SO249-15 Becoming Yourself: The Construction of the Self in Contemporary Western Societies
This module seeks to examine sociological conceptualisations of the self and subjectivity, discuss the historical and cultural specificity of current Western conceptualisations of the individual’s relation to society, and empirically examine how in contemporary Western societies identity and a sense of self are produced for example through media interpellation, through (apparently free) choice and consumption, through the neoliberal emphasis on individual responsibility, competitiveness, flexibility, and entrepreneurialism, through public and expert discourses about the ‘normal’, through intense and constant work, and through identification and disidentification with ‘others’.
By articulating theoretical and empirical engagements, and bringing together a range of topics and levels of analysis, the module will sensitise students to the inter-relations between identity, on the one hand, and society, politics and culture, on the other.
This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.
SECTION 1: Theorising the Self in Neoliberal Societies
Week 1: Who are you? Studying the Self and Subjectivity Sociologically
Week 2: Theorising our Selves: some Key Approaches
Week 3: The Century of the Self: Subjectivity in Neoliberal Times
SECTION 2: To Be or Not To Be: Everyday Interpellations in Contemporary Western Societies
Week 4: Be Normal! ...
Week 5: …but be Unique and Express Yourself!
(Week 6: Reading Week)
Week 7: Think and Choose for Yourself! (but do what you are supposed to)
Week 8: Don’t be like them!
Week 9: Be outstanding! Improve yourself! Do not fail! Work hard! Party hard! Live life to the full!
Week 10: Take care of yourself! Sort yourself out!
By the end of the module, students should be able to:
- identify and distinguish the basic principles of key sociological approaches to the study of the self, and explain how these sociological approaches have changed over time;
- identify links between the formation of individual identity and broader processes of social, political, cultural and economic change;
- offer a basic characterisation of conceptualisations of the self in contemporary Western societies;
- provide examples of how conceptualisations and constructions of the self intersect with key axes of social difference and inequality such as gender, class, 'race', sexuality, or (dis)ability;
- identify and analyse examples of 'interpellation' and construction of the self in their own lives (through the production of a reflexive journal) and in popular cultural, educational or policy texts (through the production of a research essay), drawing on key module concepts and relevant scholarly literature.
- - understand the relationship between neoliberalism and subjectivity, and explain the key characteristics of neoliberal ideals of subjectivity
- define, explain and provide examples of key concepts such as 'self', 'identity', 'interpellation', 'discourse' or 'normal';
Indicative reading list
Althusser, L. (1970). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. [online]. Available at
Arendt, H. (1963), Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, London: Penguin
Asch, S. (1955) "Opinions and Social Pressure", Scientific American, Vol. 193, No. 5, pp. 31 - 35.
Burkitt, I. (1991). Social Selves: Theories of the Social Formation of Personality. London: Sage.
Butler, J. (1988) 'Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and
Feminist Theory', Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 519 - 531.
Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge.
Butler, J. (1991) "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" in Diana Fuss (ed.) Inside/ Out: Lesbian
Theories, Gay Theories, New York: Routledge.
Davis, M. (2008). Freedom and Consumerism: A Critique of Zygmunt Bauman's Sociology.
Elias, N (2000) The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations. Oxford:
Elias, N. (2001). The Society of Individuals. New York: Continuum.
Elliot, A. (2008) Concepts of the Self, Cambridge: Polity.
Ewald, F. (1990). Norms, Discipline and the Law. Representations 30 (Spring), pp. 138-161.
Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Penguin.
Foucault, M. (1998) History of Sexuality Vol1: The Will to Knowledge. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Foucault, M. (2003) Abnormal: Lectures at the College de France, 1974-75. London: Verso.
Gill, R. (2008). 'Culture and Subjectivity in Neoliberal and Post Feminist Times.' Subjectivity. 25.
Gould, S.J. (1996) The Mismeasure of Man. London: Norton.
