Alternative me? Anthropology and self-alteration

Christopher Houston


Contemporary life across the globe is awash with enterprises, programs, and practices that purport to foster self-alteration. Developing the self; self-care; transcending the self; self-actualization; expressing the self; empowering it: the myriad of terms testifies to myriad actions of the self on the self, facilitated by activities in a huge number of social domains. Anthropology as a discipline has an intense interest in the way that different societies constitute personhood or selves. Yet in itself the self has been of more central interest for certain other disciplines than it has been for anthropology. This essay sketches out an anthropological prolegomenon to the theme and practice of self-alteration. It concludes that the study of self-alteration should begin not with cultural models of the self but with the revealing of its new structures caused by modes of alteration themselves.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/720356