Article ID: CBB000830205

Inner Division and Uncertain Contours: William James and the Politics of the Modern Self (2007)


This article revisits the question of the social valence of William James's account of the self. As biographers have long noted, James worried much about the crisis of the autonomous, unitary and well-bounded self. This article suggests that, despite his anxieties, James perceived that those features of the self opened up new possibilities both for the individual and for society. By locating the Jamesian self in the context of period techniques for the cultivation of the self, religious and occult practices, and mystical-cum-political discourse, I argue that for James the crisis of the modern self represented a means both of rooting individuals firmly in the community and of endowing them with a form of agency stronger than those promised by traditional doctrines of the simple, self-directed and well-bounded self. Thus, I argue, James's conception of the self and the techniques of the self that he advocated were part and parcel of an attempt to rethink the relationship between individual and community and to promote a new type of society, one composed of spontaneous pluralistic, open and intimate communities.

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Authors & Contributors
Leary, David E.
Ferreri, Antonio M.
Crippen, Matthew
Baker, Bernadette M.
Dunham, Jeremy
Watson, Cecelia Alexandre
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
History of Psychology
Science and Education
Review of Metaphysics
JBSP. The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology
McGill-Queen's University Press
Lawrence Erlbaum
Cambridge University Press
University of Minnesota
University of Chicago
Social sciences
Pragmatism; instrumentalism
Discipline formation
James, William
La Farge, John
Saint-Simon, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de
Schreber, Daniel Paul
Renouvier, Charles Bernard
Peirce, Charles Sanders
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
United States
Heidelberg, Germany

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