formed and continues to be formed from a particular set of historical conditions and experiences, but in a more general sense America is a modern society, and it is this characteristic that has shaped its culture and in terms of which it must be understood. In this chapter I explore the meaning of modernity, paying particular attention to the concept of community.¹

    The phrase “modern...

  8. CHAPTER V A Theory of Identity
    (pp. 149-190)

    What coherent theory of the person can aid in reformulating our understanding of the person in American society? What body of theory is available from which to select? It is not surprising, in view of the degree to which modern culture fosters self-consciousness, that one has an almost limitless selection of theories of the person from which to choose. Sociologists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts have elaborated a variety of conceptual schemes, systems of analysis, perspectives, and theories that attempt to portray human beings and their relationships to others. Yet the best-known and most widely used theories seem inadequate to the job...

  9. CHAPTER VI Strategies of Self-Construction
    (pp. 191-230)

    Social identity and personal identity are major contending forces in contemporary self-construction. Each is a potential solution to the problematics of situated identity in everyday life—a way of producing continuity and integration while also managing the tension between identification and differentiation. Each links situations and their roles into meaningful sequences and creates a sense of wholeness that combats the fragmentation of everyday life. Each provides a way of handling the inevitable conflict between the individual’s need (and the community’s demand) for identification and the individual’s quest for (and the community’s resistance to) differentiation.

    Although social and personal identity both...

  10. CHAPTER VII In the Last Analysis
    (pp. 231-246)

    My goal in this book has been to reconstruct our view of the self and its relationship to American society. Major critical constructions of the American self have faltered in two key ways. By assuming that their major task is to account for changes in the self, many analysts have failed to recognize the divided nature of the culture, and so have merely expressed its main axes of variation rather than analyzing them. By making individualism their chief target, some critics have overlooked an important communitarian dimension of American culture. Moreover, the critics have relied on theoretical tools inadequate to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 247-260)
    (pp. 261-268)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 269-274)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-275)