Category Archives: Epistemological

Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community

Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the “Fluffy Bunny” Sanction

by Angela Coco & Ian Woodward

[Coco, Angela, and Ian Woodward. 2007. “Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the ‘Fluffy Bunny’ Sanction.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (5): 479–504.]


  • Discussing “fluffy bunnies” is “a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments.”
    • It explores pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings.
    • Implicit in the discussion is a sense of a “them” who are seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distance ourselves from such things (480).
  • “In a consumer society one purchases objects—commodities such as Tarot cards, ritual tools, medieval dress—that enhance, edify, improve, and sustain self.
    • These objects then act as material boundary markers that suggest things people wish to cultivate about themselves and exclude polluting aesthetics/others” (482).


  • pagans are conscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions of pagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in the notion of the “fluffy bunny” (499).
  • “A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicates the ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively create meaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods and services that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features of these tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundaries pagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity” (483).
  • “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice” (499).


  • Fluffy Bunnies defined:
    • “those people who gain a surface grasp of pagan practices but fail to incorporate pagan beliefs into their day-to-day life practices” (500).
    • “uninformed, immature, and lacking in their understanding of the forces of nature and consequently dangerous because they may misuse magic”—informant (500).
    • “a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or as was said not steadfast in there (sic) beliefs. I am sure that we have all met the 12 year old who is a high priestess and the leader of huge demonic armies and has alliances with the elves!!!!”—informant (500).
    •  “perhaps what bugs me most about these type (sic) is not so much the superficiality (which the ‘fashion-witch’ has in spades) but the hyposcrisy (sic) which often enables them todo harm whilst preaching love and light, and never once recognizing the results of their own actions”—informant (501).
    • “They refer to the superficial practitioner’s tendency to focus only on the light, happy side of life without balancing it with the dark and difficult aspects of experience” (501).



The commodification of the religious impulse finds its most overt expression in the New Age movement and its subculture neopaganism. This article examines discourses in the pagan community in an Australian state. Pagans, who have been characterized as individualist, eclectic, and diverse in their beliefs and practices, network through electronic mail discussion lists and chat forums as well as through local and national offline gatherings. We explore community building and boundary defining communications in these discourses. In particular, we examine interactions that reveal the mobilization of pagans’ concern with authenticity in the context of late-capitalism, consumer lifestyles, and media representations of the “craft.” Our analysis highlights a series of tensions in pagans’ representations of and engagement with consumer culture which are evident in everyday pagan discourse. These notions of in/authenticity are captured by invoking the “fluffy bunny” sanction.

Continue reading Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community

Heidegger – The Question Concerning Technology

The Question Concerning Technology

by Martin Heidegger

[Heidegger, Martin. 1977. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, 3–35. Harper & Row.]


Technology, to begin with, is not a thing, but rather a way of revealing truths.

  • “Modern technology too is a means to an end.” “We will master it. The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control.” (pg 5)
  • There are four causes (ways of being responsible for something else) involved in tech’s means
    • causa materialis—the material, the stuff a thing is made from
    • causa formalis—the form, the material takes, the template
    • causa finalis—the intended end use, ritual, application, etc.
    • causa efficiens—who (or what) actual forms the material, the craftworker, miner, technician, etc.
      • All four causes work together to facilitate the technology’s occasioning (it’s coming onto being in its specific context)
      • Plato says: “every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing-forth” (pg 10)
  • “Technology  is  a  mode  of  revealing.  Technology  comes  to presence  [West]  in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens.” (pg 13)

So what’s the problem?

  • Modern technology is different because the type if revealing is different.
    • “What is modern technology? It too is a revealing. Only when we allow our attention to rest on this fundamental characteristic does that which is new in modern technology show itself to us.  [paragraph break ]  And yet the revealing that holds sway throughout modern technology does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense of poiesis. The  revealing that rules  in modern  technology  is a  chal­lenging  [Herausfordern], which puts to nature the unreasonable demand  that  it  supply  energy  that  can  be  extracted  and  stored as such.  [ … ]  The earth now reveals itself as a coal mining dis­trict, the soil as a mineral deposit.” (14)
  • This type of revealing is based on challenging. Whereas the old-school peasant “challenge the soil of the field” (15), new technologies demand that the materials in the earth (like coal) are always ready for use as “it is stockpiled; that is, it is on call, ready to deliver the sun’s warmth that is stored in it” (15)
    • H calls this standing-reserve
  • Since we do this, we tend to see the objects as only the resources contained in them, as an ordering revealing
    • in other words: “The unconcealment of the unconcealed has already come to pass whenever it calls man forth into the modes of revealing allotted to him. When man, in his way, from within unconcealment reveals that which  presences, he merely responds to the call of unconcealment even when he  contradicts it. Thus when man, investigating, observing, ensnares nature as an area of his own conceiving, he has already been claimed by a way of  revealing that challenges him to approach nature as  an  object  of research, until  even  the object disappears into the objectlessness  of standing-reserve” (19).
  • H calls this propensity in humans enframing.
    • “Enframing  means  the  gathering  together  of that  setting-upon which  sets  upon  man,  i.e.,  challenges  him  forth,  to  reveal  the real,  in  the  mode  of  ordering,  as  standing-reserve.  Enframing means  that way  of revealing  which  holds  sway  in  the  essence  of modern  technology  and  which  is  itself  nothing  technological” (20).
    • OR “the way in which the real reveals itself as standing-reserve” (23)
    • OR “Enframing  is  the  gathering  together  that  belongs  to  that setting-upon  which  sets  upon  man  and  puts  him  in  position  to reveal the real, in the  mode  of ordering,  as  standing-reserve” (24)
  • And Enframing is the essence of modern technology


  • Enframing creates a situation wherein humans see the world around around them as a “calculable complex of the effects of forces” (26). We see only resources standing-reserve but no objects in and of themselves.
  •  When we don;t see the objects as they are (in their truth), we fall for the illusion that humans are the only things around worth noting…
    • “as soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but does so, rather, exclusively as standing-reserve [ … ] he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. Meanwhile man …  exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. [ … ] This illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: It seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself” (26-27).
  • AND “the challenging Enframing not only conceals a former way of revealing, bringing-forth, but it conceals revealing itself and with it That wherein concealment, i.e., truth, comes to pass” (27)
  • “The rule of Enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could de denied him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth” (28).
    • (yeah, but wtf is ‘truth,’ H?)
  • And FINALLY— “The coming to presence of technology threatens revealing, threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be con­sumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of standing-reserve” (33).

