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UBC Theses and Dissertations

’Health, wealth and happiness’ : self-help, personal empowerment, and the makings of the neo-liberal citizen Eisler, Karyn L.


This dissertation explores the variety of ways in which actors attempt to constitute themselves as happy, healthy, prosperous individuals through a wide range of self-help and personal empowerment literatures and practices. In-depth interviews with people who seek personal growth, health and financial knowledge provide insight into how their actions and thoughts variously reflect, reject, transform, and reinvent expectations that circulate in the wellness marketplace. These expectations are gleaned from popular materials intended for mass consumption including self-help books, brochures, advertisements and news items, and are analyzed to determine how people are encouraged to think about, and act upon, their happiness, health and finances. These interviews and textual sources together contribute to an understanding of the evolving notions of subjectivity formation, self-governance, and neoliberal citizenship. The analysis shows how oppositional forms of agency may actually contribute to the makings of a certain type of individual who is interested in, and capable of, self-governance. They contribute to 'the workings of the system' by ensuring that actors develop an appetite for the choices they are required to make in the marketplace of wellness knowledge. The threat of resistance to the expectation of self-accountability for the outcomes of bad choices is met with guidance and support to enhance citizens' capacity for effective decision-making. And contentious forms of agency contribute to innovative choice-making strategies that mark individuals as authoritative decision-makers who are unwilling to relinquish autonomy to experts. Critique and reinvention of encouraged modes of thought and action also contribute to attempts by individuals to negotiate criteria for the expertise through which they are governed. In sum, commitment to the principle of 'free agency' fuels resistance, which in turn plays a key role in binding citizens to neo-liberal technologies of government.

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