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Anth 207: Self

Lecture slideshow for 'Psychological Anthropology' to go with lecture about cross-cultural variation in self and self perception. Updated 2015.

Greg Downey

on 26 October 2015

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Transcript of Anth 207: Self

thank you!
The autobiographical self
Diagram from: Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion and motivation. Psychological Review 98(2): 224–253.
Independent & Interdependent Selves
Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama focused on self processes in US and East Asian subjects.
Context dependency
William James: a person 'has as many social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups' (1890/1950: 294).
Researchers tested subjects' self-descriptions in different contexts.
Does every society have a self?
Greg Downey
Department of Anthropology
Macquarie University

Lev Vygotsky
Russian psychologist who founded cultural-historical psychological school.
'Internalisation' as key dynamic (language, skill).
Fluid boundary between self and others; many traits of self start out as social.
'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).

This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.'
(Vygotsky 1978: 57)
Photo by: Victor 2012. Creative Commons attribution licence.
is moral culpability vested wholly in individual?
what sort of interventions are likely to have positive effect?
Self enhancement
Is there a universal bias toward self enhancement?
Clifford Geertz
More exotic selves?
photo by Luciano Osorio
anthropological record includes much more exotic accounts of 'selves': possessed, 'soul-less', multi-part, reincarnated...
Roger Brown: maintaining high self-esteem an “urge so deeply human, we can hardly imagine its absence” (1986: 534).
Example: 94% of American professors rated themselves as better than average (Cross 1977)
Heine, Takata, and Lehman (2000)
Canadian subjects resisted negative evaluation and performed worse after being evaluated critically as less proficient than their peers.
Japanese subjects resisted positive evaluation and performed worse after being evaluated as more proficient than their peers.
Self portrait by MudflapDC, 2010
Studies of ads & successful appeals to people also show similar patterns.

