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The well-tempered self: Formations of the cultural subject

Miller, Toby (1991) The well-tempered self: Formations of the cultural subject. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis shows how the liberal-capitalist state seeks to produce loyal subjects through the work of cultural policy. Cultural policy operates by inscribing ethical incompleteness onto citizens via technologies of power which subjectify people. They are defined as lacking in a variety of areas of life. The technologies construct citizens as subjects in need of reformation in the following terms: their own self-knowledge as persons; their feeling of loyalty as part of a nation; their appreciation of the value of parliamentary democracy; and their situation as rational consumers in a market. The thesis examines these technologies and alternatives to them via a series of case studies.

I argue that these processes of subjection take place inside postmodernity. Meaning circulates in ways that are more complex than empiricist (ontic) or structuralist (epistemic) accounts of the connexion of signifier and signified will allow. As part of changes towards a service industry basis to liberal-capitalist economies, this has made for an aestheticised politics of civic identity. Processes of subjection manufacture subjects with a superficially free will that is in fact carefully invented through cultural policy and then self-administered. This effect of postmodernity is considered in foundational theoretical chapters prior to the case studies.

The thesis concludes that this is a significant factor limiting the utility of citizenship as a technology to be deployed by marginal social groups. I contend that whilst citizenship and its reformist logic are valuable tools for such groups, they also need to find technologies of the self which deny the notion of a fixed subjectivity that cultural policy ultimately seeks to inscribe.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Supervisor(s): O'Regan, Tom and Ruthrof, Horst
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