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The principle of individuation, or principium individuationis, describes the manner in which a thing is identified as distinguished from other things.

The concept appears in numerous fields and is encountered in works of Carl Jung, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, David Bohm, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, and Manuel De Landa.



The word individuation occurs with different meanings and connotations in different fields.

In philosophy

Philosophically, "individuation" expresses the general idea of how a thing is identified as an individual thing that "is not something else". This includes how an individual person is held to be distinct from other elements in the world and how a person is distinct from other persons.

In Jungian psychology

In Jungian psychology, also called analytical psychology, individuation is the process in which the individual self develops out of an undifferentiated unconscious – seen as a developmental psychic process during which innate elements of personality, the components of the immature psyche, and the experiences of the person's life become integrated over time into a well-functioning whole.

In the media industry

The media industry has begun using the term individuation to denote new printing and online technologies that permit mass customization of the contents of a newspaper, a magazine, a broadcast program, or a website so that its contents match each individual user's unique interests. This differs from the traditional mass-media practice of producing the same contents for all readers, viewers, listeners, or online users.

Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan alluded to this trend when discussing the future of printed books in an electronically interconnected world.

Carl Jung

According to Jungian psychology, individuation is a process of psychological integration. "In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated [from other human beings]; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology."

Individuation is a process of transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness (e.g., by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche. Individuation has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically.

In addition to Jung's theory of complexes, his theory of the individuation process forms conceptions of a phylogenetically acquired unconscious filled with mythic images, a non-sexual libido, the general types of extraversion and introversion, the compensatory and prospective functions of dreams, and the synthetic and constructive approaches to fantasy formation and utilization.

"The symbols of the individuation process . . . mark its stages like milestones, prominent among them for Jungians being the shadow, the wise old man . . . and lastly the anima in man and the animus in woman." Thus, "There is often a movement from dealing with the persona at the start . . . to the ego at the second stage, to the shadow as the third stage, to the anima or animus, to the Self as the final stage. Some would interpose the Wise Old Man and the Wise Old Woman as spiritual archetypes coming before the final step of the Self."

Gilbert Simondon

In L'individuation psychique et collective, Gilbert Simondon developed a theory of individual and collective individuation in which the individual subject is considered as an effect of individuation rather than a cause. Thus, the individual atom is replaced by a never-ending ontological process of individuation.

Simondon also conceived of "pre-individual fields" which make individuation possible. Individuation is an ever-incomplete process, always leaving a "pre-individual" left over, which makes possible future individuations. Furthermore, individuation always creates both an individual subject and a collective subject, which individuate themselves concurrently.

Bernard Stiegler

The philosophy of Bernard Stiegler draws upon and modifies the work of Gilbert Simondon on individuation and also upon similar ideas in Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. During a talk given at the Tate Modern art gallery in 2004, Stiegler summarized his understanding of individuation. The essential points are the following:

  • The I, as a psychic individual, can only be thought in relationship to we, which is a collective individual. The I is constituted in adopting a collective tradition, which it inherits and in which a plurality of I ’s acknowledge each other’s existence.
  • This inheritance is an adoption, in that I can very well, as the French grandson of a German immigrant, recognize myself in a past which was not the past of my ancestors but which I can make my own. This process of adoption is thus structurally factual.
  • The I is essentially a process, not a state, and this process is an in-dividuation — it is a process of psychic individuation. It is the tendency to become one, that is, to become indivisible.
  • This tendency never accomplishes itself because it runs into a counter-tendency with which it forms a metastable equilibrium. (It must be pointed out how closely this conception of the dynamic of individuation is to the Freudian theory of drives and to the thinking of Nietzsche and Empedocles.)
  • The we is also such a process (the process of collective individuation). The individuation of the I is always inscribed in that of the we, whereas the individuation of the we takes place only through the individuations, polemical in nature, of the I ’s which constitute it.
  • That which links the individuations of the I and the we is a pre-individual system possessing positive conditions of effectiveness that belong to what Stiegler calls retentional apparatuses. These retentional apparatuses arise from a technical system which is the condition of the encounter of the I and the we — the individuation of the I and the we is in this respect also the individuation of the technical system.
  • The technical system is an apparatus which has a specific role wherein all objects are inserted — a technical object exists only insofar as it is disposed within such an apparatus with other technical objects (this is what Gilbert Simondon calls the technical group).
  • The technical system is also that which founds the possibility of the constitution of retentional apparatuses, springing from the processes of grammatization growing out of the process of individuation of the technical system. And these retentional apparatuses are the basis for the dispositions between the individuation of the I and the individuation of the we in a single process of psychic, collective, and technical individuation composed of three branches, each branching out into process groups.
  • This process of triple individuation is itself inscribed within a vital individuation which must be apprehended as
    • the vital individuation of natural organs,
    • the technological individuation of artificial organs,
    • and the psycho-social individuation of organizations linking them together.
  • In the process of individuation, wherein knowledge as such emerges, there are individuations of mnemo-technological subsystems which overdetermine, qua specific organizations of what Stiegler calls tertiary retentions, the organization, transmission, and elaboration of knowledge stemming from the experience of the sensible.

See also

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

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