© 2008

Subjectivity and Suffering in American Culture

Possible Selves

  • Authors

Part of the Culture, Mind, and Society book series (CMAS)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvii
  2. Three American Selves

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Steven M. Parish
      Pages 71-121
  3. Self, Suffering, Subjectivity

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 123-123
    2. Steven M. Parish
      Pages 125-151
    3. Steven M. Parish
      Pages 153-182
    4. Steven M. Parish
      Pages 183-202
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 203-216

About this book


Winner ofThe Boyer Prize from the Society for Psychological Anthropology!!! This book explores the experience of suffering in order to shed light on the nature of the human self. Using an intimate life history approach, it examines ways people struggle to cope with experiences that can shatter their lives: a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a spouse, a parent s mental illness. The volume takes readers deep into private worlds of suffering in American culture, and invites reflection on what the subjectivity of suffering tells us about being human. Addressing universal themes in a way that fully recognizes the individuality of those who experience a personal crisis, Parish shows how individuals personalize the cultural and psychological resources in which they find their possible selves.


anthropology cancer culture psychology Self Web work

About the authors

Steven M. Parish is Associate Professor of Anthropology atUniversity of California, San Diego.

Bibliographic information


"Ultimately, this book is about intersubjectivity - the inextricable joining of self-knowledge, interpersonal relations and social participation. Again and again, Parish notes that the self is defined by other selves, and then by suffering. The important contribution of his work is to show the ways in which memory, inwardness and emotion are part of the intersubjective as well. In doing so, Parish shows what a human being can bring to suffering (p. 172) and adds much to an existential anthropology." - Ethos

"A deeply moving and disturbing reflection on suffering and its impact on the self. Parish describes the way intense suffering galvanizes an emotional response around which a sense of self will coalesce. This personal, poetic book is a striking contrast to standard academic fare." - T.M. Luhrmann, Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University and author of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at Psychiatric Illness

"A work of rare gravity and sensibility. Through several case studies, including an extraordinary, searing reflection on his own passage through the cancer ward, Parish illuminates people s struggles to refashion themselves at the experiential edge. Parish s arresting treatment of memory, pain, love, and mortality enlarges contemporary anthropology by opening it to the vast, sometimes terrifying, interiors of human lives." - Daniel Linger, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Parish integrates the poetic and the phenomenological, conveying ethnographically dense and psychologically grounded realism and empathy, drawing readers into consideration of the fluidity of dreams and modalities of thought employed when faced with a life threatening illness or family mental illness. Parish engages the theoretical frames of classic leaders of the field in a compelling account of how individuals afflicted reconstitute the self." - Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Professor of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School