The primary goals of this book are to address key issues in theorizing about the social contexts of selfhood and to do so in a manner that leads to clear implications for social action. In order to develop a general framework for the understanding of self in society, I explore the impact of modernity on the psyche. I look first at how the diverse processes of societal modernization—bureaucratization, urbanization, secularization and industrialization, for example—produce the constellation of social institutions and practices we know as modernity. Then, I describe and evaluate several perspectives that purport to explain how modernity affects us psychologically. On the basis of these critiques, the issue of modernity’s impact on the psyche is reanalysed in order to define the crisis of the modern psyche. In the process, I insist on the importance of analysing personality development, everyday life, ideology and socio-historical processes as interdependent, rather than isolated, phenomena. In the conclusion, some of the practical implications of this analysis for communities, families and the larger political-economic order are examined.
Psychological and social theories tend to be abstract and often seem irrelevant. I hope to show that it is possible to use theory to understand that even though the nature of our embeddedness in society is exceedingly problematic, it is possible to formulate effective courses of action towards the reduction of unnecessary human suffering. But the attitude I will suggest in many ways runs counter to the pragmatic ‘See the problem and fix it with a programme’ posture that is prevalent in modern social planning. Without the sort of understanding that theory provides, many solutions are bound to be short-sighted. They may be effective in the short term, but actually work in the long run to reproduce the very conditions one hopes to change.
With regard to mainstream academic psychology, I view this book as a contribution to the project of an alternative critical psychology. In general, critical psychology challenges aspects of psychological perspectives that serve ideological functions, for example, individualism and reductionism.