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Making a Habit of Success: Rhetorics of Self-Help in the New Economy
MRIC 2007/08

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"Making a Habit of Success: Rhetorics of Self-Help in the New Economy"

October 2nd
Jodie Nicotra - English

Abstract: Though some have called habit a "dead metaphor," it certainly seems to be the new It-term in self-improvement. In recent years, a virtual cottage industry of self-help books based on the concept of habit has sprung up. Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is probably the most familiar of these, but it is only one of dozens that promise to either rid their readers of "bad" habits (smoking, procrastination, eating too much sugar, etc.) or to help them develop "good" ones. With their focus on habit, these popular books present an interesting view of identity and the self. Far from being something transcendental and enduring, identity is presented in habit-based self-help books as something plastic, something that can be broken down into component parts, then re-modulated and retrained. And the retraining itself has a specific purpose-with the help of these books, individuals learn techniques for inserting themselves more smoothly into the operations of what has been called 'late capitalism' or 'the new economy.'" I contrast these purpose-driven notions of habit with a vision of a more ethical self-one in which habit is used as a means to develop the capacity to respond fully and authentically to the world.

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