What is self-cultivation?

The contemporary context of the Anthropocene presents novel challenges for our understanding of self-cultivation. Although self-cultivation is one of the longue durées of western civilization, or probably because it is so, most of the concepts we use in making sense of the phenomenon emerged in socio-historical contexts quite different from ours. What are the changes needed to the concept(s) of self-cultivation in the Anthropocene?

We took up this question in a paper published recently: The Uncanny Challenge of Self-Cultivation in the Anthropocene. Drawing on work done under the label of dark ecology and psychoanalysis among others, we conceptualize the zeitgeist of the Anthropocene with the concept of ’uncanny’. As the original German word (unheimliche) suggests, uncanny means that something very familiar (homely, heimlich) is imbued with something foreign (un-homely, unheimlich). We take the strangeness induced by the intertwinement of the familiar and the foreign to be a characteristic feature of the Anthropocene.

We use the uncanny as a lens through which we review the existing conceptualizations of self-cultivation. As such, the paper provides some directions as to what are the key elements in conceptualizing self-cultivation for our times. More concretely, it points to the strengths and weaknesses of various existing conceptulizations (of self-cultivation) for tackling the wicked problems of these strange times.

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