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“Nostalgia for the superego” on Conspirituality podcast

22 Mar

Talk at Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań

4 Nov

After having to cancel this talk last year owing to a skateboarding injury (don’t ask), I’m getting ready to give this talk at Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań (Poland) on Thanksgiving morning (which apparently isn’t a problem in Poland): 

The Self Within:  Metaphors of Interiority and Containment in American Therapeutic Culture

This presentation builds on an emerging interdisciplinary focus on what is termed “therapeutic culture.” Such perspectives consider the increasingly pervasive presence of psychological, therapeutic and emotional rhetorics in public discourse and private life, evidenced in the popularity of self-help books, the establishment of professional norms centered on personal feelings and affect management, and a broader centering of government policy on matters such as happiness, loneliness and other aspects of emotional well being.  Specifically, this presentation will consider one powerful theme woven through many of these discourses: the problem of “interiority,” where therapeutic subjectivity is related through the urgent need to “get inside oneself.”  Interiority, it is argued, is a theme related through rich metaphorical language, though its effect goes beyond the linguist and the emotional, carrying a powerful bodily resonance.  Borrowing from recent treatments of metaphor in cognitive and linguistic theory, as well as historical overviews of the popularity of therapeutic sensibilities in the American context, metaphors of interiority are explored in historical cases drawn from the American context, extending from the humanistic psychology movement of  the 1960’s and 70s to the franchise of publications from the 1990s celebrating the “inner child” motif.  Therapeutic appeals to “inwardness,” are traced from more radical forms in the 1960s to their incorporation as a managerial trope in neoliberal economic times.  


Psychology as Apparatus

26 May


An Interview with Sam Binkley Interviewed by Derek Hook

ByDerek Hook, Sam Binkley

BookNeoliberalism, Ethics and the Social Responsibility of Psychology

Currently preparing a talk at Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań (Poland) on 21 April, 2022, to be titled: Neoliberal Well-being and Therapeutic Government: What Happens When we Privatize Emotional Life?

20 Mar

The contemporary obsession with the personal well-being of the individual has prompted critics to describe the present age as therapeutic.  Today, the management of personal well-being through self-help, mindfulness and other expert technologies has come to replace those other governmental functions once managed by the state and other institutions.  Perhaps as a consequence of the intensification of neoliberal privatization, post-modern fragmentation or the intrinsic reflexivity of late modernity, in the current moment agents charged with the regulation of personal well-being have become central to contemporary practices of steering, government and control.  In this discussion Professor Sam Binkley (Emerson College, USA) will trace the contributions of one train of thought on the rise of therapeutic culture originating in the work of Michel Foucault, and popularized in recent years under the rubric of governmentality theory.  Against the backdrop of a critical reflection on neoliberal governmentalities, the discussion will trace some contemporary developments in the government of well-being and self-care as they are expressed in the American and global context.  Well-being is, in this sense, expressed through the lens of economic self-interest in a manner that suppresses the relational or social qualities of personal life.  Specifically, the discussion will consider three scenarios: first, the explosive interest in happiness and emotional flourishing will be examined as both a state of personal well being but also as an economic and social asset.  Next, a reflection on practices of racial and cultural diversity will describe how the reconstruction of whiteness as a problem of privilege ultimately serves the ends of the privatization of racial affect.  And finally, a reflection on trauma and current global conflicts will examine the ways in which therapeutic discourse privatizes the ultimately social character of traumatic events.  

emotions and academic freedom

6 Dec

I had completely forgotten that I even wrote this piece. it came out 4 years ago in an era before Trump. Perhaps it is still relevant.

Preparing for a talk at the Sorbonne University, January 2020.

