Alternative Meditations: Challenging Orthodoxies of Pathology and Status Quo in Academic Accounts of Personal Development

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The aim of this paper is to suggest an alternative to the dominant account of personal development practices within critical management and organization studies as well as the broader social sciences. In such accounts, personal development, whether encountered professionally or as a private person, is generally assumed to produce individual pathologies and reinforce societal status quo (eg. Brinkmann 2017; Illouz 2008; Salecl 2011). The argument being that personal development discourses tend to individualize structural problems and frame them in terms of (in)adequate personal management and adaption (McGee 2005; Rimke 2000). Critical accounts thus emphazise how engagement with personal development bars individuals from examining and, possibly, protesting the structural causes of their discontent (du Plessis 2016). Instead, whatever malaise one is feeling is directed back at the subject in a paradoxical ‘U-turn’ movement (Willig 2013). In other words, if you are not perfectly happy, you only have yourself to blame – and you are the one to change it (Cederström & Spicer 2015). This relentless focus on optimizing the self and resiliently adapting to external conditions is, in turn, claimed to produce a range of pathologies including narcissism (Lasch 1979), depression (Ehrenberg 2010) and feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose (Honneth 2004).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event(Per)formative Diversity: Critiques, Struggles, Possibilities - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Duration: 8 May 20199 May 2019


Workshop(Per)formative Diversity: Critiques, Struggles, Possibilities
LocationCopenhagen Business School
Internet address

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