"Følg mine henvisninger: Vær selvstændig": Om autonomi og ansvarlighed i selvhjælpslitterær styring

Erik Mygind du Plessis

Student thesis: Master thesis


This master thesis investigates how autonomy and responsibility is cultivated in the current selfhelp literature. The thesis is based, empirically, on readings of approximately eighty self-help books written in Danish and published between 1990 and 2009. The investigation is carried out within an analytical framework which draws upon Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘problematization’ and his insights into power and governmentality - particularly those concerned with the various ways in which subjects govern themselves. The thesis thus combines these two analytical perspectives in an attempt to show how the objective of creating autonomous and responsible subjects – which is a crucial part of neoliberal governmentality - is carried out, despite the paradoxical nature of doing so through the readers’ subjection to self-help instructions. The concept of problematization is utilized in the first analysis of the thesis, which seeks to identify the general form of problematization in which the various problems and solutions of self-help literature are rooted, in spite of their diversity and contradictions. The analysis concludes that problems in the literature are generally formulated in terms of various forms of incompleteness, which entail a solution of constant and never ending development towards, as a final objective, a self-realization, which can never quite be achieved. Thus the subject is construed as an unfinished project that is never quite good enough, and always requiring improvement. Since this conclusion also includes the problems and solutions articulated in the self-help litterature concerning autonomy and responsibility, it is incorporated into the second analysis, which explores the concrete attempts in self-help literature to help the subject develop these personal assets. Drawing on the Foucauldian notions of subjectivation and of technologies of the self, it is shown how the theoretical impossibility of creating autonomy and responsibility through subjection unfolds, despite the various attempts to disguise it, and thus resolve the paradox. This insight, combined with the ubiquitous incompleteness of the subject in self-help literature shown in the first analysis, finally raises the question of whether there are more effective ways of achieving autonomous and responsible subjects, and, in turn, a discussion about the extent to which this should even be considered a sound objective.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages88