Monday, September 10, 2012

Dissertation on Shame. Chapter 3.1 Therapy: The self-creation of identity in late-modernity

3.1 Therapy:  The self-creation of identity in late-modernity

The need and development of such social work institutions as the incest centres and the crisis centres for women can in my opinion be understood within the frame of our late-modern age. The different social phenomena in our society are complex, unpredictable and risky in nature. Giddens (1990, 1991) notion of “risk society” reflects the acknowledgement that progress and the evolution of knowledge is not the linear process associated with modern societies. He has developed themes around the distinctive form for reflexivity which are characteristic in modernity, risk and trust, and about the self-creation of identity in late modernity the reflexive shaping of our own biographical narratives. Beck (1992) argues that risks which Giddens labels as distinctive for modernity can be defined as the probabilities of physical harm to given technological or other processes. The unpredictability nature of social situations in late modernity sets social workers in a dilemma, as Wilson, Ruch, Lymbery and Cooper (2008) argues that late-modern thinking requires:

Social workers who recognise the unpredictable nature of social situations, which by implications are risk-laden, as responses to incidents or events, cannot be predicted (2008: 5). 

In response to the complexities, uncertainties and risks inherent in late-modern societies, institutions like the incest centres and crisis centres for women have found their place where other expert systems have failed. Beck (1992) argues that the professionalized expert system which has failed have dumped their contradictions and conflicts at the foot of the individual, the Single One (Danish: Hiin Enkelte), and leaves the individual with a well intentioned invitation to judge all this critically on the basis of ones own notions.

Changing people’s lives through therapy is one such expert system and is associated with the reflexive project of the self. Giddens (1991) argues that therapy is “a phenomenon of modernity’s reflexivity” (1991: 180). Therapy is not just a method used to adjust to society; it is also a method dealing with life-planning and how to gain control over ones life. Individuals are given the opportunity of creating new identities through therapeutic intervention. Luhmann (1985) argues that the biographies that individuals form in modernity can be defined as the sum of subsystem rationalities, and have nothing to do with the environment anymore. The intimate spheres individuals live in argues Luhmann (1988), define a degree of trust between individuals which could be misplaced in their relation to institutions. Asking for help is not necessarily shameful as long as the one asking for help has trust in the helping part, feels control and can manage it. The fear people have for asking for help, argues Sennett (2003), is a sign of a dysfunctional organization. Asking for help sends out a signal of being needy, so people tend to hide their problems so not to lose face in the environments they live in. Problems then become evident only first when they become too large to hide. He argues that losing control over what is being revealed can result in a feeling of nakedness, which Sennett calls the “nakedness of shame” (2003: 117).

Beck (1992) argues that psychotherapy which traces suffering back to the history of early childhood socialization is being short-circuited. This is because when conflicts confront people from the forms of living that are dictated to them, where they lose an example of how to live, their ills can no longer be traced back to mistakes and decisions of their own individual biographical history. He concludes that the basic figure of a fully developed modernity is the Single One.

Illness has in my opinion been taken away from people by using technology, monopolizing illness and administrating it. Beck (1992) argues that the professionized development of caring for the sick in nineteenth century Europe has made and kept the sick ignorant in dealing with their own illness. The sick are left to themselves. Institutions they are a part of in everyday life, like the family, the occupational world, schools or the public sphere, are unprepared to deal with their illness. The professionalized administration of sickness may consider anything and everything as sick or can potentially make one sick – quite independently of how the person actually feels. The image of the active patient is brought forth as a consequence of this development. The active patient is expected to be a part of a working alliance in which the patient becomes the secondary doctor for the state of illness ascribed to one by professionalized helping institutions. Beck (1992) argues that the unusually high rate of suicide in groups of people with various illnesses shows how poorly these expectations to the active patient are being tolerated by the afflicted people. 

The rise of institutions like the Incest Centre in Vestfold can in my opinion be seen as a need for what Giddens (1991) calls pure relations in a society marked with indifference. He argues that the more that such relations between helper and the one in need of help become central, the more fundamental becomes in-depth understanding of the problem at hand in order to find oneself and be oneself. A pure relation demands authenticity, meaning that those involved know themselves and are able to reveal their knowledge of themselves to others. Another aspect with pure relations is that the person in need of help is given the power to terminate the relations at will and at the same time the relation demand commitment from both parts. But giving the person in need of help the power to leave at will is a way of being authentic in practice by learning what it means to have control over ones life, and for many this is a new experience.

Many of those who seek help at these centres are in my opinion in need of pure relations in order find themselves and dare to be themselves, find themselves in a identity crisis and not really know who they are or where they stand, which is a fundamental characteristic with the late-modern age. Taylor (1989) argues that this is a frightening experience because they lack:
 A frame or horizon within which things can be take a stable significance, within
which some life possibilities can be seen as good or meaningful, others bad or trivial…The meaning of all these possibilities is unfixed, label, or undetermined (1989: 27).

Knowing who one is involves therefore both moral and physical space. Moral because questions arise concerning: good and bad; what to do and what not to do; what has meaning for oneself; and what is important and what is trivial. This knowledge is also physical because, as Kohut (1977) argues, one can become physically disorientated and become uncertain where one stands to such a degree that one loses grip of ones physical space.

The underlying dynamics in the late-modern age has to do with what Giddens describes as “the threat of meaninglessness” (1991: 201). The project of the self in late-modernity has to be reflexively achieved in a technically competent but morally dry social environment. Sexuality in this framework has lost its interwoven complex connections with ethics and has become a central focus for experience (opplevelse) without an existential contact between those involved. Sexuality becomes a meaninglessness experience. Beck (1992) argues that it is the child that is the source of the last remaining, irreversible, and un-exchangeable primary relationship. Partners come and go, but the child always remains. Everything that is desired, but not realizable in the relationship, is directed to the child. It is the child who has become the final alternative to loneliness that can be built up against the vanishing possibilities of love. Foucault (1984) argues that there exist rules of mistrust and anxiety towards sexual activity and its consequences, and that these rules transform the self in our late-modern age is to an object which is to be controlled, corrected, transformed and purified. Becoming ourselves in a late-modern society where mastery of day-to-day activities replaces morality is a difficult matter. Honneth’s demand on recognition and respect is in my opinion a fundamental condition of complex connections with ethics and is a prime value in this dissertation.
Kaare T. Pettersen

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