Damaged Life: The Crisis of the Modern Psyche

By Tod Sloan | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Ideological formations and their transcendence

My attempt to establish a linear path of causation leading from socioeconomic order through social institutions and socializing processes to the formation of personality structures arrived at a dead end. Rather than establishing direct causal relations or even correlations between modernity and the psyche, this analytic strategy repeatedly unveiled the interwoven symbolic mediations of society’s influences on the formation of personality. The simplistic billiard ball metaphor of social causation is obviously insufficient to grasp the web of discourses, values, practices and meanings in which individual subjectivity constructs and deconstructs itself. Fortunately, this dead end, which characterizes most social science conducted within an objectivistic epistemology, can be transcended without giving up the basic understandings we have already developed regarding the crisis of the modern psyche.

One could reason as follows: If the primary process through which modernization works its effects on the formation of the psyche is that described by Habermas as the colonization of the lifeworld, what is lacking in our inquiry thus far is a vocabulary for conceptualizing the sorts of lifeworld disruption that occur in the sphere of personality formation as a result of modernization. These effects would have to be distinguished from problems in personality formation that cannot be linked to macrosocial processes. In other words, as we move away from an objectivistic analysis that ignored the symbolic mediations of personal experience, a set of terms referring to the systematic distortion of symbolic processes becomes necessary.

A term that links individual and society conceptually with particular attention to the symbolically mediated subjection of the individual to structures of economic and political power is ideology. In Marx’s writings, ideology referred to ideas that supported the ruling class. The concept has been watered down to the point that it has come to denote any set of ideas, beliefs or values without regard to the interests they serve in relation to political and economic orders. In critical social theory, however, the concept of ideology retains its punch, but it is in need of a bit

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