All is not lost

  • “So long as we represent technology as an instrument we remain held fast in the will to master it. We press on past the essence of technology.  [ paragraph break ]  When, however, we ask how the instrumental comes to presence as a kind of causality, then we experience the coming to presence as the destining of a revealing” (32).
  • Techne also used to mean “art,” so maybe art will be the ultimate savior?
  • And who knows, maybe “the frenziedness of technology may entrench itself every­ where to such an extent that someday, throughout everything technological, the essence of technology may come to presence in the coming-to-pass of truth” (35).

Techne—”techne  is  the  name  not  only  for  the  activities  and  skills  of  the craftsman,  but  also  for  the  arts  of  the  mind  and  the  fine  arts. Techne  belongs  to  bringing-forth,  to  poiesis;  it  is  something poietic.    [paragraph break ] The other point that we should observe with  regard  to  techne is even more important.  From earliest times  until  Plato the word techne is linked with the word  episteme.  Both  words  are names for  knowing  in  the  widest  sense.  They  mean  to  be  entirely  at home  in  something,  to  understand  and  be  expert  in  it.”  [ … ]   “It is as revealing, and not as manufactur­ing, that techne is a bringing-forth.” (pg 13)

Continue reading Heidegger – The Question Concerning Technology

Foucault—Technologies of the Self

Technologies of the Self

by Michel Foucault

[Foucault, Michel. 1988. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Edited by Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.]


  • “Max Weber posed the question: If one wants to behave rationally and regulate one’s action according to true principles, what part of one’s self should one renounce? What is the ascetic price of reason? To what kind of asceticism should one submit? […]
  • I posed the opposite question: How have certain kinds of interdictions required the price of certain kinds of knowledge about oneself? What must one know about oneself in order to be willing to renounce anything?” […]
  • “Thus I arrived at the hermeneutics of technologies of the self in pagan and early Christian practice” (17).

Four major types of “technologies” (truth games)

  1. technologies of production—manipulation of things
  2. technologies of sign systems—signs, symbols
  3. technologies of power—policing individuals, politics
  4. technologies of the self—transformative operations on bodies, thoughts, souls
    • tech of power + tech of self = domination
    • “This contact between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self I call governmentality” (19).


“I wish to sketch out the development of the hermeneutics of the self in two different contexts which are historically contiguous:

  1. Greco-Roman philosophy in the first two centuries A.D. of the early Roman Empire and
  2. Christian spirituality and the monastic principles developed in the fourth and fifth centuries of the late Roman Empire” (19, bullets added).

epimelesthai sautou

  • to take care of yourself
    • the concern with self
    • to be concerned, to take care of yourself
  • “When one is asked “What is the most important moral principle in ancient philosophy?” the immediate answer is not “Take care of oneself” but the Delphic principle, gnothi sauton (“Know yourself”)” (19).
  • “In Greek and Roman texts, the injunction of having to know yourself was always associated with the other principle of having to take care of yourself” (20).
    • you have to deal with your self before you can know yourself (go to an oracle)

“To summarize: There has been an inversion between the hierarchy of the two principles of antiquity, “Take care of yourself” and “Know thyself.” In Greco-Roman culture knowledge of oneself appeared as the consequence of taking care of yourself. In the modern world, knowledge of oneself constitutes the fundamental principle” (22).



Analyzing care of the self in three aspects:

  1. “How is this question introduced into the dialogue? What are the reasons Alcibiades and Socrates are brought to the notion of taking care of one’s self? (23).
    • They make a pact-Alcibiades will submit to his lover, Socrates, not in a physical but in a spiritual sense. The intersection of political ambition and philosophical love is “taking care of oneself” (24).
      • I’m honestly not sure I get this leap
  2. “In that relationship, why should Alcibiades be concerned with himself, and why is Socrates concerned with that concern of Alcibiades?”
    • “Concern for self always refers to an active political and erotic state.”
      • Again, not sure
  3. “The rest of the text is devoted to an analysis of this notion of epimelesthai, “taking pains with oneself.” It is divided into two questions:
    1. What is this self of which one has to take care, and of what docs that care consist?” [para]
      1.  “First, what is the self? Self is a reflexive pronoun, and it has two meanings. Auto means “the same,” but it also conveys the notion of identity. The latter meaning shifts the question from “What is this self?” to “What is the plateau on which I shall find my identity?” […]
      2. ” When you take care of the body, you don’t take care of the self. The selfis not clothing, tools, or possessions. It is to be found in the principle which uses these tools, a principle not of the body but of the soul” […]
    2. “The second question is: How must we take care of this principle of activity, the soul? Of what does this care consist? One must know of what the soul consists.” […]
      1. “The effort of the soul to know itself is the principle on which just political action can be founded, and Alcibiades will be a good politician insofar as he contemplates his soul in the divine element” (25).
  • Plato’s text sets out eternal problems:
    1. “First, there is the problem of the relation between being occupied with oneself and political activity.” […]
    2. “Second, there is the problem of the relationship between being occupied with oneself and pedagogy.” […]
    3. “Third, there is the problem of the relationship between concern for oneself and the knowledge of oneself.” […]
    4. “Fourth, there is the problem of the relationship between the care of self and philosophical love, or the relation to a master” (26).
  • “This theme of taking care of oneself was not abstract advice but a widespread activity, a network of obligations and services to the soul” (26-27).
    • oral culture—Socrates letters
    • written culture—Augustin’s Confessions
      • also Marcus Aurelius’s letter to his lover, Fronto (about what he did that day)
    • The letter is the transcription of that examination of conscience. It stresses what you did, not what you thought. That is the difference between practice in the Hellenistic and imperial periods and later monastic practice. In Seneca too there are only deeds, not thoughts. But it does prefigure Christian confession” (30).


