Call for Abstracts: Cultures of Self-Help: Disordered Selves, Emergent Sociality, and Collective Horizons of Auto-Transformation

2016 AES (American Ethnological Society ) SPRING MEETING
Washington, D.C., March 31-April 2, 2016
From books to workshops and economic programs, self-help has become a
discourse and a mode of labor through which people around the world make
sense of their selfhood and their social relations. Invoking the academic
expertise of psychology, self-improvement has become a global phenomenon
not only through consumerism and the spread of the therapeutic ethos; it
has also come to organize broad swaths of communal, associational, and
intimate life amidst flexible capitalism and the retrenchment of the state.Critiques of self-help argue that it embeds neoliberal notions of self-care
and self-management at the expense of social responsibilities and
interdependencies. They argue that self-help at once replaces social
solidarities within austerity politics and a fraying social fabric, while
also reproducing race, class, and gender hierarchies by qualifying selfhood
according to access and availability to spend time in projects of
self-fashioning (Illouz 2008, McGee 2007). Whereas ‘self-help’ often posits
the commercialization of human relationships through metaphors of costs,
gains, and self-improvement, it may also constitute new imaginations of
social collectivity and ethics in times of uncertainty and transition.

This panel seeks ethnographic approaches to understanding the possibilities
and perils of self-help in diverse social contexts. How do social
applications of self-help reconfigure power, create social networks, and
apportion new rationalities and affective states of embodied control,
dependency and precariousness? How do actors seek to resolve disorder and
incoherence in personal and social spheres by using techniques of
self-help? How does self-help inculcate normative social relations, or
alternately posit emergent possibilities for emancipatory social action?
Possible paper topics may address, but are not limited to:

– ·       Ethnographic analyses of community-based self-help
– ·       Imbrications of religious activism and self-help, including
religious, spiritual, or ‘new age’ applications of self-help practices;
– ·       Regimes of self-help as modalities of political and economic
governance, including development apparatuses and microfinance;
– ·       Self-help in the context of rehabilitation, including medical
and therapeutic interventions and addiction treatment programs;
– ·       Self-help and self-control, including self-tracking and ‘life
hacking’ practices within the application of data and measurement to
lifestyle, health, and notions of the ‘quantified self’;
– ·       Sensory or phenomenological accounts of disability,
able-bodiedness, and subjectivity in self-help;
– ·       Self-help, ‘soft skills’, and affective labor within global
service industries and corporate management structures;
– ·       Digital ethnography of online or virtual self-help
communities, including anonymous chat-rooms, message boards, and other
interactive digital worlds.

Please send paper abstracts of up to 250 words to by or before Friday, February 12th, 2016.