Confessional technologies of the self: From Seneca to social media

Norm Friesen

Abstract


Foucault’s general notion of “technologies of the self” provides an invaluable starting point for investigating a range of broadly “confessional” practices and technologies over time — from medieval confession to contemporary forms of networked identity construction. Foucault defines technologies of the self as “reflected and voluntary practices by which men not only fix rules of conduct for themselves but seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their particular being, and to make their life an oeuvre.” These are practices or techniques, in other words, that are both undertaken by the self and directed toward it. Specifically confessional technologies involve a deliberate and often structured externalization of the self, often with the help of a confessor or a confessional text or context. Building on existing work (e.g., by Fletcher and Hall), this paper begins by some of the earliest Western confessional practices and “technologies” as described by Foucault, and then proceeding to explain medieval Christian confession and its subsequent “reformation.” Next, by appealing to Louis Althusser’s notion of interpellation, it develops this conception of confession further, comparing it finally to today’s digital media of social self-disclosure, focusing on Facebook in particular. Such contemporary media, the paper concludes, build upon practices and technologies of the self that have been evolving for centuries, if not millennia.


Keywords


Foucault; Critical Theory; Religion; Confessions; Social Media; Education; Christian Religion

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i6.6750



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