Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life

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9780195171242: Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life

Why doesn't self-help help? Millions of people turn to self-improvement when they find that their lives aren't working out quite as they had imagined. The market for self-improvement products--books, audiotapes, life-makeover seminars and regimens of all kinds--is exploding, and there seems to be no end in sight for this trend. In Self-Help, Inc., cultural critic Micki McGee asks what our seemingly insatiable demand for self-help can tell us about ourselves at the outset of this new century. This lucid and fascinating book reveals how makeover culture traps Americans in endless cycles of self-invention and overwork, and offers suggestions for how we can address the alienating conditions of modern work and family life.

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About the Author:


Micki McGee is a sociologist and cultural critic who has taught at New York University, Rutgers University, and The New School for Social Research. The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including residencies at the MacDowell Colony and Blue Mountain Center, she has recently joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Fordham University.

Review:


"McGee writes clearly and thoughtfully.... She moves seamlessly from high theory to pop psychobabble, using the former to illustrate the powers of the latter. Overall, she offers a compelling argument for resisting the self-improvement genre's worldview."--American Journal of Sociology


"But credit for coming up with real insight into the self-help juggernaut more properly belongs to Micki McGee, a faculty fellow at New York University and the author of Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life.... "McGee's grasp of the philosophical underpinnings... is formidable."--Salon


"Sociologist and cultural critic McGee offers a nuanced examination of the socioeconomic roots and attractions of self-help.... She argues, elegantly and persuasively, that self-help's individualistic approach and its false assumption of autonomy disregard the systemic social inequities that cause individual discontent and do not acknowledge social solutions that might actually help.... scholarly in tone but accessible to interested general readers. Recommended for public and undergraduate collections."--Library Journal


"From Cotton Mather to Stephen Covey, America has been the land of self help. But why, Micki McGee asks, do we see a two-fold increase in self-help books in the last quarter century? Partly, she argues, because women now stand beside men in the hazardous new economy, and like them need help navigating it. Such books propose that we create out of a miscellany of jobs our own career punch-lines, that we reinvent ourselves when market demand turns quixotically elsewhere. Where, she asks, is a vision of a better way to do this thing called life? Elegantly written, brilliantly argued, and very important, a must read."--Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Time Bind and The Commercialization of Intimate Life


"Self-help overemphasizes the individual's agency at the expense of the necessary reliance on or assistance of a network of others, and it can be sexist, too, says McGee.... To McGee, it's such mendacity that lies at the core of the self-help project, for we cannot make ourselves. Fortunately, her gracefully written account is tinged with sympathy for the harried souls for whom 'self-improvement is suggested as the only reliable insurance against economic insecurity' at a time when companies do not properly look after their workers."--Publishers Weekly


"Wander through virtually any bookstore across the country and you will be swamped by the self-help section, edging its way closer and closer to the heart of the shop. Micki McGee helps us to track this phenomenon, from its ancestral roots in an unsure immigrant culture to its beating heart in a risky neoliberal one. Wonderfully researched, superbly written, well-organised--this is simply a stand-out of contemporary cultural studies."--Toby Miller, author of The Well-Tempered Self


"From its beginnings, the 'tale of before and after' has been a central myth of American life. For many, the opportunity of self-improvement is regarded as a national birthright. In her penetrating exploration of this enduring cultural tradition--particularly as it has unfolded in recent decades--Micki McGee has revealed the self-help industry as an obsessional treadmill far more than a path to a better life. In an innovative way, Self-Help, Inc. offers a revealing look at the profound dissatisfactions that loiter beneath the topography of our consumer culture." --Stuart Ewen, author of PR!: A Social History of Spin


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