Medicine and Its Objects presents…
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 4:30-6:00 PM
(PhD Candidate, Comparative Human Development)
AUTONOMY AND IDENTITY IN CHINESE PUBLIC SPEAKING CLUBS
with opening comments by
(PhD Candidate, Anthropology and Linguistics)
Abstract: Young professionals in China are eagerly studying what are called communication skills, particularly public speaking. This article reads technologies of self-presentation not as biopolitical or neoliberal schemes, but in the context of tentatively liberal social imaginaries, and as therapeutic scripts for connecting with others in a fragmenting society. Entering Toastmasters public speaking clubs in Beijing, we see psychosocial techniques and institutional forms that aim to anchor people otherwise floating in an undefined urban space. Club members actively seek to be subjectified on stage, to become self-aware under the gaze of an audience of equal peers; however, in addition to engaging in dialectical, individualizing practices of identity formation, members also repurpose their clubs into comprehensive social resources. While club members pursue varied modes of self-definition, they do so in ways that challenge liberal Western understandings of autonomy and identity. We gain a clearer sense of these tensions by listening to Chinese therapists articulate psychologized cultural critiques. While both psychotherapists and members of self-help groups participate in a modernist cultural politics, young adults are not eager to see themselves as oppressed by interdependence, or to regard interpersonal relationships as antagonistic. Young Chinese urbanites are getting on stage because, like their peers elsewhere, they are learning the power and necessity of explicit self-definition in a world of strangers.
[self-help, psychotherapy, subjectivity, identity, China]
Please email Camille (email@example.com) for a copy of the paper
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