“In my discussion of Plato’s Alcibiades, I have isolated three major themes:

  1. first, the relation between care for oneself and care for the political life;
  2. second, the relation between taking care of the self and defective education; and
  3. third, the relation between taking care of oneself and knowing oneself” (30, bullets added).
  • in the Imperial Period, end of dialogue—beginning of silent listening
  • For Plato—”themes of contemplation of self and self care are related dialectically through dialogue” […]
  • “in the imperial period we have the themes of, on one side, the obligation of listening to truth and, on the other side, of looking and listening to the self for the truth within” (32-33).
    • “For Seneca it isn’t a question of discovering truth in the subject but of remembering truth, recovering a truth which has been forgotten. […]
    • The subject constitutes the intersection between acts which have to be regulated and rules for what ought to be done. This is quite different from the Platonic conception and from the Christian conception of conscience” (34).



  1. “letters to friends and disclosure of self;
  2. examination of self and conscience, including a review of what was done, of what should have been done, and comparison of the two.
  3. Now I want to consider the third Stoic technique, askesis, not a disclosure of the secret self but a remembering.”
    1. “For Plato, one must discover the truth that is within one. For the Stoics, truth is not in oneself but in the logoi, the teaching of the teachers. One memorizes what one has heard, converting the statements one hears into rules of conduct. The subjectivization of truth is the aim of these techniques” (34-35, bullets and bold added)
    2. we assimilate truth, we do not master it.
  • Melete (premeditatio mallorum)—imagining the worst case scenario and experiencing it (virtually!)
  • Gymnasia—making up a challenge to actually experience (abstinence, fasting, etc).



  • In transition form pagan to Christian belief, the church cooked up Illumination—the disclosure of the self.
  • exomologesis – recognition of fact – public recognition of faith
    • Penitance was at first a status – not an act or a ritual
    • “To prove suffering, to show shame, to make visible humility and exhibit modesty—these are the main features of punishment. Penitence in early Christianity is a way of life acted out at all times by accepting the obligation to disclose oneself” (42).
    • rub out sin and restore purity – show sinner as he is – revealing while rubbing out
    • how did early Christians explain this paradox to themselves:
      • medical: show one’s wounds in order to be cured
      • trinbunal: judgement – confession of faults
      • death: martyrdom, preference for death over abandonment of faith – refusal of the self – a break with one’s past identity, a new self.  revelation = destruction
  • “The difference between the Stoic and Christian traditions is that in the Stoic tradition examination of self, judgment, and discipline show the way to self-knowledge by superimposing truthabout self through memory, that is, by memorizing the rules. In exomologesis, the penitent superimposes truth about self by violent rupture and dissociation. It is important to emphasize that this exomologesis is not verbal. It is symbolic, ritual, and theatrical” (43).


“During the fourth century we find a very different technology for the disclosure of the self, exagoreusis, much less famous than exomologesis but more important” (44).

  • “The well-developed and elaborated practice of the self-examination in monastic Christianity is different from the Senecan self-examination and […] must be understood from the point of view of two principles of Christian spirituality: obedience and contemplation” (44).
    • Obedience—”John Cassian repeats an old principle from the oriental tradition: “Everything the monk does without permission of his master constitutes a theft.” Here obedience is complete control of behavior by the master, not a final autonomous state. It is a sacrifice of the self, of the subject’s own will. This is the new technology of the self” (44-45, bold added)
    • Contemplation—considered the supreme good, with the goal of permanent contemplation of God. “Seneca had placed his stress on action. With Cassian the object is not past actions of the day; it’s the present thoughts. Since the monk must continuously turn his thoughts toward God, he must scrutinize the actual course of this thought” (45).
  • three analogies:
    1. mill—thoughts are like grains, sort the bad from good
    2. military—we must be officers ordering good soldiers to the right, bad to the left
    3. money—conscience is the money changer degree of purity, effigy, origin


  • “In conclusion, in the Christianity of the first centuries, there are two main forms of disclosing self, of showing the truth about oneself. The first is exomologesis, or a dramatic expression of the situation of the penitent as sinner which makes manifest his status as sinner. The second is what was called in the spiritual literature exagoreusis. This is an analytical and continual verbalization of thoughts carried on in the relation of complete obedience to someone else. This relation is modeled on the renunciation of one’s own will and of one’s own self” [para]
  • “There is a great difference between exomologesis and exagoreusis; yet we have to underscore the fact that there is one important element in common: You cannot disclose without renouncing.”
  • “This theme of self-renunciation is very important. Throughout Christianity there is a correlation between disclosure of the self, dramatic or verbalized, and the renunciation of self. My hypothesis from looking at these two techniques is that it’s the second one, verbalization, which becomes the more important.  From the eighteenth century to the present, the techniques of verbalization have been reinserted in a different context by the so­ called human sciences in order to use them without renunciation of the self but to constitute, positively, a new self. To use these techniques without renouncing oneself constitutes a decisive break” (48-49).

Continue reading Foucault—Technologies of the Self

Weber—The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

by Max Weber Translated by Talcott Parsons With an introduction by Anthony Giddens

[Weber, Max. [1930] 2001. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. Translated by Talcott Parsons. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.]


