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Self-cultivation

Cook, Joanna; (2023) Self-cultivation. In: Laidlaw, James, (ed.) The Cambridge handbook for the anthropology of ethics. (pp. 411-432). Cambridge University Press Green open access

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Abstract

This chapter examines Foucault’s theory of self-cultivation and its influence in anthropology. It considers the criticisms of atomistic individualism and social determinism that are often levelled at practices of self-cultivation and argues that practices of self-cultivation are neither wholly self-directed nor wholly socially determined. Ethnographies of self-cultivation reveal the efforts that people make to shape themselves and the worlds in which they find themselves. How far such efforts go, the form that they take, and the relationships in which they are embedded will be specific to particular lives, but focussing on practices of self-cultivation enables anthropology to account for the reflective efforts that people make to live well. Resisting interpretations of self-cultivation as entirely self-directed or socially determined collapses a second dichotomy prevalent in the literature, between those practices of self-cultivation found in ‘pedagogic’ ethical projects and those found in ordinary life. This chapter makes the argument that forms of reflective self-cultivation are found in the ‘midst’ of everyday practice to varying degrees, and in contexts of intense ethical training people remain vulnerable to moral plurality and the contingency of messy everyday life.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Self-cultivation
ISBN-13: 9781108591249
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1017/9781108591249.016
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108591249.016
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: self-cultivation, determinism, individualism, Foucault, anthropology, reflection, the everyday, ethical pedagogy
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10177298
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