The Self in Social Psychology

Article excerpt

Baumeister, R. E (Ed.). (1999). The Self iri Social Psychology. Philadelphia: Psychology Press. 493 pages. ISBN: 0-86377-573-X. Price: $34.95.

The "self" has enjoyed increasing prominence in western thinking for decades, even centuries. Roy Baumeister has collected classic articles on that vital subject into one informative volume, providing the voices of those who have made the major contributions in the professional discussion of self.

Baumeister is well suited to create this volume. In addition to substantial contributions to journals, Baumeister has also written significant books related to the topic of self. One of the most intriguing is Meanings of Life in which he discusses the process by which people give meaning to their lives. He observes that traditional societies encouraged people to make sense of their lives based on religious purpose or social connectedness. But,

the high value that people today place on self and identity is a mixed blessing. It helps fill the value gap and allow people to make judgments about what is good and bad, right and wrong, despite modern society's inability to agree on broad, universal principles. But it leaves people naked in the face of death. It is a value that fails people at one of the times when they need it the most. (1991, p. 6).

Discussions of the self have emerged with new urgency in the public and professional arenas as traditional approaches to selfesteem have been challenged (see Harter, 1983; Katz, 1993). The emphasis on self has not generated the liberating social progress that some expected (see Mecca, Smelser, & Vasconcellos, 1989.)

The book under review does not focus on the self-esteem debate. Instead it examines such diverse areas of social psychology as self-knowledge, self-conceptions, motivational roots, self and information processing, self-presentation, selfregulation, self and culture, motivation and self-knowledge, and strategies.

Each section of the book is introduced with a brief but useful discussion by Baumeister. He provides pertinent history, describes the dilemmas in that area, and lists additional vital articles. These brief discussions substantially increase the value of the book. In fact, the book would be better still if Baumeister had provided even more discussion of how the ideas in the various readings have been incorporated or resisted by the community of scholars.

As in any compilation, some chapters or readings are more compelling than others. This volume enjoys the advantage of being a collection of papers recommended through a ballot of more than 100 members of the International Society for Self and Identity. The readings range from the classic William James "The Self" first published in 1892 to the 1998 article by Baumeister and colleagues on ego depletion. Readings within a section often provide different perspectives on a given subject, thus providing the basis for a productive dialectic.

As in all scientific writing, some readings are more clear and compelling than others (although Baumeister has helpfully edited articles that were longer than necessary). …