Broken down by Giddens [then broken down further by me]—

  1. “In seeking to specify the distinctive characteristics of modern capitalism in The Protestant Ethic, Weber first of all separates off capitalistic enterprise from the pursuit of gain as such […]
  2. “only in the West, and in relatively recent times, has capitalistic activity become associated with the rational organisation of formally free labour. By ‘rational organisation’ of labour here Weber means its routinised, calculated administration within continuously functioning enterprises. [para]
  3.  “A rationalised capitalistic enterprise implies two things: a disciplined labour force, and the regularised investment of capital […]
  4. “The regular reproduction of capital, involving its continual investment and reinvestment for the end of economic efficiency, is foreign to traditional types of enterprise. It is associated with an outlook of a very specific kind: the continual accumulation of wealth for its own sake, rather than for the material rewards that it can serve to bring. ‘Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs’ (p. 18). This, according to Weber, is the essence of the spirit of modern capitalism. [para]
  5. “What explains this historically peculiar circumstance of a drive to the accumulation of wealth conjoined to an absence of interest in the worldly pleasures which it can purchase? […]
  6. “Weber finds the answer in the ‘this-worldly asceticism’ of Puritanism, as focused through the concept of the ‘calling’. The notion of the calling, according to Weber, did not exist either in Antiquity or in Catholic theology; it was introduced by the Reformation. It refers basically to the idea that the highest form of moral obligation of the individual is to fulfil his duty in worldly affairs […]
  7. “Although the idea of the calling was already present in Luther’s doctrines, Weber argues, it became more rigorously developed in the various Puritan sects: Calvinism, Methodism, Pietism and Baptism […]
  8. “Of the elements in Calvinism that Weber singles out for special attention, perhaps the most important, for his thesis, is the doctrine of predestination: that only some human beings are chosen to be saved from damnation, the choice being predetermined by God […]
  9. “From this torment, Weber holds, the capitalist spirit was born. On the pastoral level, two developments occurred: it became obligatory to regard one- self as chosen, lack of certainty being indicative of insufficient faith; and the performance of ‘good works’ in worldly activity became accepted as the medium whereby such surety could be demonstrated. Hence success in a calling eventually came to be regarded as a ‘sign’ – never a means – of being one of the elect. The accumulation of wealth was morally sanctioned in so far as it was combined with a sober, industrious career; wealth was condemned only if employed to support a life of idle luxury or self-indulgence. [para]
  10. “Calvinism, according to Weber’s argument, moral energy and drive of the capitalist entrepreneur; Weber speaks of its doctrines as having an ‘iron consistency’ in the bleak discipline which it demands of its adherents” (x – xiii).

Weber’s Intro

  • The occident has the most rational systematic, and specialized way of doing pretty much everything.
    • This includes capitalism—”the Occident has developed capitalism both to a quantitative extent, and (carrying this quantitative development) in types, forms, and directions which have never existed elsewhere” (xxxiii – iv).
    • “But in modern times the Occident has developed, in addition to this, a very different form of capitalism which has appeared nowhere else: the rational capitalistic organization of (formally)free labour” (xxxiv).
    • “The modern rational organization of the capitalistic enterprise would not have been possible without two other important factors in its development:
      1. the separation of business from the household, which completely dominates modern economic life, and closely connected with it,
      2. rational book-keeping” (xxxxv, numbers added)

Part 1

Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification

  • Historical question—”why were the districts of highest economic development at the same time particularly favourable to a revolution in the Church?” (4).
    • “the Reformation meant not the elimination of the Church’s control over everyday life, but rather the substitution of a new form of control for the previous one” (4).
    • But, “The rule of Calvinism, would be for us the most absolutely unbearable form of ecclesiastical control of the individual which could possibly exist” (5).
    • “not all the Protestant denominations seem to have had an equally strong influence in this direction. That of Calvinism, even in Germany, was among the strongest, it seems, and the reformed faith more than the others seems to have promoted the development of the spirit of capitalism” (10).
  • Main task—”If any inner relationship between certain expressions of the old Protestant spirit and modern capitalistic culture is to be found, we must attempt to find it, for better or worse not in its alleged more or less materialistic or at least anti-ascetic joy of living, but in its purely religious characteristics” (11).

The Spirit of Capitalism

  • Ben Franklin is a good example of the spirit of capitalism personified: “Time is money … credit is money … the good paymaster is lord of another man’s purse … He that idly loses five shillings worth of time; loses five shillings, and might as well prudently throw five shillings in the sea” (14-16).
  • the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudaemonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture. It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational. Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer sub-ordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs” (18).
    • This goes against traditionalism, because, “A man does not “by nature” wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose” (24).
    • So for capitalism of this form to be achieved, “not only is a developed sense of responsibility absolutely indispensable, but in general also an attitude which, at least during working hours, is freed from continual calculations of how the customary wage may be earned with a maximum of comfort and a minimum of exertion. Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, a calling. But such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It cannot be evoked by low wages or high ones alone, but can only be the product of a long and arduous process of education” (25).
  • How can this be rational?
    • “one may—this simple proposition, which is often forgotten should be placed at the beginning of every study which essays to deal with rationalism—rationalize life from fundamentally different basic points of view and in very different directions …
    • “We are here particularly interested in the origin of precisely the irrational element which lies in this, as in every conception of a calling” (38).

Luther’s Concept of the Calling

  • Luther’s “calling” can be understood as “a religious conception, that a task is set by God” (39).
  • The idea was “unquestionably new: the valuation of the fulfilment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume. This it was which inevitably gave every-day worldly activity a religious significance, and which first created the conception of a calling in this sense” (40).
  • “The effect of the Reformation as such was only that, as compared with the Catholic attitude, the moral emphasis on and the religious sanction of, organized worldly labour in a calling was mightily increased” (42).
  • “for Luther the concept of the calling remained traditionalistic. His calling is something which man has to accept as a divine ordinance, to which he must adapt himself. This aspect outweighed the other idea which was also present, that work in the calling was a, or rather the, task set by God […]
    • “Thus, for the time being, the only ethical result was negative; worldly duties were no longer subordinated to ascetic ones; obedience to authority and the acceptance of things as they were, were preached” (44-45).
  • “Although the Reformation is unthinkable withoutLuther’s own personal religious development, and was spiritually long influenced by his personality, without Calvinism his work could not have had permanent concrete success” (46).
    • “We thus take as our starting-point in the investigation of the relationship between the old Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism the works of Calvin, of Calvinism, and the other Puritan sects” (47-48).

