Crystallized self  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The crystallized self is a theory that refers to the idea that individual selves are neither “real” nor “fake,” but rather “crystallized” with multiple facets. Many popular notions of the self and self-help books suggest that people have one “true” or authentic identity. These notions have been perpetuated in studies of emotion labor that suggest that performed emotions in the workplace are somehow less than real.

However, postmodern and poststructural notions of the self would suggest that identities are not singular, fixed, or essential. Rather, identity and the self is a product and effect of competing, fragmentary and contradictory discourses.

Several problematic effects of viewing the self as singular and wholly real or fake include: self-subordination and surveillance, performing for performance sake, and performing for an audience of oneself (a concept Tracy & Trethewey term “auto-dressage”).

An alternative metaphor is the “crystallized self,” a notion that pulls from Laurel Richardson’s (2001) epistemological notion of crystallization. The “crystallized self” is considered a positive term that helps people to experience and talk about the self in more appropriately politicized and layered ways. Tracy and Tretheway say: “The crystallized self is neither real nor fake…. The crystallized self is multidimensional; the more facets, the more beautiful and complex. Certainly crystals may feel solid, stable, and fixed. But just as crystals have differing forms, depending upon whether they grow rapidly or slowly, under constant or fluctuating conditions, or from highly variable or remarkably uniform fluids or gasses, crystallized selves have different shapes depending on the various discourses through which they are constructed and constrained” (Tracy & Trethewey, 2005, p. 186). Viewing the self as crystallized moves away from ideas of which parts of the self are more “authentic” and rather suggests that the self is constructed through context and communication. Multiple facets can be “real” and competing simultaneously.

To better realize a crystallized self, individuals might consider the following:

  1. Rather than privileging work as the only productive realm of everyday experience, individuals should begin to elevate their nonprofessional selves alongside those that intersect with work
  2. Play with language. Next time you’re at a party and asked what you do, rather than responding with your job title, consider playing with the answer. You could say, for instance, “I play with my child. I volunteer. I do yoga.”
  3. Place yourself in various situations in which you are not comfortable or an expert, and in this way, inch closer to the edges in your life.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Crystallized self" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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