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Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry is the book we

have all been waiting for: Nehring and his co-authors chart the globalisation
of self-help culture from the US and the UK, to China, Mexico, Trinidad, and
Tobago, capturing the hybridisation of the form and the spread of therapeutic
cultures and neoliberal ideology across the globe. While most studies of self-help
culture to date have focused on the genres prevalence in the Anglophone world,
chiey the US and the UK, Transnational Self-Help reveals just how prevalent
the propaganda of entrepreneurial self-improvement has become. For students
and scholars of popular culture, cultural studies, global studies, psychology and
psychiatry, this is a must read.
Micki McGee, PhD
author, Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life
Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies,
Fordham University, USA

Exploring the place of self-help books in contemporary culture, Nehring,

Alvarado, Hendriks and Kerrigan provide a fascinating transnational perspective
on the therapeutic culture industry. The critical-cultural approach employed by
the authors pulls the curtain back on the self-help genres underlying discourse
of neoliberal entrepreneurialism and the freedom of the market, articulated
through reoccurring tropes of survivalism, self-afrmation and boot-strap indi-
vidualism. As they convincingly demonstrate through excellent cases studies
from around the world, self-help books operate through an assumption that
attitudes, not social-structural constraints, determine upward social mobility,
exposing the political dimension of self-help culture. Given its interpretive depth
and the insights provided across cultures, this book should be on the reading list
of anyone interested in how public discourse shapes ideas about the self and
social relationships in an age of diminishing opportunities.
Patrick D. Murphy, PhD
Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies
School of Media & Communication Temple University, USA

Over the course of the past several years, scholarly attention to self-help litera-
ture has tied the popularity of this genre to the abstract trajectories of Western
modernising processes. Attending to the existential or ontological shocks of
reexive modernity and the diminishment of social capital, self-help is the band-
aid these societal structures offer to the listless denizens of the Anglosphere.
Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry adds valuable
and much-needed perspective to this view through a rich account of the specic
global contexts of self-helps production, distribution and consumption. Through
sustained inquiry and nuanced ethnography, the authors draw out the situated
meanings of self-help within particular national cultures from China, Mexico and
Trinidad to the US and UK, and the varied hybrid and glocal forms such litera-
tures take in these contexts. Both readable and intellectually provocative, this
book captures self-help in its specicity, while drawing it together around more
the practical and situated effects of neoliberalism, and its invocation to personal
enterprise. This book will likely open important new doors not just for scholarly
approaches to self-help, but for more general understandings of globalisation,
neoliberalism and the production of the self.
Sam Binkley, PhD
Associate Professor of Sociology Emerson College, USA
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Transnational Popular
Psychology and the Global
Self-Help Industry
The Politics of Contemporary Social

Daniel Nehring
Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Worcester, UK

Emmanuel Alvarado
Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies, Palm Beach State College, USA

Eric C. Hendriks
Postdoctoral Researcher, Peking University, China

Dylan Kerrigan
Lecturer in Anthropology and Political Sociology, The University of the West Indies,
Trinidad and Tobago

Daniel Nehring, Emmanuel Alvarado, Eric C. Hendriks and
Dylan Kerrigan 2016
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2016 978-0-230-37085-2
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work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published 2016 by
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Palgrave Macmillan in the US is a division of St Martins Press LLC,
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ISBN 978-1-349-59637-9 ISBN 978-0-230-37086-9 (eBook)
DOI 10.1057/9780230370869
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managed and sustained forest sources. Logging, pulping and manufacturing
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country of origin.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Nehring, Daniel, author.
Transnational popular psychology and the global self-help industry :
the politics of contemporary social change / Daniel Nehring,
Emmanuel Alvarado, Eric C. Hendriks, Dylan Kerrigan.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Psychology, AppliedHistory. 2. Psychology, Applied

Cross-cultural studies. 3. Self-help techniquesCross-cultural studies.
I. Title.
BF636.N376 2016
158.9dc23 2015033205
For Hyunju

To my family for always giving me the support I need to pursue

new and challenging endeavours

To Prof. Martin Riesebrodt (19482014), a brilliant Weberian

who taught me about cults and Heilsversprechen

For Hunter
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List of Tables and Figures ix

Acknowledgements x

About the Authors xi

1 Self-Help Worlds 1
How to survive 1
What are self-help books? 6
Exploring self-help 8
Structure of the book 12

2 Self-Help and Society 17

Why does self-help matter? 17
Self-made men 20
The self in the marketplace 25

3 Self-Helps Transnationalisation 30
Towards a transnational perspective on therapeutic culture 30
Publishing statistics: size and scale 34
Publishing statistics: growth trends and composition 38
A transnational self-help entrepreneur 45
How is self-help transnational? 52

4 Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 54

The rise of self-help in China 54
Mental life and social change in Chinese society 55
Chinas glocalised self-help eld 58
Self-help in Chinese culture and public life 65
Transnational self-help in contemporary China 72

5 Self-Help in Crisis 75
Self-help in an age of diminishing opportunities 75
Feel-good books in an age of crisis: Mainstream self-help
today 79
Self-help dystopias: Opting out and getting by 85

viii Contents

Truth in the marketplace 91

No crisis: Self-help in the Anglosphere 98

6 Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational

Narratives 101
Self-help in Latin America 101
Self-help and intimate life in Mexico 103
Conservative-patriarchal relationships in Mexican self-help 106
Plurality, individual choice and intimate life 112
The self, intimate life and transnational self-help 119

7 The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 123

Self-help narratives and their readers 123
Self-help guides in Western Trinidad 125
The bookstores 125
Where do you nd out about self-help guides? 129
Readership 133
It was spiritual and practical at the same time 135
Preparedness and the new survivalist 137
Consumption 139
A culture of self-help in Western Trinidad 140
Transnational self-help in Trinidad 142
Conclusion 146

8 The Politics of Self-Help 152

Self-help matters 152
Transnational self-help 154
Thin selves 158
The political implications of self-help 163
Final thoughts 167