Part 2

The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism

  • Four principle forms of ascetic Protestantism:
    1. Calvinism
    2. Pietism
    3. Methodism
    4. Baptist sects
  • Calvinism
    • most characteristic dogma is predestination, that “only a small proportion of men are chosen for eternal grace […]
      • “To apply earthly standards of justice to His sovereign decrees is meaningless and an insult to His Majesty […]
      • “Everything else, including the meaning of our individual destiny, is hidden in dark mystery which it would be both impossible to pierce and presumptuous to question. [para]
      • “For the damned to complain of their lot would be much the same as for animals to bemoan the fact they were not born as men” (60).
    • So “We know only that a part of humanity is saved, the rest damned. To assume that human merit or guilt play a part in determining this destiny would be to think of God’s absolutely free decrees, which have been settled from eternity, as subject to change by human influence, an impossible contradiction […]
      • “In its extreme inhumanity this doctrine must above all have had one consequence for the life of a generation which surrendered to its magnificent consistency. That was a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual. In what was for the man of the age of the Reformation the most important thing in life, his eternal salvation, he was forced to follow his path alone to meet a destiny which had been decreed for him from eternity. No one could help him” (60-61).
    • “For us the decisive problem is: How was this doctrine borne in an age to which the after-life was not only more important, but in many ways also more certain, than all the interests of life in this world? The question, Am I one of the elect? must sooner or later have arisen for every believer and have forced all other interests into the background” (65).
    • “two principal, mutually connected, types of pastoral advice appear.
      1. On the one hand it is held to be an absolute duty to consider oneself chosen, and to combat all doubts as temptations of the devil, since lack of self-confidence is the result of insufficient faith, hence of imperfect”
      2. On the other hand, in order to attain that self-confidence intense worldly activity is recommended as the most suitable means. It and it alone disperses religious doubts and gives the certainty of grace” 66-67).
    •  “Only one of the elect really has the fides efficax, only he is able by virtue of his rebirth (regeneratio) and the resulting sanctification (sanctificatio) of his whole life, to augment the glory of God by real, and not merely apparent, good works […]
      • “Thus, however useless good works might be as a means of attaining salvation … they are the technical means, not of purchasing salvation, but of getting rid of the fear of damnation” (69)
    • “the significance of the Reformation in the fact that now every Christian had to be a monk all his life. The drain of asceticism from everyday worldly life had been stopped by a dam, and those passionately spiritual natures which had formerly supplied the highest type of monk were now forced to pursue their ascetic ideals within mundane occupations. [para]
    • “But in the course of its development Calvinism added some-thing positive to this, the idea of the necessity of proving one’s faith in worldly activity. Therein it gave the broader groups of religiously inclined people a positive incentive to asceticism” (74).
  • Pietism
    • “in so far as the rational and ascetic element of Pietism outweighed the emotional, the ideas essential to our thesis maintained their place. These were: (1) that the methodical development of one’s own state of grace to a higher and higher degree of certainty and perfection in terms of the law was a sign of grace; and (2) that “God’s Providence works through those in such a state of perfection”, i.e. in that He gives them His signs if they wait patiently and deliberate methodically” (84).
    • Even so, “when we consider German Pietism from the point of view important for us, we must admit a vacillation and uncertainty in the religious basis of its asceticism which makes it definitely weaker than the iron consistency of Calvinism” (87).
  • Methodism
    • unlike Calvinism, which held everything emotional to be illusory, the only sure basis for the certitudo salutis was in principle held to be a pure feeling of absolute certainty of forgiveness, derived immediately from the testimony of the spirit” (89-90).
    • “the Methodist ethic appears to rest on a foundation of uncertainty similar to Pietism. But the aspiration to the higher life, the second blessedness, served it as a sort of makeshift for the doctrine of predestination (91).
      • “The emotional act of conversion was methodically induced … [and] the emotion, once awakened, was directed into a rational struggle for perfection” (92).
  • The Baptist Sects
    • “since predestination was rejected, the peculiarly rational character of Baptist morality rested psychologically above all on the idea of expectant waiting for the Spirit to descend […]
    • “The purpose of this silent waiting is to overcome everything impulsive and irrational, the passions and subjective interests of the natural man. He must be stilled in order to create that deep repose of the soul in which alone the word of God can be heard.” (96).
  • “It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
    • the decisive point was, to recapitulate, the conception of the state of religious grace, common to all the denominations, as a status which marks off its possessor from the degradation of the flesh, from the world. It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
    • “The religious life of the saints, as distinguished from the natural life, was—the most important point—no longer lived outside the world in monastic communities, but within the world and its institutions. This rationalization of conduct within this world, but for the sake of the world beyond, was the con- sequence of the concept of calling of ascetic Protestantism” (100).
      • “it strode into the market-place of life, slammed the door of the monastery behind it, and undertook to penetrate just that daily routine of life with its methodicalness, to fashion it into a life in the world, but neither of nor for this world” (101).

Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism

  • “In order to understand the connection between the fundamental religious ideas of ascetic Protestantism and its maxims for everyday economic conduct, it is necessary to examine with especial care such writings as have evidently been derived from ministerial practice” (102).
    • “Richard Baxter stands out above many other writers on Puritan ethics, both because of his eminently practical and realistic attitude, and, at the same time, because of the universal recognition accorded to his works” (103).
    • “Waste of time is …  the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. The span of human life is infinitely short and precious tomake sure of one’s own election. Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to at most eight hours, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation” (104).
    • “Accordingly, Baxter’s principal work is dominated by the continually repeated, often almost passionate preaching of hard, continuous bodily or mental labour” (105).
    • “If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose the less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be God’s steward, and to accept His gifts and use them for Him when He requireth it: you may labour to be rich for God, though not for the flesh and sin. [para]
    • “Wealth is thus bad ethically only in so far as it is a temptation to idleness and sinful enjoyment of life, and its acquisition is bad only when it is with the purpose of later living merrily and without care. But as a performance of duty in a calling it is not only morally permissible, but actually enjoined” (108).
  • “Let us now try to clarify the points in which the Puritan idea of the calling and the premium it placed upon ascetic conduct was bound directly to influence the development of a capitalistic way of life. As we have seen, this asceticism turned with all its force against one thing: the spontaneous enjoyment of life and all it had to offer” (111).
    • “When the limitation of consumption is combined with this release of acquisitive activity, the inevitable practical result is obvious: accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save” (116).
    • “As far as the influence of the Puritan outlook extended, under all circumstances ..   it favoured the development of a rational bourgeois economic life; … It stood at the cradle of the modern economic man” (117).
    • “the intensity of the search for the Kingdom of God commenced gradually to pass over into sober economic virtue; the religious roots died out slowly, giving way to utilitarian worldliness” (119).
  • “The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so […]
    • This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force […]
    •  “In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage” (123).
  • “To-day the spirit of religious asceticism—whether finally, who knows?—has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer […]
    • “No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (124).

