The Social Dimension of the Self: Self-formation as Revealed by Depersonalization
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In this thesis I investigate the social and cultural dimensions of the self through an examination of the psychiatric disorder of depersonalization. Specifically, I apply Thagard's Multilevel Interacting Mechanisms framework to depersonalization, which reveals the complex interaction between the phenomenal nature of the illness, and the (culturally construed) conception of the self. I argue that in addition to being a factor for this particular mental illness, the Western independent conception of the self is descriptively incomplete. These conclusions have both bioethical implications for the optimal treatment of depersonalization, and conceptual implications as to our understanding of the self. In the former case, I advocate for greater recognition of the social and cultural contributions to depersonalization, and a more pro-active response to potentially unhealthy self-concepts. With respect to the self, I argue that despite the lack of a 'single monolithic self-concept', the self can be understood as unified both phenomenally, and more broadly by taking a multilevel approach. Depersonalization has been chosen for this project as it is challenging (and ultimately revealing) on two fronts; first it is an incredibly subtle yet disturbing phenomenal experience that affects approximately 2.5 percent of the Canadian population, making it an ideal subject for fostering an understanding of the phenomenal subtleties of selfhood. Secondly, the rates of depersonalization vary dramatically across cultures, and I shall argue that this is largely a result of divergent conceptions of the self. An integrative multilevel account of depersonalization will help explain how these phenomenal and social components operate within the larger phenomena of selfhood.