People more motivated by either group appeals or by individualistic appeals depending upon cultural bias.
Choice & motivation
Western students work longer & harder on tasks if given superficial choice.
East Asian students work equally diligently on tasks whether allowed to choose or not.
Western subjects perceive that they have more choice (even in the same situations as other subjects).
Appearance of choice matters more to Western subjects.
Fragmentary Selves
Katherine Ewing - self inherently fragmented
'Post-modern' theory - fragmentation is a condition of 'late modernity'.
Collapse of many central, organising schemas & pre-established identities.
'No self' – Therevada Buddhism
The self is an illusion and fetter upon achieving Nirvana.
Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found;
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there;
Nibbāna is, but not the man that enters it;
The path is, but no traveler on it is seen.
Naomi Quinn
Sense of self achieved through six systems outlined by Joseph LeDoux:
parallel neural input
synaptic plasticity
coordination by modulators
neural self-assembly in convergence zones
downward causation
emotional arousal
The Synaptic Self
, Joseph LeDoux defines the ‘self’: ‘In my view, the self is the totality of what an organism is physically, biologically, psychologically, socially, and culturally. Though it is a unit, it is not unitary’ (2002: 31)
Maurice Bloch
Galen Strawson – 'narrative self'
in contrast, do not focus their energy on self narration.
Strawson argues that
are individuals who elaborate self-narratives.
Meta-representation can be quite formulaic.
'Oprah-isation' of authors' biographies.
Weird artificiality of Olympians', politicians' & public figures' lives (gossip magazines, 'personality' profiles).
'Epic' lives of old capoeira masters.
'We shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing the reflective, narrative grasp of a life with the pre-reflective experiences that make up that life prior to the experiences being organised into a narrative” (Zahavi 2010:5).
Moved to the UK at 11 after father killed by Nazis.
Related to Mauss and Durkheim.
Now emeritus professor at the London School of Economics.
Innovative cognitive & linguistic work in Madagascar.
From about the age of 3, we begin to tell stories.
In the West, stories supposed to contain narrative coherence (schizophrenia) and causal coherence.
Life story as a personal project.
Research with university students showed rapid restorying; only 1/3 of stories remained after three years of 10 chosen.
different settings often provide different narrative elements and expectations:
'born again' & other conversion narratives
'self help' narratives (virtues of protagonist)
'been done wrong' narratives
'bounce back from tragedy' narratives
[T]he Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,-a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double- consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others,.... One ever feels his two-ness ....The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,-this longing to at-tain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.
W. E. B. DuBois
Is the unitary self an artifact of power?
I resist anything better than my own diversity....
I am large. I contain multitudes.
-Walt Whitman (1950[1855])
If you'll bear with me, what starts out sounding terribly abstract may end up becoming quite interesting.
At the risk of seeming to steer off a relativistic cliff, what is the nature of the 'self' and is it variable?
The deeper we dig, the more we realise that the problem is the relation of perception to experience, in this case, of ourselves.
The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against its social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world's cultures. [1984:126]
an independent, autonomous self
Witold Rybyczynski argues that privacy was one of the 'two great discoveries of the Bourgeois Age' (Murray 1993:10).
Not all Western philosophers have seen individuals as independent.
Possibly supported by emerging legal, political & property system based on individual.
Other Western traditions
Erving Goffman: 'performative' self and 'self work' include management of self presentation.
Freudian notion of the self as inherently conflicted: id, ego, super-ego.
From: Maurice Bloch. 2011. The Blob. Anthropology of This Century 1: http://aotcpress.com/articles/blob/
'mobile' selves
By some measures, individuals are spending less time alone. 'Autonomy' undermined by connectivity?
Is there an increasing need for external validation?
ideology of 'true self'
a strong belief in 'authentic' experience & perceived gap can lead to a sense of 'lost self.'
'self' can be 'lost' to commitments, inauthenticity, scatteredness, unhappiness, or other social block.
a perception and rejection of the contextual shifts in self that are part of a relational social reality.
The protagonist of 'self' stories
Autobiographies can appear as 'we stories' not just 'I stories.'
One way to study variability in self is to study structure, temporal trajectory, and actors in 'self' stories.
Some cultures even allow 'pronoun drop' or indeterminate language in narration.
Is the unitary self fragile?
Evidence from research on schizophrenia might suggest that circumstances can be hostile to the formation or recovery of a stable, unitary self.
Migrants tend to suffer schizophrenia at higher rates than individuals in their home or host cultures.
In Western societies with the category of 'schizophrenia,' recovery is harder & prognosis grim (discuss at end of semester).
What if there are a limited number of selves?
'In each clan is to be found a set of names called the names of childhood. These names are more of titles than of cognomens. They are determined upon by sociologic and divinistic modes, and are bestowed in childhood as the "verity names" or titles of the children to whom given.' (Cushing 1896)
Mauss argues that each individual inherits a 'personage': a socially recognised position, with property, titles, ritual duties...
Frank Hamilton Cushing
What if your 'self' is linked to another?
Can the self be 'extended'?
Richard Belk argues that consumers can experience an 'extended self' through some objects and purchases.
If asked to describe yourself, would you include your taste in some kind of consumer goods?
Are there objects, the loss of which would undermine your sense of self?
Aboriginal self & country
Nuer & cattle
'destiny' or inner genius narratives
As we interact and tell our narratives, we influence each other's narrative self interpretations.
Krista and Tatiana Hogan - born 23 October, 2006, in Vernon, British Columbia.
craniopagus conjoined twins
shared brain areas, possible sensory overlap
condition so unusual that some doctors recommend life-risking surgery to separate, or even abortion.
Why risk lives for surgical separation?
Is their situation so unimaginable?
Abigail and Britany Hensel
the Hensel twins and 'individuality'
'These kids show a fusion of spirit,
where you see their separate personalities, even though they are conjoined.
Their own
individual uniqueness is a joy to watch

Dr. Christopher Moir (emphasis added)
It's a special bond.
They share a body throughout their development in utero and it continues after they are delivered. They share a bloodstream. You give one a shot and the other is immunized, one catches a cold and so does the other.
How intimately and intricately they are designed
What is a 'self'?
Every society & every individual must try to grapple with his or her own existence, including our interconnections with each other.
Not every society understands this process in the same way, or places the same emphases on which facet of existence is defining.
What is perhaps strangest is that shared experience can be interpreted in such diverging ways.
Rigoberta Menchu
K'iche' Mayan & winner of Nobel Peace Prize 1992.
Anthropologist David Stoll investigated her stories.
Argued that some details of stories had been changed.
self as experienced
self as self-representation
self as outwardly projected presentation
self as an idealised goal of development.
self as social creation on shared model.
we may be less different than we tell ourselves, & not what we think we are.
Frederick Jameson: 'schizo-fragmentation'
The individual who has not risked his life may well be recognized as a person, but he has not attained the truth of this recognition.