Continue reading Weber—The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Luhrmann—Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft

Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England

by Tanya Luhrmann

[Luhrmann, Tanya M. 1991. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.]


  • based on 4 years of participant observation among magicians (Wiccan, Pagan, various occult groups) in London in the 1980s
  • “This study looks at ordinary middle-class English people who become immersed in a netherworld of magic and ritual, and asks a classic anthropological question: why do they practise magic when, according to observers, the magic doesn’t work?” (4).
  • “Magicians are ordinary, well-educated, usually middle-class people. They are not psychotically deluded, and they are not driven to practise by socio­economic desperation. By some process, when they get involved with magic—whatever the reasons that sparked their interest—they learn to find it eminently sensible. They learn to accept its core concept: that mind affects matter, and that in special circumstances, like ritual, the trained imagination can alter thephysical world” (7).
  • “The real issue is not that magicians become comfortable practising an irrational activity, but that when someone becomes a specialist, he finds his practice progressively more persuasive through the very process of interpreting and making sense of his involvement; this changing understanding may become progressively more opaque to outsiders” (7-8).
  • Magical ideas begin to seem normal in the process of becoming a magician: in this way, the involvement is more similar to becoming a certain sort of specialist than to producing a new theory” (312).
  • “How can a magician take his ideas seriously? Part of the answer is that the very process of learning to be a magician elicits systematic changes in the way that the magician interprets events. Interpretation depends upon a complex set of assumptions, biases, conceptual frames, knowledge, heuristics and attributive tendencies—intellectual habits in paying attention, in organizing what one notices, and in remembering it” (115).
  • “There seem to be three outstanding changes in intellectual habits.
    1. The magician learns what events count as evidence that the ritual has worked, and begins to find new patterns in sets of events, to see connections where previously he has only seen coincidence.
    2. Then, he acquires the knowledge shared by fellow practitioners—their common knowledge—which gives a depth and complexity to his practice, and allows him to discriminate between events in new ways, armed with these new categories and distinctions.
    3. Finally, he begins to use a battery of new assumptions—some of them explicitly formulated, others implicit in the conversation—which alter the types of remarks he takes for granted and does not question. The cumulative effect is as if the magician acquires new spectacles.” (115 numeric points added).
  • “I would argue that the rift between magician and non-practitioner is carved out by the very process of becoming a specialist in a particular kind of activity. Becoming a specialist often makes an activity seem sensible. The specialist learns a new way of paying attention to, making sense of and commenting upon her world” (115-16).
  • Becoming this type of specialist is important, “But as, if not more, important are the unsystematic experiences which, although they may have little to do with intellectual analysis, make the magician want to justify the practice, and which motivate him in the end to rationalize his commitment. These are the experiences which create bias” (176).
  • “Certain aspects of magical practice turn it into an engagement which many practitioners find compelling. They find the rituals deeply moving, the pre-ritual ‘homework’ engrossing, they dream with the images of magic’s potent symbols” (177).
  • There are four “distinctive categories of experiential response” to ritual magic practice. (All pg. 179).
    1. meditation and visualization—”the two techniques which magicians always learn upon becoming involved in practice. These are remarkable techniques: they change the practitioner’s phenomenological experience in relatively well-understood ways, and magicians are notably affected by their use.”
    2. magician’s language—”the linguistic style with which magicians describe their rituals and meditations. This style evokes a significant imaginative involvement with the ritual’s narrative and gives the magician concrete experience of the abstract terms of magical theory, like ‘contact’ or ‘power’. At the same time, the magician is told that no understanding of magical theory is complete or accurate: she can have confidence that the term refers to something, but she need not state unequivocally what it is.”
    3. ritual—There are three specific strategies a magician goes through to plan a ritual
      1. He is concerned to create a separate space and time,
      2. to exploit mind-altering techniques like chanting,
      3. and to alter the personality of the ritualist.
        • All these techniques take their central task to be setting ritual apart as something different, to be experienced almost as if it involved a different reality superimposed on the everyday.
    4. symbolism—”The use of symbolism is the most important element of the magician’s magical engagement. Symbolism plays many roles, and evokes many responses, and probably bears most responsibility for magic’s excitement. Magicians invent a mythopoeic history, talk about intimate feelings in symbolic terms, therapeutically reorganize their lives with symbolic ‘archetypes’. They also create a secrecy-shrouded mystery religion and talk of the ‘esoteric knowledge’ which their rites provide.”
  • “Throughout all this, the implication should be clear: magic is far more than a theory, and the pleasures of these other aspects—difficult to verbalize, difficult to forget—wed the magician more strongly than any intellectual analysis to a commitment to the validity of his practice” (179).
  • So… “Systematic changes in the style of intellectual interpretation make the ideas seem more believable; the satisfactions of involvement make the desire to justify the involvement even greater. Nevertheless, despite magic’s growing appeal, at some point in their practice – for some, throughout their practice – magicians confront scepticism, other people’s or their own” (270).
  • “magicians do not produce an elaborate philosophy which would describe all their beliefs, actions and desires as consistent, and substantively rational—oriented towards a genuinely desirable goal in the most effective manner possible. Instead, they justify the inconsistency with a range of arguments and make efforts to separate magic off and make efforts to separate magic off from the mundane by ritual and metaphor. Through practice, theory and styles of arguments, magicians insulate their magic from hostile criticism, real or imagined, and they acquire reasons to explain this separation … People rationalize rather than acting rationally, and strive for local consistency with a patchwork job of post hoc rationalization” (273).
  • “people tend to conceptualize themselves as unitary selves, coherent and all-of-a-piece. In order to understand their actions as part of that self, directed towards an end suitable to that self, they talk about ‘beliefs’ and ‘attitudes’ and ‘desires’, proposition-like assertions which explain why someone performs an action. If you see an aborigine eating grubs, you assume that he believes that the grub is nourishing, delicious, or imbued with sacral power” (307).
  • “In order to function effectively, humans—these interpreters of culture—must act as if humans do not act randomly, but in a way they can learn to anticipate and to which they can learn to respond. This involves attributing to them a set of proposition-like assertions about the state of the world – he is carrying an umbrella, he must believe that it will rain this afternoon – which they maintain over time” (307).

