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2012 Master's Level Graduate Research Conference

Session I - Session II - Session III - Session IV

The Politics of Healing to the Politicization of Emotion: A Comparative Analysis of Therapeutic Interventions in the Early Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries*

[*Please consider the following abstract in place of the version I previously submitted—MB] This paper looks at the discourse on therapeutic interventions that the early-twentieth-century American psychotherapeutic and psychiatric movements engendered before considering the hegemonic form it has assumed within contemporary Western societies. The emergence of this discourse instantiated a new type of bio-politics, as healing the self psychologically of its various nervous debilities became strategic to the ruling classes’ pursuit of optimal levels of socioeconomic efficiency and productivity. As they touted their ability to tap and direct the latent energy such individuals possessed, the leading figures of these movements established a healing narrative of the totally socialized individual seamlessly adapted to society’s growing demands. Upon this basis, they purveyed strategies of adjustment and adaptation that transcended traditional cultural limitations by introducing subtler modes of dependence, coercion, and control. That these first therapeutic interventions have had an enduring legacy becomes apparent by analyzing the ways in which various psychological experts in today’s postindustrial-human services complex carry out similar tasks. Advancing a reified psychological norm of individual emotional competence within a narrative of self-actualization, therapeutic experts seek an acute coordination of individual drives with neoliberal society’s consumer-performativity demands. Conversely, contemporary sociologists and social theorists operating within a post-Marxian framework postulate how such therapeutic modalities provide the self with vehicles for freedom and self-fulfillment. Here such intellectuals perpetuate the sociopolitical t emplate that the first movements espoused by affirming both their narrow concept ions of selfhood, social engagement, and well-being, as well as their positivist outlook in which the plasticity of the self obviates the need for qualitatively changing the prevailing social order.

Presenter: Matthew Bessette (SUNY Brockport) -- mbess1@brockport.edu
Topic: History I - Panel
Location: 217 Hartwell
Time: 11:25 am (Session II)