Unit 2

Vicissitudes of the Self

Dick Houtman (1963) addresses how collective identities pertaining to class and religion have increasingly given way to notions of self-identity in the West. Erstwhile central to the left-libertarian discourse of the so-called “counter culture” of the 1960s, romantic ideals of individual liberty and personal authenticity (“being yourself”) have now become paramount in mainstream culture. They have indeed moved center stage in the very institutional realms that were back then deeply despised as intricately bound up with “the System”, ranging from politics to management and consumption and from popular culture to religion. Stef Aupers (1969) discusses a diametrically opposed development in contemporary Western culture – that of a waning self. With the emergence and widespread application of personal computers, the Internet, social media and online games since the 1990s, self-identity has become a performance of different roles fundamentally obscuring the question “who am I,  really”? More arrestingly, pioneers in the fields of bio-technology start to engineer individual bodies, minds and spirits thereby opening up the possibility of a post-biological or post-human future. The romantic obsession with ‘who we are’ – so prominent in the West – obviously finds its cultural counterpart in techno-scientific dreams about ‘what we can become’.


Dick Houtman (Utrecht 1963) is Professor of Cultural Sociology at Erasmus University’s Centre for Rotterdam Cultural Sociology (CROCUS). His principal research interest is the Romantic turn in the West since the 1960s, as well as the new types of social control and social conflict this shift gives rise to. His most recent books are Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality (2012 (forthcoming), edited with Birgit Meyer); Paradoxes of Individualization (2011, with Stef Aupers and Willem de Koster); Religions of Modernity (2010, edited with Stef Aupers) and Farewell to the Leftist Working Class (2008, with Peter Achterberg and Anton Derks). See for further information: www.dickhoutman.nl. Stef Aupers (Amstelveen, 1969) is Associate Professor at Erasmus University’s Centre for Rotterdam Cultural Sociology (CROCUS). His principal research interest is cultural change in the West and he has published particularly on processes of re-enchantment, religious change and spirituality; online game- and play culture; and conspiracy culture. His most recent books are Paradoxes of Individualization (2011, with Dick Houtman and Willem de Koster) and Religions of Modernity (2010, edited with Dick Houtman). In 2012 he will publish a monograph titled Under the Spell of Modernity (Ashgate Publishers). See for further information: www.stefaupers.nl