Notes 171

References 174

Index 191
Tables and Figures


3.1 Sales of self-help books in Mexico, 20052011 39

3.2 Production of self-help books in Mexico, 20052010 39
3.3 Sales value of self-help books in the United States,
20072011 40
3.4 Sales of self-help books in the United Kingdom,
20042014 40
3.5 Sales of self-help books in India, 20112014 42
3.6 Sales of self-help books in South Africa, 20092014 42
3.7 Bestseller rankings of Napoleon Hills Think and Grow Rich 43
3.8 Bestseller rankings of Stephen Coveys The 7 Habits of
Highly Effective People 43
5.1 Annual sales of self-help books by Paul McKenna, 2006
and 20122014 76


3.1 Percentage of US titles among top self-help bestsellers. 44

4.1 Origin of top-ten self-help bestsellers in China. 59


Daniel Nehring: I would like to thank my colleagues at the University of

Worcester for an inspiring environment that contributed greatly to the
nal stages of my work on this book. Likewise, I thank the Department
of Global Studies at Pusan National University for its support during the
earlier stages of my research into transnational self-help culture. My co-
authors added invaluable insights to this book, and I am profoundly
grateful for the discussions we had throughout our collaboration. The
Economic and Social Research Council funded the very early stages of
this study, and I would like to acknowledge its support. Finally, and
most importantly, I would like to thank Ryu Hyunju for her support
and encouragement; these made a big difference.
Emmanuel Alvarado: I would like to thank the students, faculty and
leadership at Palm Beach State College for fostering an environment
which promotes teaching, learning, and academic enquiry. I would espe-
cially like to thank Joanne Cameron who provided invaluable assistance
in the research needed to produce this work. I also remain very thankful
to my friend Lewis Jaimes for his assistance in developing and revising
some of the central ideas of this book.
Eric C. Hendriks: I would like to thank Leng Anqi of the Toulouse
School of Economics who helped me with my case study of China.
Professor Anthony Fung (Chinese University of Hong Kong) and
Professor Won Jaeyoun (Yonsei University) provided feedback on my
interpretations of Chinese public culture. Finally, I am grateful for the
research scholarships provided by the FAZIT foundation and the state
Baden-Wrttemberg in Germany which allowed me to start my empir-
ical research in China in 2010. In 2014 and early 2015, while working
on the present book, I was supported by the Department of Cultural
Anthropology at Utrecht University, the Netherlands.
Dylan Kerrigan: I would like to thank my research assistant Allyce
Woodhouse for her great support in the collection of data, and also
the readers and purchasers of self-help guides and recordings in Western
Trinidad who gave up their time to be interviewed for this book. I would
also like to thank Elizabeth Darwish, who was my initial gatekeeper
into the world of mutual aid sessions and self-help more generally in

About the Authors

Daniel Nehring is currently Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the Uni-

versity of Worcester, UK. He has previously worked at Pusan National
University, South Korea. Over the past ten years, he has done exten-
sive research on transnational self-help cultures. Recent publications
include Sociology (2013) and Intimacies and Cultural Change (2014, with
Emmanuel Alvarado and Rosario Esteinou).

Emmanuel Alvarado is Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies at

Palm Beach State College in Florida, USA. His research concerns experi-
ences of intimate citizenship among Mexican-Americans and Mexican
immigrants in the USA. Recent publications include Intimacies and
Cultural Change (2014, with Daniel Nehring and Rosario Esteinou).

Eric C. Hendriks is Postdoctoral Researcher in the Sociology Depart-

ment of Peking University, Beijing, China. He investigates the global-
isation of self-help culture and conducted eldwork in Germany and
China. In 2015, he published the book Knowledge Wars: The Global
Competition between Self-Help Gurus and Institutional Authorities.

Dylan Kerrigan is Lecturer in Anthropology and Political Sociology

at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus. His work
explores the relationship between culture and power. He is currently
developing a manuscript on the Militarisation and Insecurity of Every-
day Life in the Caribbean.

Self-Help Worlds

How to survive

A Survival Guide for Life was published in 2012 by Bantam Press in

London. Bear Grylls, the books author, is a well-known British media
personality. On his website, Grylls portrays himself as an outdoorsman,
adventurer and survivalist:

Bear Grylls has become known around the world as one of the most
recognized faces of survival and outdoor adventure. His journey to
this acclaim started in the UK on the Isle of Wight, where his late
father taught him to climb and sail. Trained from a young age in mar-
tial arts, Bear went on to spend three years as a soldier in the British
Special Forces, serving with 21 SAS. It was here that he perfected
many of the skills that his fans all over the world enjoy watching
him pit against mother-nature. (Grylls, no date-c)

Along these lines, the story continues. A biographical sketch tells readers
of free-fall parachuting accidents in Africa, journeys to remote regions
from Antarctica to the Arctic and mountaineering expeditions to
Mount Everest. It also highlights his high-prole media work for Chan-
nel 4 and Discovery Channel, claiming that the Discovery Channels
Emmy nominated TV show Man Vs. Wild and Born Survivor [. . .] has
become one of the most watched shows on the planet, reaching an
estimated 1.2 billion viewers (Grylls, no date-c). Bear Grylls maintains
his media presence through numerous channels. All of these highlight
his credentials as a tough-as-nails survivalist. His Facebook page (Grylls,
no date-a) shows him on what looks like a mountain top in an adver-
tisement for the NBC television show Running Wild with Bear Grylls.

2 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

YouTube carries videos with titles such as Bear Grylls eats raw snake
(Grylls, 2012a). His online shop, The Ofcial Bear Grylls Store (Grylls,
no date-b), shows an image of the adventurer with raised arms, hold-
ing what looks like an alligator jaw. This online shop sells a broad
range of clothing and hiking gear. Similarly, online shopping malls like offer numerous Bear Grylls-themed items, such as the Bear
Grylls Ultimate Knife, the Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet, and the Ultimate
Bear Grylls Survival Pack with Multitool, Flashlight, and Fire Starter. Grylls
books, moreover, span a variety of genres. There are, for example, his
autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears (Grylls, 2011), True Grit (Grylls,
2013), a collection of real-life adventure stories, the exercise manual
Your Life: Train for It (Grylls, 2014), and Mission Survival: Gold of the Gods
(Grylls and Madden, 2008), the rst part of a series of adventure novels
for young adults.
Much of Grylls work explores survivalism in terms of the skills needed
to overcome extreme and hazardous environmental conditions. It is
therefore perhaps unsurprising that, in September 2014, online book-
seller listed A Survival Guide for Life (Grylls, 2012b) as the
number two bestseller in the rubric outdoor survival skills. A Survival
Guide for Life, however, marks a noteworthy shift in Grylls work, in
that it sets out survival strategies for dangerous and difcult every-
day situations. The book offers readers a pathway to a successful life,
loosely dened through the metaphor of the dream. The books opening
paragraphs set out the case for dreams:

Dreams are powerful. They are among those precious few intangibles
that have inspired men and women to get up, go to hell and back,
and change the world. [. . .] Our job is to be the dangerous type. The
one who dreams day by day and acts to make those dreams come
alive and actually happen. So take some time to get this right. Go for
a long walk. Think big. Think about what really makes you smile.
Ask yourself what you would do if you didnt need the money. Ask
yourself what really excites you. Ask what would inspire you to keep
going long after most people would quit. (Grylls, 2012b: 1)

Grylls here offers a notably individualistic vision of dreams and their

pursuit. Dreams, in the sense of overarching goals and ambitions that
dene and motivate ones life, appear as the outcome of introspection,
and Grylls characterises them as the source of true personal fullment
what really makes you smile, what really excites you, and so forth.
Throughout the book, Grylls then portrays the pursuit and achievement
Self-Help Worlds 3

of ones dreams as a journey whose successful conclusion relies on the

cultivation of certain values and attitudes. The image he uses to depict
this journey is that of a perilous trek to the top of a mountain:

The greatest journeys all start with a single step. When you stand at
the bottom of a mountain, you can rarely see a clear route to the
top. It is too far away and the path too twisty and hidden behind
obstacles. The only way to climb the sucker is to start and then keep
putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. (Grylls, 2012b: 7;
emphasis in original)

He sets out the values and attitudes that are needed to make it to
the peak in a series of 75 short chapters with titles such as To be
brave, you rst must be afraid, Paddle our own canoe, Failure isnt
failure, and Humility is everything. For instance, under the heading
Cheerfulness in adversity, he invokes his experiences with the Royal
Marine Commandos to remind his readers of the importance of positive

The Royal Marine Commandos, with whom I worked a lot in my

military days, have the phrase Cheerfulness in Adversity as one of
their founding principles and it is a great one to live by. [. . .] You
cant always choose your situation, but you can always choose your atti-
tude. [. . .] So learn from the Commandos, smile when it is raining,
and show cheerfulness in adversity and look at the hard times as
chances to show your mettle. Breakfast is comin! (Grylls, 2012b:
246; emphasis in original)

Grylls shares his metaphor of the journey and his belief in the
importance of positive thinking with numerous other self-help authors.
In certain ways, there is direct continuity between Grylls prescriptions
for a good life and those of much earlier works. Positive thinking, for
instance, is central to the argument of Norman Vincent Peales classic
and still popular The Power of Positive Thinking (1952/2003). This may
be seen as an illustration of the continuing popularity of self-help texts
and the persistence of well-trodden narrative paths in this genre. This
continuity between self-help texts in the past and in the present is an
important concern for this book, and we will explore it at several points
in the following chapters.
With its survivalist tone and its emphasis on the harsh realities of
life, however, Grylls narrative also differs markedly from those of earlier
4 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

self-help bestsellers. For example, in the opening paragraph of The Power

of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale promises:

This book is written to suggest techniques and to give examples

which demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by any-
thing, that you can have peace of mind, improved health, and a
never-ceasing ow of energy. In short, that your life can be full of
joy and satisfaction. Of this I have no doubt at all for I have watched
countless persons learn and apply a system of simple procedures
that has brought about the foregoing benets in their lives. These
assertions, which may appear extravagant, are based on bona-de
demonstrations in actual human experience. (Peale, 1952/2003: 1)

While Bear Grylls does offer his readers solutions to important life prob-
lems, such easy promises of joy and satisfaction are not to be found in
A Survival Guide to Life. On the one hand, this leaner, darker approach
to self-help writing may be explained through the way in which Grylls
has consistently marketed himself as a tough survivalist with a life full
of extreme, risky and sometimes painful moments. On the other hand,
his book is part of a noteworthy trend in self-help writing in an age of
austerity and diminishing opportunities. In the wake of the 2008 nan-
cial crisis, the subsequent Eurocrisis, and slowing worldwide growth in
the 21st century (Binkley, 2011; Davies, 2015). Instead of promising far-
reaching professional success, easy get-rich-quick schemes, or lasting
love, some self-help bestsellers in recent years have offered strategies
for simply getting by, surviving, or opting out of societys pressures
altogether. Examples of this kind of survivalist self-help include F ck
It Therapy: The Profane Way to Profound Happiness (2012) by John Parkin
and Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life (2009) by Neil Strauss,
who suddenly turned to survivalism right after having presented him-
self as a dating coach in The Game (2005) and Rules of the Game
A Survival Guide for Life might thus be regarded as a fairly typical con-
temporary self-help book. The activities of the books author are less
easily classied, however. Bear Grylls has contributed to a wide variety
of media genres, from adventure shows on TV to young adult novels,
and this makes it difcult to simply describe him as a self-help writer.
However, there are interesting parallels between the form of his pro-
fessional activities and that of many prominent self-help writers. Like
many other authors of bestselling self-help texts, Grylls has strategi-
cally promoted himself through a wide variety of media channels and
Self-Help Worlds 5

