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date: 17 January 2021

Varieties of the Self From Self-Esteem to Self-Controllocked

  • Michael PettitMichael PettitYork University, Department of Psychology

Summary

Various self-concepts constitute major keywords in both psychological science and liberal political discourse. They have been central to psychology’s public-facing, policy-oriented role in the United States, dating back to the mid-19th century. Psychologists’ articulations of self-concept include an understanding of the individual, society, and the interventions needed to augment them both. Psychologists’ early enthusiasm for self-esteem has given way to competing concepts of the individual, namely self-regulation and self-control. Self-esteem in a modern sense coalesced out of the deprivation of the Great Depression and the political crises it provoked. The fate of self-esteem became tied to the capacities of the liberal welfare state to improve the psychic capacities of its citizens, in order to render them both more equal under the law and more productive in their daily existence. Western democracies, especially the United States, hit peak self-esteem in early 1990s. Since then, psychologists lost faith in the capacity of giving away self-worth to improve society. Instead, psychologists in the 21st century preached a neo-Victorian gospel of self-reliance. At the very historical juncture when social mobility became more difficult, when inherited social inequality became more entrenched, psychologists abandoned their Keynesian model of human capital and embraced its neoliberal counterpart.

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