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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Self and culture : mastery of the self in ritual healing among ! : Kung and Charismatic Christians

  • Author(s): McClure, Jedidiah
  • et al.

The human self is a cultural object. It never exists outside of culture or in the form of a phenomenon which is unshaped by culture. Anthropologists have variously taken up culture itself or the self-in-culture as their object of study, theorizing the manner in which the two phenomena articulate one another. I argue that the two objects, these two phenomena which we call culture and self, are incorrectly imagined as separate objects; they are in fact substantially one and the same phenomenon; culture exists only vaguely in forms other than human selves. This argument returns us to being as the centerpiece of being, and thus the argument has an innately existential feel. Secondly, I assert that we can see in the ritual lives of both !Kung and Charismatic Christians a "technology of the self," here used in a modified sense which diverges from Foucault's meaning, in which the self utilizes cultural material in an attempt to transform toward a greater mastery of itself. This would seem to indicate that the imagined "causal" deterministic relationship between culture and self - a relationship where culture is seen as the predominant shaping force between the two phenomena, and which has long stood at the center of anthropological assumptions - is incorrect in two senses. The first is that the two phenomena are hardly distinct; the second is that the self can be seen to utilize culture like a tool, acting as the author of culture in just the same way that it has been seen as its subject

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