Hegel tells us that the self is born only in battle with another consciousness, through a struggle with the Other.
Birth of the Self
Charles Harb and Peter B. Smith
Broadest, most inclusive understandings of what a 'self' is — beyond humanity?
collective self
Individual constructs the self as an 'exemplar' of a type - group identity.
relational or interpersonal self
Similar to the 'interdependent' self emphasised by Markus and Kitayama
Focal-personal self
Much like the Western notion of the independent, self-creating individual.
Self and identity
'self' seemingly singular whereas 'identity' can be plural.
identity also has the narrative and self-representational elements.
something like a 'self' everywhere in experience & action & 'self-sameness'.
But people's understanding & theorising of what that is vary tremendously.
Increased emphasis on 'self' crafting?

'PR' or 'resume' self
All slide shows for Anth 207 made available under Creative Commons (BY) license by Greg Downey.
The Hogan Twins
behavioural evidence of shared perception
Is termination 'better' than unusual life?
The inviolable self:
ideal & lived reality

But it's also a question of how much our ideas affect our lived reality.
What do we talk ourselves into?
How strong is downward causation?
How potent is self description to produce self?
Lindholm repeats many of these critiques: e.g., conformity.
'Many Asian cultures have distinct conceptions of individuality that insist on the fundamental relatedness of individuals to each other. The emphasis is on attending to others, fitting in, and harmonious interdependence with them. American culture neither assumes nor values such an overt connectedness among individuals. In contrast, individuals seek to maintain their independence from others by attending to the self and by discovering and expressing their unique inner attributes.'
(Markus & Kitayama, 1991, abstract p. 224)
Markus and Kitayama look at data from a range of psychological and anthropological research.
Focus especially on motivation, emotion and cognition.
A range of critiques (including treating small trends as traits), but very persuasive article (high citation).
Examples of effects:
Distinctive emotions like
(sense of or desire for caring and nurturing) and
(sense of indebtedness).
'modesty bias'
Pattern of independent & interdependent self construal.
Lindholm's sociocultural critique (response to power & structures of interaction).
Situational nature of responses.
'West' is based in an ideal; reality is more complex.
'False uniqueness' bias in the US.
High value on self expression with independent self; on relationship building with interdependent.
See this disrupted in the case of 'split brain' patients in severe epilepsy cases.
Hemispheres disconnected from each other.
Right & left perceive separately.
(In a sense, the opposite of our conjoined twins...)
When asked to explain its baffling preferences, the split-brain subject will confabulate.
Striving for narrative self coherence trumps neurological fact of separation.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Most extreme form of dissociation, leads to the creation of 'alters': other 'selves' with separate memories, identities, personalities.
A capacity for dissociation, usually reinforced by history of trauma, gets understood (& experienced) as production of other selves.
More common in women than men; average of 15 alters; controversial diagnosis (only 40% of psychiatrists support inclusion in DSM).
Is DID a 'culture bound' syndrome?
60% of cases are from North America.
Distinctive failure to create idealised integrated self? Induced by treatment?
Inability to recognise profoundly different situational selves as the same 'person' leads to alters?
Sometimes so variable that it resists cultural capture.
Sometimes, it's the failure to achieve a cultural norm (like integrated self-hood) that demonstrates a cultural schema is built upon a neuro-psychological fact that can be variable.
Then, does your society sanction an alternative self-understanding (in which case, dissidents have a pattern) or offer no guidance for the atypical(in which case, more idiosyncratic)?
to go back to our tiered model, different work gets done at each level.
self constitution shows how that self-constructive work has wide psychological influence on many facets of life.
consciousness not the whole show, nor just a layer on top, but part of the constituting dynamic
how you think about yourself is influencing who -- and what -- you are.
Full transcript