public appearances. This strategic self-promotion has allowed him to

consolidate the image of a tough, worldly adventurer. The products
associated with his name, for instance, are consistently themed his
self-help book is titled A Survival Guide for Life, his adventure novels
are titled Mission Survival, his online shop sells the Bear Grylls Sur-
vival Hatchet, and so forth. Bear Grylls has accordingly turned himself
into a brand that stands for a rugged, survivalist approach to life. Self-
branding allows Grylls to claim narrative authority when it comes to
giving his readers advice in A Survival Guide for Life. In addition, there
is a notable entrepreneurial dimension to his activities, and this brand
image consistently underpins the generation of revenues from product
sales and public appearances. The emphasis on survivalism and adven-
ture in the titles of his books is just one of many obvious examples
here. A Survival Guide to Life in this sense both contributes to and draws
on the self-branding on which Bear Grylls success as an entrepreneur
depends; it is as much an instrument in a commercial strategy as a
self-help book.
These activities strategic self-promotion, self-branding, the cre-
ation of narrative authority through self-branding, and the pursuit of
brand-based commercial success characterise the work of many promi-
nent self-help authors. The ways in which self-help books are written
and marketed therefore must be understood in the context of the
entrepreneurial strategies of these authors, which might also be con-
nected to neoliberal governmentality (Binkley, 2011), and its project
of shaping our emotions and moods to the pursuit of economic suc-
cess. The ostensible purpose of self-help texts is to guide their readers
through a range of personal troubles, from money worries to unhappy
marriages. At the same time, self-help books are written and instrumen-
talised as part of their writers entrepreneurial strategies geared towards
commercial success.
Our brief review of A Survival Guide to Life points to the key con-
cerns of this book. We will explore self-help books and the work of their
authors, and we will consider what self-help narratives may reveal about
the social worlds in which they are written. First, we offer insight into
self-helps understudied transnational presence in a globalising world.
Second, we explore the tension between, on the one hand, the cultural
heterogeneity and broad (surface-level) diversity of self-help narratives
and, on the other, self-helps overwhelming political-ideological homo-
geneity as a (neo)liberal recipe for individual survival under conditions
of hypercompetitive global capitalism.
6 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

What are self-help books?

Self-help books offer advice and guidance on a very broad range of top-
ics, such as intimate relationships, sexuality, marriage, divorce, friend-
ship, serious illness, weight loss, workplace relationships, professional
success, nancial gain, business management, and the achievement of a
generally happy and fullling life. The narrative form of self-help texts
likewise varies considerably, including, for instance, novels, parables,
autobiographies, science-based narratives, and myths.
Moreover, the boundaries between self-help and other advice genres
in particular philosophical ethics, theological ethics, medical advice,
and how-to guides for narrow practical tasks often blur. One inter-
esting example of self-helps weak delineation as a literary genre can
be found in Tom Wolfes 1998 novel A Man in Full. In Wolfes portrait
of US society in the late 1990s, Conrad Hensley, a young working-class
man who has fallen on hard times, comes across the writings of the
ancient philosopher Epictetus (55135 CE) and begins to rely on Stoic
philosophy to get by. Similarly, the popularity of historical gures such
as Sun Zi, a legendary Chinese general who may have lived in the 6th
century BCE, and Niccol Machiavelli, an Italian politician and philoso-
pher whose work spanned the late 15th and early 16th century, has
arguably been amplied recently because they have come to provide the
basis for self-help books such as Dial M for Machiavelli: Machiavellian
Metaphors for Managers (Attar, 2013), The New Machiavelli: Renaissance
Realpolitik for Modern Managers (McAlpine, 1997), and Sun Tzu The Art of
War for Executives (Krause, 1996).
Given this ease with which self-help appropriates subject matters,
narrative forms and disparate literary sources, it is useful to begin our
discussion with a brief characterisation of the genre. A common and
dening feature of self-help texts is that they propose a careful and
systematic self-examination of certain aspects of readers conduct in
everyday life. Consider the following paragraphs from American pastor
Joel Osteens Become a Better You:

Each of us has an internal dialogue, an inner conversation going on

with ourselves throughout the day. In fact, we talk more to ourselves
than we do to anybody else. The question is, what are you saying to
yourself? What do you meditate on? Positive thoughts? Empowering
thoughts? Afrming thoughts? Or do you go around thinking nega-
tive, defeated thoughts, telling yourself things like Im unattractive.
Im not talented. Ive made many mistakes. Im sure God is displeased
Self-Help Worlds 7

with me. That kind of negative self-talk keeps millions of people

from rising higher. [. . .]

Our internal self-dialogue should always be positive and hopeful.

We should always talk to ourselves with empowering, afrming
thoughts. We have to get out of the habit of thinking negative
thoughts about ourselves. Dont ever say, Im so slow. Im unattrac-
tive. Ill never overcome my past. No, get those phrases out of your
vocabulary. If you make the mistake of dwelling on that junk, it will
set the limits for your life. (Osteen, 2007: 121f.)

These sentences are taken from the opening pages of a chapter titled
Have Condence in Yourself. Osteen here asks his readers to scrutinise
their internal conversation for negative self-talk. The purpose of such
self-scrutiny is to enable readers to diagnose their condition, such as
thinking negative thoughts, and to adopt new forms of conduct in
order to achieve greater success in specic arenas of their lives.
In this sense, self-help books like Become a Better You propose tech-
niques for self-control, such as constant self-scrutiny for negative
thoughts. In turn, successful self-control may enable readers to gain
a sense of self-actualisation, that is to say achievement and personal
fullment to the fullest of their potential. Thus, Osteen explains that he
would like his readers to talk to themselves with empowering, afrming
thoughts and avoid the negative mode of thought that keeps millions
of people from rising higher. Self-help texts therefore have clear and
explicitly stated didactical objectives, and they articulate specic sets of
social norms and beliefs about the nature of social life and the relation-
ship between individual and society. With his call for positive thinking,
for example, Joel Osteen draws on a much-discussed trope in US pop-
ular culture (Ehrenreich, 2009). His declaration that negative self-talk
keeps millions of people from rising higher articulates the belief that it
is individuals attitudes that determine their chances for upward social
mobility, rather than the social-structural constraints of economy, pol-
itics and culture. If this belief is accepted, pushing oneself to maintain
a consistently positive attitude might indeed lead to self-actualisation,
and it becomes sensible to turn positive thinking into a behavioural
This suggests that self-help books are never just concerned with advis-
ing individual readers on how to improve their lives. In order for
their advice to become meaningful and turn into behavioural norms,
they also have to promote and convince their readers of particular
8 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

beliefs about the social world. This gives self-help an important political
dimension that will concern us later in this book.

