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Flax, J. (1996). Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy by Philip Cushman (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995). Psychoanal. Dial., 6(6):847-857.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 6(6):847-857

Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy by Philip Cushman (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995) Related Papers

Review by:
Jane Flax, Ph.D.

Phillip Cushman makes several claims in his Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy. “The self” is socially constructed. Every society has one dominant self-configuration and one dominant mode of social organization (or what he calls a “clearing”). Both the clearing and its accompanying self have undergone distinct and identifiable patterns of historical development and transformation. There have been many configurations of the self. Its interpreters, illnesses, and cures are all local and culturally specific.

As a cultural artifact, the dominant self-configuration reveals much about the society in which it is embedded. Because the self is a product of specific cultural clearings, its interpretation provides much useful information about any culture's politics, economics, moral commitments, and so on. Therefore interpretation of the self is necessarily a form of cultural history, and one can understand neither the practices of a culture nor the constitution of its self-configuration without adopting a sociocultural constructivist perspective.

Hermeneutics provides the best philosophic framework for grasping both these historical patterns and particular cultural and self-configurations. A social constructivist philosophy of the self and a hermeneutic framework have many political, theoretical, and practical consequences.

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