Hanson, F.A. (1993) Testing Testing: Social Consequences of the Examined Life. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lyle, S. (2008), "(Mis)recognition and the middle-class/bourgeois gaze: A case study of Wife
Swap", Critical Discourse Studies, Vol. 5, issue 4, pp. 319 — 330.
Mansfield, N. (2000) Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway, New York: New York University Press.
McRobbie, Angela (2009) The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change.
Mead, G.H. (1934) Mind, Self and Society. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Meyers, D. (2010) "Feminist Perspectives on the Self" in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available online at
Milgram, S. (1992) The Individual in a Social World: Essays and Experiments, New York; London: McGraw-Hill.
Miller, P. (2008) Governing the Present: Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life. Cambridge: Polity.
Morris, B. (1991) Western Conceptions of the Individual. New York: Berg.
O'Flynn, G. and Peterson, E. (2007). "The 'good life' and the 'rich portfolio': young women, schooling and neoliberal subjectification.' British Journal of Sociology of Education. 28 (4). 459-472.
Rose N (1992) 'Governing the Enterprising Self.' In: Morris, P., and Heelas, P. (eds). The Values of the Enterprise Culture: The Moral Debate. London: Routledge.
Rose, N. (1996). Inventing Our Selves: Psychology, Power and Personhood. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Rose, N. (1999) Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self. London: Free Association Books.
Saeed, A. (2007) "Media, Racism and Islamophobia: The Representation of Islam and Muslims in the Media", Sociology Compass, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 443 — 462.
Scharff, C. (2011). `Disarticulating feminism: Individualization, neoliberalism and the othering of 'Muslim women''. European Journal of Women's Studies 18(2):119-134.
West, C. and Zimmerman, D. (1987) "Doing Gender", Gender & Society, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 125 ¬151.
Subject specific skills
knowledge and critical understanding of the well-established principles and concepts involved in the study of gender and subjectivity
an understanding of the limits of their knowledge, and how this influences analyses and interpretations based on that knowledge.
use a range of established techniques to initiate and undertake critical analysis of information, and to propose solutions to problems arising from that analysis
effectively communicate information, arguments and analysis in a variety of forms
to specialist and non-specialist audiences and deploy key techniques of the discipline effectively
undertake further training, develop existing skills and acquire new competences that will enable them to assume significant responsibility within organisations.
the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and decision-making to include communication skills, self-reflection and empathy
|Lectures||9 sessions of 1 hour (6%)|
|Seminars||9 sessions of 1 hour (6%)|
|Private study||72 hours (48%)|
|Assessment||60 hours (40%)|
Private study description
Students are expected to read set texts each week in preparation for the seminar.
No further costs have been identified for this module.
You do not need to pass all assessment components to pass the module.
Students can register for this module without taking any assessment.
Assessment group A3
|Research Essay + Reflexive Journal||100%||60 hours|
Assessment in two parts: one research essay presenting a discourse analysis of a case-study of the student's choice (2250 words, worth 75% of the mark) and one reflexive journal about the learning experience on this module (750-1000 words, worth 25% of the mark)
Feedback on assessment
Feedback will be provided via Tabula.
This module is Core optional for:
- Year 3 of ULAA-ML33 Undergraduate Law and Sociology
This module is Optional for:
- Year 2 of USOA-L301 BA in Sociology
- Year 2 of ULPA-P301 Undergraduate Media and Creative Industries
- Year 2 of USOA-L314 Undergraduate Sociology and Criminology
This module is Option list A for:
ULAA-ML34 BA in Law and Sociology (Qualifying Degree)
- Year 3 of ML34 Law and Sociology (Qualifying Degree)
- Year 4 of ML34 Law and Sociology (Qualifying Degree)
- Year 4 of ULAA-ML33 Undergraduate Law and Sociology
- Year 2 of USOA-L311 Undergraduate Sociology and Quantitative Methods
This module is Option list B for:
- Year 2 of UPOA-ML13 Undergraduate Politics and Sociology
This module is Option list D for:
- Year 2 of UHIA-VL13 Undergraduate History and Sociology