Exploring self-help

In this book, we seek to offer an original perspective on self-help books

and, by extension, therapeutic culture. With our analysis of self-help
books, we seek to contribute to broader debates about the roles which
therapeutic narratives of self and personal development play in contem-
porary societies and their implications for the politics of contemporary
social change. Self-help books are a signicant topic of sociological
research because they constitute an interface between psychological,
medical and religious forms of expert knowledge and public narratives
of the self, self-development, and the relationships between self and
society. As an genre of popular literature, they highlight the importance
of therapeutic culture in the contemporary world, i.e. the role which
psychological and psychotherapeutic narratives play in shaping popular
understandings of self and social relationships.1
Self-help culture is highly prominent, not just in the United States,
but in many countries around the globe. The size of the entire American
self-help industry, including self-help books, infomercials, seminars
and trainings, has been estimated to be around 10.5 billion dollars
(Marketdata Enterprises, 2010: 2). The German market for self-help
books has annual revenue of around 550 million euros (Brsenverein
des Deutschen Buchhandels, 2015; see Chapter 3). Certain self-help
bestsellers climb the charts all around the globe. For example, after
Oprah Winfreys endorsement in 2006, the lm and book The Secret,
which preaches positive thinking as the solution to literally every-
thing, reached large audiences in seemingly every major country on
earth, from China to Iran, where some conservative mullahs were
annoyed with the lm repeatedly airing on state television (Fassihi,
2008). In 2009, Chinas Yu Dan reinterpreted Confucius as a self-therapy
coach, rst in a series of televised lectures, and then in a self-help book
that sold 11 million legal copies in China alone, before becoming one
of Chinas few major export products on the international book market
(Yu Dan, 2009).
Since contemporary self-help discourses extend into numerous soci-
eties worldwide, entering both the mass media and everyday life, they
may play an important role in their own right in shaping narratives
of the self. At the same time, they can be read as expressions of domi-
nant and subordinate, mainstream and alternative narratives of personal
Self-Help Worlds 9

development, and of the ways in which individual lives are shaped

by and shape social structures. The latter dimension i.e. self-help as
an ideological form as reecting larger socio-economic conditions and
concerns is the focus of this book.
In this book, we address two signicant omissions in extant research:
(1) the transnationalisation of self-help culture, and (2) the tension
between self-helps discursive heterogeneity and its relative political-
ideological (neoliberal) homogeneity. During the past three decades,
numerous studies have been published on self-help texts and the
shaping of self-identity and social relationships through psychother-
apeutic discourses (e.g. Dolby, 2005; Ehrenreich, 2009; Elliott, 2013;
Furedi, 2004; Hochschild, 2003; Illouz, 2008; Lasch, 1979/1991, 1984;
McGee, 2012; Moloney, 2013; Moskowitz, 2001; Simonds, 1992; Wright,
2010). These studies cluster in a small number of countries, speci-
cally the US and Britain. Research on self-help outside the Western
world and in the Global South has remained an exception. Daniel
Nehring interprets and contextualises relationship self-help books in
Mexico (2009a, 2009b). Eva Illouz studies therapeutic and self-help
discourses in the US and Israel (though, regrettably, she never actu-
ally compares the two countries) (2008). Through participant obser-
vation and discourse analysis, Eric Hendriks studied dating students
and coaches in the US, the Netherlands and Germany (2012). Suvi
Salmenniemi and Mariya Vorona interviewed Russians to grasp the
way they understand and relate to American self-help books (2014).
Finally, there is an older publication in Portuguese that analyses self-
help in Brazil (Rdiger, 1996). However, none of these studies, though
fully or partly situated outside the Anglosphere, explore the produc-
tion, circulation or consumption of self-help texts from a transnational
At the same time, over the past three decades, research on self-help
books in particular and therapeutic culture in general has been inu-
enced by academic debates on the individualisation and fragmentation
of social relationships. Therefore, extant lines of enquiry have remained
notably partial, and they do not offer a comprehensive understanding
of the variety of therapeutic narratives that are signicant in contem-
porary societies. It is for these reasons that in this book we approach
self-help texts from a transnational perspective, and that we engage
with a broader variety of self-help narratives than have been common
in previous research.
Within this diversity of narratives, however, there are common
beliefs about the relationship between self and society and normative
10 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

prescriptions for self-development. Self-help books tend to construct

and propagate conceptions of a thin self; that is, a desocialised, atom-
ised self, one struggling with purely personal challenges to accomplish
purely individual objectives. Importantly, this conception of the thin
self is much more than merely a content feature of self-help narra-
tives; rather it is a central ideological component of an international
(neo)liberal regime that furthers the precarisation of social life (see
chapter 8).
This precarisation of social life involves the growing instability of
basic institutional arrangements of work, personal life and so forth,
as well as a growing public awareness of, and attention to, this insta-
bility. Under the conditions of neoliberalism, contemporary societies
have turned the self from a largely taken-for-granted, unconsidered
entity into an object of constant attention in academic enquiries,
in public debates, and in individuals private thoughts about their
present and future lives (Dardot and Laval, 2013; Davies, 2015; Elliott,
2013; McLaughlin, 2012). This transition has led to self-reform and
self-improvement becoming a constant concern.
Self-help books respond to this concern with widely divergent pre-
scriptions for a good life. This is unsurprising, as self-help books are
written in many different societies, milieus, and so forth. Nonethe-
less, underneath these divergences, self-help narratives share a common
focus on individual and self-directed development. This is unavoidable,
in so far as the entire genre is predicated on the promise of autonomous
personal development and individual success. In summary, self-help
texts tend, to develop narratives of a thin self.
Self-help narratives construct the self in terms of a series of projects
of personal improvement. Through the introspective questioning of
ones character and acts, and the resulting adjustment of ones con-
duct, one aims to become more resilient and competitive at work, to
gain happiness, to build a lasting intimate relationship, to become
a good parent, to divorce with as little harm as possible, and so
on. These projects form part of the pursuit of a more authentic
self that is more in touch with its true goals, feelings and identity
(Taylor, 2007). The pursuit and possible achievement of such authen-
ticity is seen as empowering because it provides individuals with a
better self-understanding and the skills for managing self and social
relationships required to achieve life goals. Thus, self-actualisation,
meaning the achievement of such authenticity through such self-
recognition and self-control, unavoidably has to be a self-directed and
Self-Help Worlds 11

autonomous endeavour; one for which the self is entirely responsible.