“the ethnography presented on modern magic and the persuasiveness which the practice obtains elicits three observations about belief. Let me summarize” (309).

  1. “First, it is optimistic to think that people have an ordered set of beliefs abouta particular endeavour which forms a consistent set with other beliefs which together describe the totality of thought and action. People are much fuzzier, and more complex, than that. The ethnographer can legitimately identify something like a belief when someone argues for a proposition, at least during the period when they are doing the arguing. But magicians argue in different ways at different times; some of them claim to believe one thing when practising magic, and another thing when not practising magic; others seem to be firmly committed to their practice, and produce arguments about relativism which do not seem entirely plausible in the face of their behaviour. “
  2. “Second, it is hubris—and bad ethnography—to assume that people act first and foremost because they are motivated by belief. The material on modern magic suggests particularly dearly that people often argue for a belief as a means to legitimize, and even to understand—to rationalize—the practice in which they have been involved … If someone goes to church as a regular part of his life, he is likely to argue for a belief in God. If he feels deeply spiritual when praying to God, he is more likely to be persuaded that God exists, for the religious framework provides a way to interpret that unusual feeling.”
  3. Third, magicians have beliefs; it is not true that becoming a magician simply involves learning to speak a new ‘language’ … That is more than a bow towards relativism: the assertion claims that apparently strange beliefs say nothing startling, but simply express conventional beliefs in new and surprisingways. Or, the assertion can be that in becoming a shaman, a Scientologist, a believer in something, someone is simply acquiring new terms to describe new experiences” (309).

interpretive driftslow, often unacknowledged shift in someone’s manner of interpreting events as they become involved with a particular activity. As the newcomer begins to practice, he becomes progressively more skilled at seeing new patterns in events, seeing new sorts of events as significant, paying attention to new patterns … there seems to be a slow, mutual evolution of interpretation and experience, rationalized in a manner which allows the practitioner to practise. The striking feature, I found, was how ad hoc, how seemingly unmotivated, this transformation became. Magicians did not deliberately change the way they thought about the world”

cognitive dissonanceIn the fifties, Leon Festinger (and others) developed a sociological theory of ‘cognitive dissonance’ to understand intellectual discomfort. Its most famous application concerned an American flying saucer cult which predicted that the world would end on 21 December. On 22 December—after the prophetic failure—the adherents began to proselytize, for the first time, claiming that the world had been miraculously redeemed. Festinger interpreted this as an attempt to reconcile their considerable commitment to their belief with the embarrassing evidence of its falsity by creating social support for a somewhat transformed version of it” (271).

Continue reading Luhrmann—Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft

Luhrmann—When God Talks Back

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

by Tanya Luhrmann

[Luhrmann, Tanya M. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Vintage Books.]


  • Based on over four years of participant observation at Evangelical “Vineyard Christian Fellowship” in Chicago and Northern California.
  • trying to find an answer to the “deep puzzle of faith … how sensible, reasonable people, living in more or less the same evidential world as the skeptic, are able to experience themselves as having good evidence for the presence of a powerful invisible being who has demonstrable effect on their lives and are able to sustain a belief in that presence despite their inevitable doubts” (xvi).
  • Answer – “In effect, people train the mind in such a way that they experience part of their mind as the presence of God. They learn to reinterpret the familiar experiences of their own minds and bodies as not being their own at all—but God’s” (xxi).
  • Vineyard members learn a new theory of mind (participatory) which “asks congregants to experience the mind-world barrier as porous, in a specific, limited way” (40).
    • specifically meaning that you can hear things in your mind that did not originate there, but limited to God speaking to you
    • The 1960s were a ‘great awakening,’ significantly among the hippie movement in California, which espoused a new, friendly, personal type of Christianity that became evangelism throughout the next decades—which leads to churches like Vineyard
  • Vineyards basic view on the God-relationship: “God wants to be your friend; you develop that relationship through prayer; prayer is hard work and requires effort and training; and when you develop that relationship, God will answer back, through thoughts and mental images he places in your mind, and through sensations he causes in your body” (41).

Vineyard members engaged in many practices that trained their minds to work this way

  • Figuring out whether or not it is really God is a practice called discernment, based on four tests:
    1. Is it not something you normally would have said?
    2. Is it the type of thing you think God might say or imply?
    3. Is the message confirmed through others’ experiences or larger circumstances?
    4. Is it followed by a period of peace?
  • Another way Vineyard members practice hearing God—pretend you’re hanging out with him
    • set an extra place at the table, pour him a cup of coffee, or even have a complete ‘date night’
    • with practice, this behavior enacts a type of play that children have with imaginary friends—completely given over to the reality of the pretend, like in Huizinga’s magic circle
  • Another type of training is “opening your heart” through emotional practices
    1. “crying in the presence of God”—be openly emotional when giving or receiving prayer
    2. “Seeing from God’s perspective”—look at situations past your own limited view
    3. “practicing love, peace, and joy”—practice it consciously
    4. “God the therapist”—tell him your problems
    5. “reworking God the father”—sometimes dads are scary and demanding; God is not
    6. “emotional cascades”—sudden moments of epiphany, when you physically feel God’s love
  • “It is a profoundly social process. It is the evangelical church that teaches discernment, encourages the playI and models the six emotional practices. It is no small matter to become confident that the God you imagine in the privacy of your mind exists externally in the world, talking back. In the struggle to give the invisible being its external presence, the congregation surrounds the individual and helps to hold the being out apart from the self, separate and external. It is the church that confirms that the invisible being is really present, and it is that church that reminds people week after week that the external invisible being loves them, despite all the evidence of the dreary human world. And slowly, the church begins to shape the most private reaches of the way congregants feel and know” (131).
  • Vineyard gives classes in prayer and regards some practiced members as “expert prayers”
    • These practices are important even to non-believers because “we cannot understand how God becomes real to someone until we understand that a person’s experience of God emerges out of the vortex not only of what they are taught intellectually about God but also of what they do practically to experience God—above all, the way they pray, and what the bring to their prayer experience as unique individuals” (156).
  • Vineyard members practice St. Ignatius’s “Spiritual Exercises”— training the imagination to picture the imaginer as a part of the life of Jesus

So how does this work?

