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Science, Technology, and Medicine Caucus: The Therapeutic Self, Gender, Race, and Well-Being

Fri, November 9, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Floor: Seventh, Augusta D (Seventh)

Session Submission Type: Paper Session: Traditional Format


In the late sixties and early seventies emergence from crisis seems possible by way of a turn inward. Thomas Harris’s influential Transactional Psychology book of 1969, I’m OK—You’re OK explicitly argues that the path to a more just society is through the well adapted self. Disillusionment with the promise of wide-scale social change in the face of a resurgence in conservative ideals in the post sixties United States means for some that, as Todd Gitlin wrote, “if society was impenetrable and politics a simple reshuffling of elite credentials, the self could still be transformed at will.” Thus the course of the latter half of the twentieth century and into the present day, a concept of self deeply indebted to therapeutic discourse and practice emerges. But what of those persons less determined by mere self-definition?

This panel asks how identities of racialized or gendered figures in American culture have been constructed within the context of medicalized or therapeutic selfhood. The purportedly liberatory move to self-actualize, to seek out better, truer selves popular in late twentieth century onward presents a paradox for those for whom the body cannot serve as a retreat from the pressures of living, for those whose claims to selfhood are rendered contingent on claims to legal, medical, and cultural autonomy. How does the path inward come into contact with outward-facing identities? How, in turn, does friction between therapeutic ideals and lived experience color our history of the psychological self?

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