Hence, the self becomes its own entrepreneur. The self as portrayed
in self-help is autonomous and desocialised; that is, understood as
largely independent from social structures and relationships, and as
achieving self-actualisation through a potentially never-ending series of
self-improvement projects.
A further important characteristic of many contemporary self-help
texts is their emphasis on self-branding. Self-help texts invite their
readers to imagine themselves in terms of specic brand images, such as
Bear Grylls resilient survivalist. The successful enactment of these per-
sonas towards oneself and others is presented as a key feature of success
in competitive, market-based societies. The pursuit of an authentic self
and the enactment of a convincing brand therefore become enmeshed
in self-help narratives that are grounded in the morality of competitive
consumer society.
In methodological terms, this book has resulted from multi-sited
eldwork over a period of eight years, including the study of more
than 100 self-help books and their context of production, circulation
and consumption in a variety of settings at the international level.
Our argument is based on the analysis of self-help narratives in the
United Kingdom, the United States, China and Mexico, ethnography
in Trinidad, the basic statistical analysis of global publishing data. We
have been able to explore how self-help products, ideas and discourses
are conceived, packaged and thought about as they emerge in the Global
At the same time, we have gained insights into the ways in which self-
help narratives are experienced, remade and deployed by readers, writers
and sellers in various geographical locations in the Global South. This
has allowed us to understand self-help as a hybrid transnational phe-
nomenon, in departure from previous accounts that have portrayed its
international diffusion as a process of cultural standardisation with the
USA at its centre (Illouz, 2008). We explore self-help texts on a vari-
ety of themes, from love, marriage and sexuality to work and nancial
success. In addition to books, our argument draws on other relevant
sources, such as authors and publishers websites, news and media
items on self-help workshops and events, and sales and marketing infor-
mation on various kinds of self-help products. It approaches self-help
books as sites of agency and resistance while at the same time paying
attention to how this manifests in terms of authorship, readership and
12 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Structure of the book

After setting out the conceptual basis of our argument in Chapters 2 and
3, we look at the transnational production, circulation and consump-
tion of self-help books through ve case studies: the Peoples Republic of
China (Chapter 4), the UK and the US (Chapter 5), Mexico (Chapter 6),
and Trinidad and Tobago (Chapter 7). These case studies cover four con-
tinents and the worlds three largest language zones: Mandarin, Spanish
and English. Chapters 3 and 4 analyse the production and circulation
of self-help texts and make a case for a transnational perspective on
self-help culture. Chapters 5 and 6 consider narratives of the self and
social relationships in self-help books. Finally, Chapter 7 explores the
ways in which readers draw on self-help narratives to account for their
experiences and practices in everyday life.
Chapter 2 develops a conceptual framework for our analysis of self-
help culture. It situates self-help in broader academic debates about
therapeutic culture, mental health and transformations of self in late
modernity. We rst situate the history of self-help culture in sociolog-
ical debates about processes of modernisation and the rationalisation
of social life. Looking at early self-help authors, such as Samuel Smiles,
Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, we argue that self-help has from its
beginnings espoused liberal ideals of selfhood and agency. Against this
backdrop, we then explore questions about contemporary self-help as
source of empowerment and social control under neoliberal capital-
ism. Some recent studies have drawn attention to self-helps capacity
to empower through directed individual and collective action (Wright,
2008, 2010). However, the genre has more commonly been criticised
for promoting individualism and the privatisation of political concerns.
These critiques highlight self-helps ties to neoliberal understandings of
self and social relationships. While these assessments have problema-
tised self-help in important ways, they fail to reect the diversity and
hybridity the genre has acquired in the context of its transnational
spread. We explain self-helps transnationalisation through the glob-
alisation of Western understandings of mental health and the institu-
tions of psychiatry and psychotherapy. While this has sometimes been
described as a process of cultural standardisation, we draw attention to
the diverse, hybrid modes of experience and practice that have resulted
from the globalisation of therapeutic culture.
Chapter 3 then explores self-help writing and publishing from a
transnational perspective. We conceptualise the geographical ows
of discourses transported by self-help books as multidirectional and
Self-Help Worlds 13

marked by glocalisation and hybridisation, while nonetheless partly

centred on the US and the Anglosphere as a whole. Concretely, we offer
a brief survey of publication statistics about eight major countries. These
statistics allow for an initial analysis of the composition of the self-help
market of locally and internationally circulating books. They show, at
once, the international dominance of American and Anglosphere self-
help in countries as different from each other as Mexico and China, as
well as the equally signicant multidirectionality of transnational
cultural ows.
Putting esh on these otherwise abstract numbers and conceptualisa-
tions, the remainder of the book turns to three sets of case studies. These
case studies not only lead us around the world geographically, but also
lead us thematically from self-help entrepreneurs (the cultural producers,
alongside publishers and media institutions), to self-help books (the cul-
tural products), to, nally, the self-help readers (the cultural consumers).
The China case study focuses on self-help entrepreneurs operating in the
media and book market of the Chinese mainland. We then examine the
status of the self-help book markets in, rst, the US and the UK, the his-
torical cradle of the self-help tradition, and, second, and contrastingly,
in Mexico, a Latin American nation in which self-help texts have gained
extensive prominence. Finally, the case study of Trinidad and Tobago
zooms in on the localised consumption of self-help books.
The case of China (chapter 4) offers insight into the transnationali-
sation of the phenomenon of self-help entrepreneurs, not only because
American-style self-help entrepreneurs are prominent in the Chinese
media and book market, but also because this is perhaps highly unex-
pected given Chinas supposed status as the Great Eastern Other. China
has become a hotspot for a US-oriented but glocal and creative self-
help industry, one feeding off Chinas own brand of hypercompetitive
capitalism. Apparently, when it comes to the transnational spread of
self-help culture and self-help entrepreneurs, even the deep-seated cul-
tural and historical differences between China and the US were no
match for the growing socio-economic similarities between the two
countries as a result of Chinas pro-market reforms during the eighties
and nineties. The Chinese case provides new insights about contem-
porary self-help and its traditionally narrow association to Western or
American culture.
Chapter 5 then shifts the focus of our analysis to self-help books
and their narratives. The United States and, to some extent, the
United Kingdom have been key settings of research about self-help and
therapeutic culture. We consider whether the deep socio-economic crisis
14 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

