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Self-reinvention a dangerous addiction, experts warn


The 21st century craze to constantly reinvent ourselves is a dangerous addiction that can ruin lives, according to a controversial new book by sociologists Anthony Elliott (University of Kent) and Charles Lemert (Wesleyan University, USA).

The New Individualism: The Emotional Cost of Globalization, published by Routledge on 26 October 2005, is one of the first books to explore the personal and emotional impact of globalisation on real people, rather than its political or economic effects.

The book looks at the pressure consumerism puts on us to change and ‘improve’ every aspect of ourselves: not just our homes and gardens but our careers, our food, our clothes, our sex lives, our faces, minds and bodies.

The results, it warns, can be destructive: emotional crisis, depression, confusion, breakdown, loss of personal identity and even suicide.

Anthony Elliot says, ‘People are getting hooked on the process of reinventing themselves but they are losing sight of why they began and what they are trying to achieve.

‘Individualism used to be about constructing a private and stable identity for ourselves independent from the world. But the new individualism encourages us to change so completely and so rapidly that our identity becomes disposable.

‘Instead of finding ourselves, we lose ourselves. That can be very damaging to our emotional, mental and physical health.’

The New Individualism: The Emotional Cost of Globalization explores the dark side of self-reinvention through research, interviews and real-life stories. These include: a young woman whose quest for the perfect body leads to multiple cosmetic surgery operations bordering on self-mutilation; a technology entrepreneur who turns obsessively to self-help books and therapy in a bid to gain the same control over his inner feelings as he has over his business empire; a middle-aged woman who reinvents herself online through cybersex chat rooms. As the boundaries between reality and her Internet fantasies begin to blur, her marriage crumbles and the stability of her life comes under threat.

‘It’s ironic that while globalisation and advances in technology give us absolute freedom to do whatever we like, the way we use that freedom is often arbitrary, futile and ultimately unsatisfying,’ says Elliott.

Using examples from the compulsive shopper looking for the next quick credit card fix to the serial ‘love rat’ addicted to short-term affairs, The New Individualism: The Emotional Cost of Globalization shows that the emotional costs of globalisation are high.

Karen Baxter | alfa
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