  • Luhrmann says that the congregants who have the more intense experiences and the most verbal relationship with God have high rates of the absorption personality trait.
    • when you get absorbed in something, it seems more real to you, and you and your world seem different than before. That is why it is related to hypnotizability. Both rely upon your ability to throw yourself into something and then to involve yourself intensely in the experience” (199).
  • This gave her a hypothesis: “that when people believe that God will speak to them through their senses, when they have a propensity for absorption, and when they are trained in absorption by the practice of prayer, these people will report what prayer experts report: internal sensory experiences with sharper mental imagery and more sensory overrides (sensory experience in the absence of sensory stimuli). Note the combination: an interest in interpreting a supernatural presence (the participatory theory of mind, taught by the social world of the church); a willingness to get caught up in one’s imagination (an individual difference); and actual practice ( they do something again and again, which has consequences)” (202).
    • So she tested it in Northern California by having subjects listen to training tapes for 30 minutes every day for a month.
    • She found that the subjects “entered the project with a broad, generic desire to hear God speak or perhaps just to get their prayer life moving again; they spent thirty minutes a day imaginatively immersed in the scriptures; and then they had unplanned idiosyncratic experiences that they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears” (216).

evangelical—based in three beliefs: literal truth of the Bible, one can be saved through a personal relationship with Jesus (being “born again”), and one should spread the gospel

absorption—the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and to most imaginative experiences in which the individual becomes caught up in ideas or images or fascinations. That is not to say that absorption is equivalent to hypnosis or dissociation or trance: manifestly it is not. But absorption seems to be the basic, necessary skill, the shared capacity of mind that allows what we choose to attend lo become more salient than the everyday context in which we arc embedded. It is the ability to use a book to take your mind off your troubles. That cuts both ways, of course. Some people use novels to keep the world at bay long enough to recover and regain the strength to return. Others use novels-or soap operas, or reality television-to escape and ignore the troubled marriage or the needy child. In both cases, individuals use their mind to change their relation to the reality they perceive … That is why absorption is central to spirituality. The capacity to treat what the mind imagines as more real than the world one knows is the capacity at the heart of experience of God” (201).

Young—The Harmony of Illusions

The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Allan Young

[Young, Allan. 1997. The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princeton University Press.]


  • Young argues that the concept of traumatic memory, which is seen by some as having roots hundreds of years ago, is actually quite a recent invention
  • He argues that: “this generally accepted picture of PTSD, and the traumatic memory that underlies it, is mistaken. The disorder is not timeless, nor does it possess an intrinsic unity. Rather, it is glued together by the practices, technologies, and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied,treated, and represented and by the various interests, institutions, and moral arguments that mobilized these efforts and resources” (5).

He does not deny that the suffering accompanying a PTSD diagnosis is not real:

  • “My job as an ethnographer of PTSD is not to deny its reality but to explain how it and its traumatic memory have been made real, to describe the mechanisms through which these phenomena penetrate people’s life worlds, acquire facticity, and shape the self-knowledge of patients, clinicians, and researchers” (5-6).

The book is broken into threes sections:

  1. an historical overview of trauma theories up to the beginning of WWI
    • Erichsen—”railway spine” in the 1860s—to deal with railway insurance
      • fear is the body’s memory of pain—memories come form physical stimulus, not images or words
      • So the traumatic event itself causes the continued anxiety
    • Janet & Freud
      • Repression and dissociation—horrible buried memory
      • The memory of the trauma (rather than the event) is the cause of the anxiety
    • Rivers, WWI & “shell shock”
      • Although seen by many scholars as the precursor to PTSD, Rivers is “observing that, in most cases, it is not the traumatic memory that produces the physical and emotional symptoms of the war neuroses (anxiety disorder) but rather the reverse: the symptoms account for the memory” (83).
  2. The DSM III revolution
    • 1940s pre and post WWII war neuroses
      • Kardiner—The Traumatic Neuroses of War, based on post WWI studies from the 1920s
      • Grinker & Spiegel—War Neuroses, based on field studies during WWII
      • no matching diagnostic categories between the two, so the War Department makes one…
    • The DSMs
      • DSM I—1952, nomenclature not universal, listed on spectrum from “Mental Illness, to Mental Health”
      • DSM II—1968, better, but still involved “neuroses”
      • DSM III—1980, built from scratch on completely positivist basis, that is, it was all descriptive, some critiqued this “cook book approach … making mental disorder equivalent to their aggregate of their symptomatic parts” (100).
    • PTSD
      • in DSM III, a person “gas experienced an event that is outside the range of usual human experience and that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone (124).
      • system worked like this:
        1. first order feature (PTSD) is defined by
        2. second order feature (an event outside the range of usual human experience),
        3. but then what is the third order (usual human experience)? Unlike the anecdotal research of Rivers, Freud, or Kardiner, the DSM relies on analogical comparison, which has no bounds.
    • so throughout all this time:
      • “What counts as a reasonable question, a satisfactory answer, a significant difference, an anomalous finding, or even an outcome—the criteria for each of these changed during this period. What did not change was the belief in the solidity of scientific facts and the conviction that psychiatry’s facts, being scientific, are essentially timeless” (9).
  3. PTSD in Practice
    • This section is based off of fieldwork in a U.S. Veterans Administration unit for the diagnosis and treatment of Viet Nam veterans suffering from PTSD in 1986-87
    • There is a long section that includes case studies of four different Vietnam War veterans being considered for PTSD diagnosis.
      • The four men all present psychometric and standardized diagnostic results consistent with a PTSD diagnosis
      • The case studies consist of transcripts of narratives from the men, which are significantly different
      • Following the narratives, transcripts of meetings between professionals at the center show how they rationalize these differences back into the requisite parameters using the open ended language of the DSM designation
    • the centers espouse an ideology of PTSD that allows the patients to talk about their own experiences using specific terminology that feeds back into the center, and back into the diagnosis.
      • The seventh chapter has a lot of group therapy transcripts where you can see this happening.

In the end, the book basically shows how the social creation and maintenance of PTSD (like Scott with blindness) can work in the process of creating a “kind” of people (like Hacking with MPD).

Continue reading Young—The Harmony of Illusions