that has affected both countries since 2008 has tempered self-helps
characteristic promise that profound and lasting self-improvement can
be achieved as a result of well-considered, decisive individual actions.
In this context, we examine to what extent the writings of mainstream
self-help authors on topics such as personal nance and career develop-
ment have changed in the wake of the crisis and with austerity. We also
look at niches of self-help writing and explore the narratives of evan-
gelical Christian self-help in the US and survivalist self-help texts that
emphasise the need to cope with the challenges of everyday life over
far-reaching success. Even though these niches highlight the diversity of
self-help writing in both countries, neoliberal understandings of self and
social relationships cut across the work of both American and British
authors. Contemporary self-help is rooted in models of autonomous
self-making that highlight the capacity of individuals to transform
their life through introspection and well-reasoned choices that result
from it.
Our analysis of self-help in Mexico (chapter 6) uncovers transnational
cultural ows from a position outside the dominant Anglosphere. Our
focus on Mexico sheds light on the self-help publications in the largest
Spanish-speaking economy in Latin America. In particular, this chapter
centres on Mexican self-help narratives about intimate and personal
relationships written by Mexican authors in the past two decades. This
allows us, rst, to gain insight into the interaction between cultural
imports from the US and the UK, on the one hand, and native self-
help narratives responding to problems of self-development in Latin
American societies, on the other. Second, it allows us to analysis
transnational cultural ows beyond, and outside, the dominant cul-
tural ows from the Anglosphere to the rest of the world. Illustratively,
Latin American self-help authors such as Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez
and Don Miguel Ruiz have become popular both in the transnational
Spanish domain and in Anglophone countries such as the UK and
the US. Hence, they embody the multidirectionality of self-help as a
transnational network.
Finally, our exploration of self-help books and their readers in
Trinidad and Tobago is intended to shed light on the relationship
between self-help narratives and their consumers. Extant research tends
to treat as discrete issues the ways in which self-help narratives construct
models for life improvement (e.g. Hazleden, 2003, 2010) and the ways
in which readers understand and use these models in everyday life (e.g.
Lichterman, 1992; Simonds, 1992). Here, we seek to bridge this gap by
exploring the ways in which readers relate to transnationally mobile
Self-Help Worlds 15

self-help narratives and draw on them to account for their localised

experiences of everyday life.
What makes Trinidad and Tobago such a powerful case for studying
the reception of foreign self-help products by local readers, is exactly
that it is such a tiny, Anglophone country dwarfed by its gigantic
American neighbour. Since the proximate self-help market of the US so
enormously overshadows that of Trinidad and Tobago, American self-
help book titles and other products fully ood the island states local
self-help market, eclipsing the native self-help industry. In effect, one
would also expect the self-help market of Trinidad and Tobago to be
marked by the passive importing and consumption of American prod-
ucts and discourses. The fact that, as we will show, self-help readers
and booksellers in Trinidad and Tobago creatively (re)interpret and
appropriate Anglo-American self-help imports is, therefore, particularly
telling. In a larger country and economy, with a more developed native
self-help industry, such as China, Germany, Mexico or Russia, simi-
lar ndings would have perhaps been less convincing, as one could
have suspected that this creative assertiveness reects the countrys
general economic and cultural autonomy vis--vis the US. Yet, if even
in the tiny, US-dominated self-help market of Trinidad and Tobago,
consumers engage with American self-help imports in a creative fash-
ion, then this is particularly revealing of the importance of local sites
of consumption in negotiating the meaning of self-help products and
We conclude our argument by offering a reappraisal of the cultural
and political siginicance of self-help texts in the early 21st century
(chapter 8). Drawing on theories of globalisation as a process of cul-
tural hybridisation, we demonstrate the transnational constitution of
self-help, the multidirectionality of self-help transnational exchanges,
and the co-existence of self-help narratives with diverse origins and
disparate, sometimes local, sometimes transnational reach. Second, we
foreground commonalities and differences in the normative grammar
that self-help authors use in response to locally specic as well as
transnationally relevant problems of self-development. There is a much
broader variety of self-help narratives than has been documented so far,
and these narratives are simultaneously responsive to locally specic
personal troubles (e.g. in Mexico, in China, in the US, etc.) as well as to
much broader, global socio-cultural conditions, namely the conditions
of an internationalising (neo)liberal regime. Finally we assess the impli-
cations of transnational popular psychology and the global self-help
industry for the politics of contemporary social change.
16 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Self-help books are bearers and constituents of discourses of the self

and personal life. Through their form, but, to varying extents, also
through their contents, self-help books conceptualise, idealise and prop-
agate the individual self as a thin self a self caught up in constant
self-examination in relation to normative frameworks whose coherent
realisation in practice must necessarily remain incomplete in the hyper
exible, mobile social environments that give rise to the demand for
self-help in the rst place. Although self-help recipes, in this sense,
thus have an unachievable character, they are consequential in that
they cause a privatisation and depoliticisation of personal concerns.
They cause personal concerns to become (re)framed as matters of psy-
chotherapeutic, medical, spiritual or religious signicance rather than as
collective social problems requiring collective, political solutions. This
privatisation of personal concerns is, in turn, a central aspect of the pro-
cess of re-formation and disciplining of the self in the context of the rise
of neoliberal forms of government throughout the Western world since
the 1970s.
Self-Help and Society

Why does self-help matter?

Susan Jeffers Feel the Fear . . . and Do it Anyway (1987/2007) is a typi-

cal self-help book. It seeks to enable its readers to overcome situations,
experiences and practices of which they are afraid:

What is it for you? Fear of . . . public speaking, asserting yourself,

making decisions, intimacy, changing jobs, being alone, aging,
driving, losing a loved one, ending a relationship? [. . .] Never
mind . . . join the crowd! Fear seems to be an epidemic in our society.
[. . .] Whatever the fear, this book will give you the insight and tools
to vastly improve your ability to handle any given situation. (Jeffers,
1987/2007: Introduction; emphasis in original)

Here, right at the outset of her argument, Jeffers makes several moves
that are typical of many self-help authors. First, she sets up a problem
fear as endemic and requiring an urgent response. Then she goes on
to direct her readers to insights and tools that will vastly improve
their ability to manage any situation they might face. By highlighting a
source of crisis and simultaneously offering guidance that will empower
her readers to fundamentally improve their lives, Jeffers in fact spells
out the promise of the self-help genre as a whole.
The model for self-transformation Jeffers proposes throughout Feel
the Fear . . . and Do it Anyway is likewise typical of contemporary self-
help writing. She offers a highly individualistic account of personal
transformation that relies on her readers ability to understand the
sources of their fear and overcome it through well-reasoned choices.

