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Self-Narration as Social Activism: Kierkegaard, Whitman, and Individualism in Collective Society
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology. 0.
2015 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

When it comes to working for justice, we simply cannot achieve significant impact alone. Yet while the effectiveness of collective effort is undeniable, it is also true that organized societies are only as strong as the individuals of which they are composed. Despite this fact, the notion of community, particularly within the service sector, is commonly prioritized to the extent that individual experience of the “selfless” aid worker is diminished, action is celebrated above introspection, and individuals are reduced to data points within standardized models. While such an approach to service work upholds the unparalleled impact of organizational structure, it often does so in a manner that homogenizes idiosyncrasy. Rather than being rightly revered, self-exploration is set at odds with community to the detrimental effect of inhibiting opportunities for shared understanding and innovative thought .

As an alternative to the binary view of individualism and collectivism, this paper employs the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Walt Whitman—widely regarded among the foremost contributors to the subject of selfhood—to defend introspection as a means by which community is strengthened and social change precipitated. By considering the arguments of these two historical figures in the context of contemporary service work, democratic society is shown to be contingent upon acceptance and even celebration of idiosyncrasy and personal agency; the more an individual is invited to practice self-narration, the more they are liberated from convention, protected against dominance, and encouraged to approach the “other” with generosity of spirit. Thus individualism, rather than being alienating or egoistic, is shown to be a firmly world-oriented frame-of-mind. In this way, the notion is presented that subjective individuals joined in solidarity can most effectively realize the full potential of collaborative social action.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. , 57 p.
Keyword [en]
activism, collectivism, community, democracy, individualism, introspection, personal narrative, selfhood, service work, society, Søren Kierkegaard, Walt Whitman
National Category
Religious Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-254874OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-254874DiVA: diva2:819993
Subject / course
Religion in Peace and Conflict
Educational program
Master Programme in Religion in Peace and Conflict
Available from: 2015-06-17 Created: 2015-06-11 Last updated: 2015-06-17Bibliographically approved

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