How to Perpetuate Problems of the Self: Applying Foucault’s Concept of Problematization to Popular Self-help Books on Work and Career

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This article investigates how popular self-help books on work and career construct problems and solutions related to the subject and its working life. The investigation draws on Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘problematization’ along with concepts of governmentality and ethical self-government. The first part of the analysis shows how problems in self-help are generally articulated as different types of inadequacies, which must accordingly be amended through constant development towards a goal of self-realization, which can never be fully achieved. Accordingly, the subject is offered a subjectivation as an incomplete project, which is never quite good enough and always in need of improvement. The second part of the analysis shows how this general form of problematization plays out in relation to the paradoxical cultivation of autonomy in self-help books, in which the subject must follow instructions of an external authority, in the form of a self-help book, in order to achieve independence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCulture and Organization
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)33-50
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 14. April 2020


  • Foucault
  • Problematization
  • Self-help books
  • Self-government

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