30 Oct

Therapeutic Neoliberalism and the Reproduction of White Racial Subjectivity

Recent critical work on “neoliberal governmentality” has uncovered a neoliberal logic, or style of management centered on the production of a highly individualized, self-aware worker, student or citizen. Self-awareness, in this sense, becomes a technical problem of psycho-medical expertise, in which institutional conduct is viewed through the lens of mental health. In Professor Binkley’s discussion, this critique of neoliberal governmentality is extended to the problem of racial tensions in organizational settings. In recent years, in the United States, white racism has been increasingly defined in psycho-medical terms as an acquired state of psychosis or denial, in which psychic defense mechanisms are mobilized to bypass the reality of one’s own racism. Through cultural competency training, sensitivity workshops and diversity programs aimed at disarming these denial defenses, the unaware “privilege” that defines white habits is governed through a strategy that combines technical expertise with therapeutic authority. The psychotic white subject is brought before an omniscient, objective, therapeutic “other” typically represented either directly by a person of color or by an expert representing a person of color’s perspective. This therapeutic authority, as the “subject presumed to know,” purports to know the truth of the white subject herself. In this way, the self-aware subject of neoliberal government is realized through a hermeneutics of the self, or a search for self-authenticity mediated by this managerial/therapeutic other. While productive in modifying explicitly racist behaviors, this arrangement, it is argued, has the undeclared consequence of reproducing precisely the subject of white racism it purports to transform.

Preparing a talk on Happiness for a conference: “La felicidad como una nueva ficción política”

19 Oct

Happiness conference in Santiago, Chile. Giving talks with translators is always fun because you get to have some back and forth while you present. Very much looking forward to visiting Chile.

Unlearning Privilege: The Therapeutic Ethos and the Battle Within the White Self (Routledge Handbook of Global Therapeutic Cultures)

27 Jul


There is in America today a discourse of White anti-racism that has come to operate as a form of self-help.  In a broad conversation that extends from social justice and anti-racist activism to institutional diversity and inclusion programs and across a variety of film, television and internet sites, advice, guidance and exhortation is offered for White people seeking to explore and confront emotional and cognitive habits inscribed by racism.  Within these conversations, White privilege is described as a pathological form of cognitive impairment or state of denial, the resolution of which requires that the white subject seek out and internalize the perspectives and experiences of people of color, who are assigned the implicit function of a therapeutic authority.  Employing an account of self help developed by theorists of “reflexive modernity” and drawing on sociological accounts of therapeutic culture, this chapter excavates the various elements of this self-help discourse centered on the problem of White privilege, which include: a medico-psychologization of White privilege fashioned on the “analytic contract” as described by Sigmund Freud; a therapeutic revision of biographical identity through the lens of White privilege, and a valorization of the role of people of color as an omniscient therapeutic other.  These functions combine in suppressing the deficits of meaning that afflict personal life under the conditions of reflexive modernization, serving the function of what Anthony Giddens terms the reflexive project of the self.


New in Theory and Psychology: “The work of happiness: A response to De La Fabián and Stecher (2017)”

15 Mar

Following is a critical response to De La Fabián and Stecher (2017). The authors contend that my book, Happiness as Enterprise (2014), is flawed in its attribution of the practice of positive psychology to a principally Calvinist paradigm of labor characterized by a deferred gratification—an error that ignores the ultimately neoliberal attributes of this phenomenon. I respond that, while this may be true, it is a contradiction that positive psychology itself grapples with, and it is also a methodologically necessary step if one is to avoid a determinist account of the practice of positive psychology.

New article in Body & Society: “Biopolitical Metaphor: Habitualized Embodiment Between Discourse and Affect”

6 Mar

ABSTRACT This article theorizes the biopolitical production of embodiment through a consideration of biopolitical metaphor.  It is argued that much recent theoretical work on biopower fails to provide an adequate account of embodiment, and particularly on the question of the habitualization of bodily experience.  However, read through the lens of biopolitical metaphor, and drawing on the works of George Lakoff and a Mark Johnson, a dynamic account of the biopolitical shaping of bodily memory and embodied habit becomes possible.  Moreover, it is argued that a theory of biopolitical metaphor provides provocative openings for thinking together the recent discursively oriented work on biopower and other approaches associated with the affective turn, specifically around the problems of mimesis and supplement.  New research directions are proposed, centered on common experiences of biopolitical domination among marginalized groups drawn from shared experiences of habit and embodiment.