January 9

Read pages 69 – 158 of Cushman’s Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy.

Following are several ideas for the organization of this week’s response paper. Please complete the paper before the class meeting on January 9, preferably by posting it on the Dialogue Forum.

1. Cushman writes, “Every era has a particular configuration of self, illness, healer, technology; they are a kind of cultural package” (p. 7). He organizes much of his discussion around this set of four concepts. For example, at the end of Chapter 2 he refers to a “European Victorian self” that had certain characteristics and was subject to certain illnesses. Earlier he refers to the selves of other eras – “the ‘nondeep’ self of the ancient Greeks, the self of the Hebrews that was a communal equal partner with God; the empty self-loathing Augustinian self …” (p. 29). In Chapter 3 he discusses several technologies of the self – Negro minstrelsy and the frontier myth, for example – that were associated with the American middle-class white self of the mid-1800’s. Cushman continues to use this set of four concepts throughout the book.

From the sections of Cushman’s book that we have read so far select an example of any one of the four concepts. Having chosen your specific example, identify the other three elements that go with it. Thus if you start with a particular technology of the self, then identify the three other parts of the “cultural package” – the self, the illness, the healer –that go with it. Write a page or two in which you elaborate on how Cushman views the four parts of the selected package as fitting together, and discuss whether or not you are convinced that they form a coherent package.

2. Cushman writes about a variety of specific psychotherapies – mesmerism, for example, and early psychoanalysis as adapted in America. His discussion of these reflects and builds on many ideas introduced in previous chapters and in previous course readings. Write a page or two in which you identify and elaborate some of these connections to earlier material.

3. Cushman considers some specific cultural and historical phenomena in relation to the development of both American society and American psychology. His discussion of these phenomena is congenial with the concepts of “social constructionism” and “philosophical hermeneutics” introduced previously in the course (recall that Cushman himself discusses these at the beginning of Chapter 2). Choose one of the following phenomena and write a page or two describing some ways in which either social constructionism or hermeneutics could be related to it:

    Negro minstrelsy
    The frontier myth
    The mental hygiene movement
    The growth of advertising

4. Write a page or two in which you consider how the following quotation from Danziger might be related to one or more of the same phenomena listed in the previous item.

For most persons the prevailing discursive system becomes inescapable and motives, attitudes, intelligence and so on are the forms in which they experience their own subjectivity. The discursive resources that might enable people to experience themselves and others differently are generally not available. (p. 185)

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