Adapting, defending and transforming ourselves: conceptualizations of self practices in the social science literature
History of the Human Sciences
Sage Publications Ltd.
98 - 117
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Self practices – mental and bodily activities through which individuals try to give a shape to their existence – have been a topic of interest in the social science literature for over a century now. These studies bring into focus that such activities play important roles in our relationship to our social environment. But beyond this general insight we still do not have a framework for elucidating what kind of roles/uses have been attributed to self practices by social theorists historically. Through an analysis of the works of 5 major contributors to the literature (Durkheim, Mauss, Simmel, Giddens and Foucault), the article highlights three distinct conceptualizations, which draw attention to the adaptive, defensive and transformative uses of self practices. Adaptive uses allow individuals to adjust their conduct to collective norms; defensive uses serve the maintenance and protection of self-identity despite de-individualizing pressures; and transformative self practices target the development of alternative ways of living. It is further suggested that the framework developed in the article can provide important clues about the different ‘practical’ solutions offered by social theorists to the problems that modern individuals face in constituting themselves as autonomous subjects.