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Alderson, G. (2017). Relational Being, Beyond Self and Community (2009) by Kenneth J. Gergen, published by Oxford University Press. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 11(1):76-79.

(2017). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 11(1):76-79

Book Reviews

Relational Being, Beyond Self and Community (2009) by Kenneth J. Gergen, published by Oxford University Press

Review by:
Gordon Alderson

This is an ambitious undertaking. Gergen sets out to show that the enlightenment notion of a singular and separate self, in a profound sense separated off from others, is in fact fallacious. He challenges the view that the self is primary and he is therefore at odds with the logic of individualism, what he refers to as Marx “bounded being”, and the social and cultural institutions that arise out of it. In this sense he is closer to Marx than to Margaret Thatcher who famously said there is no such thing as society only individual human beings, Whereas for Marx the essential nature of the individual human being was composed of social relationships, both past and present as outlined in his 1845 Thesis on Feuerbach.

For Gergen the self can be understood as an internalised compilation of past and present relationships, social discourse, and social traditions. There is no “self” separate from the world—he quotes Vygotsky: “There is nothing in the mind that is not first of all in society” (p. 78). Of course, this for many is a difficult pill to swallow. We are given to considering ourselves primarily as unique individual entities that somehow contain an essence that can neither be fully explained nor fully comprehended yet make us what we “are”; we can validate ourselves by being conscious of our distinction from others and whatever happens we can be comforted by a quasi mystical sense of “me-ness” that lifts us from the social throng. At one level these notions are very familiar to us as the nature-nurture debate but the full implications are often overlooked. In contemporary Western society, “We tacitly view human beings atomistically as discrete centres of experience and action concatenated in various ways into social groups, struggling to reduce inevitable conflicts with others through negotiations and temporary alliances” (Richardson et al., 1999, quoted in Christopher, 2001, p. 117).

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