18 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Self-improvement in this sense results from a shift in thinking and

might be considered didactical:

There is really nothing to lose, only something to gain, whatever the

choices you make or actions you take in life. As I stated earlier, all
you have to do to change your world is change the way you think about it.
[. . .] You can actually shift your thinking in such a way as to make a
wrong decision or mistake an impossibility. (Jeffers, 1987/2007: Ch. 7;
emphasis in original)

Jeffers narrative here and throughout the book is characterised by its

voluntarism, i.e. the assumption that personal transformation is the
result of willed action on the part of individuals. She recognises only
cognitive and emotional barriers to self-improvement, and she coaches
her readers to uproot them step by step. While Jeffers acknowledges that
her readers fears might have external sources, from looming unemploy-
ment to geographic mobility enforced by a demanding labour market,
she still argues that a shift in perspective will allow for no-lose deci-
sions (Jeffers, 1987/2007: Ch. 7). Self-improvement in her narrative is
a process of mental and cognitive transformation. When she asks her
readers to feel the fear and do it anyway, she asks them to change
their beliefs, attitudes and outlook, rather than the external conditions
in whose context they lead their lives.
A question we raise repeatedly throughout this book is why such pro-
posals for self-improvement matter, both in academic debates and in
society at large. With regard to Susan Jeffers, an immediate answer might
lie in the continuing popularity of her work. Originally published in
1987 in the US, Feel the Fear . . . and Do it Anyway became a bestseller, to
the point that an anniversary edition was issued in 2007 to mark the
books lasting success. According to the Guardian, it sold an estimated
15m copies in some 100 countries (Hayman, 2012). Jeffers, a psychol-
ogist by training, went on to become a sought-after life advice coach,
public speaker and author. After her death in 2012, her achievements
were recognised with obituaries in major international newspapers,
including the Guardian (Hayman, 2012) and the New York Times (Hevesi,
2012). It is easy to see that Susan Jeffers work did matter, in the US and
at the international level. While it is impossible to judge to what extent
her advice really improved her readers lives, she did become an impor-
tant public gure, and the Guardian even locates a groundbreaking
feminist message in her work: One of the groundbreaking aspects of
Feel the Fear was that, unlike many self-help books then and since, it
Self-Help and Society 19

did not maintain that love and a relationship should be a womans pri-
mary aspiration, instead arguing that women had to learn to stand on
their own two feet and be self-determining (Hayman, 2012).
More broadly, self-help matters precisely because of its strong presence
in the public sphere and in the personal lives of its many readers. The
success of Susan Jeffers mirrors that of numerous other self-help authors.
Since its beginnings in the early 20th century, self-help has turned into
a massive industry at the international level. Beyond books, self-help
today is available in a variety of forms, from self-help entrepreneurs
appearances on TV and in public events to self-help magazines and web-
sites (see Chapters 3 and 4). As a popular, widely consumed form of life
advice, self-help both expresses and constructs norms of conduct and
cultural meanings of self-identity and social relationships.
From this perspective, self-help becomes a signicant topic of socio-
logical enquiry in three ways. First, self-help narratives offer a window
into transformations of self-identity and social relationships in the
context of processes of capitalist modernisation. The study of these
transformations has arguably been foundational to sociological enquiry,
and self-help is often seen as a source of relevant insights (e.g. McGee,
2005). Second, self-help culture has frequently been explored in the
context of sociological concerns with the cultural consequences of capi-
talism. In this context, self-help is considered as an emblematic element
of an increasing individualisation, commercialisation and commodica-
tion of self, emotions and personal ties (e.g. Crawford, 2004; Gershon,
2011; Hochschild, 2003). Finally, self-help speaks to a longstanding
interest among sociologists and anthropologists in the globalisation
of cultural forms and practices (e.g. Appadurai, 1996; Hannerz, 1996;
Nederveen Pieterse, 2009). While most research on self-help has focused
narrowly on the Global Northwest, a small but growing number of
studies have begun to draw attention to the international spread of self-
helps therapeutic narratives of self and self-improvement (e.g. Choon,
2008; Hendriks, 2012; Nehring, 2009a, 2009b; Ubirajara Sobral, 2006;
Yamada, 2009). This development can be understood against the back-
drop of the globalisation of Western cultural models of mental health.
On the one hand, this has entailed the global diffusion of psychiatry
and psychotherapy as institutions that address concerns about mental
health (Fernando, 2014; Mills, 2014). On the other hand, psychother-
apeutic understandings of self-identity and social relationships have
blended into popular culture and shape understandings and practices
in everyday life, as well as in a variety of institutional realms, from
business to politics. We will consider each of these perspectives and
20 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

explain how they have informed our approach to self-help in this

book. In this context, we will also look at the history of self-help writ-
ing, from the genres beginnings to its recent explosion into a global

Self-made men

The history of self-help culture is poorly documented. Research on the

subject tends to emphasise self-helps origins in the US (McGee, 2012).
In this narrative, Benjamin Franklin and other public gures of the 18th
century are often highlighted as originators of concerns with self-help
and personal improvement. In her analysis of early self-help writing in
the US, Merc Mur Efng states that it is generally accepted that self-
help literature started in the eighteenth century with the publication
of Benjamin Franklins Autobiography [. . .] (Mur Efng, 2009: 128). Trac-
ing the cultural roots of self-help in the US, Micki McGee begins her
account with Puritan cleric Cotton Mather (16631728) and Benjamin
Franklin (17061790). Alongside this narrative, there is also some schol-
arship that draws attention to the work of Samuel Smiles (18121904) in
Victorian Britain. In particular, Smiless Self-Help (1859/1908) has some-
times been cited as the rst notable British self-help book (Fielden, 1968;
Morris, 1981). By and large, though, there is relatively little scholarship
that has explored the history of self-help in other societies. Most of the
research that has been published so far looks at self-help in the US and
the narratives of American self-help authors. This seems to have cre-
ated the perception that self-help is a distinctly American phenomenon,
rooted in US society and culture. Thus, for instance, Merc Mur Efng
explains the emergence of self-help in the US in the context of the
American Dream:

[T]he whole history of the US is impregnated with the message of

self-help and personal improvement, the objective of which is, in
most cases [. . .] the achievement of happiness. The concept of self-
help is related to self-making and taking charge of ones destiny, and
this aspect undoubtedly helped to shape what we call the American
self-identity, which is also closely linked to the belief in canoni-
cal American values such as the search for justice, liberty, fairness,
democracy and equality. Self-making or being self-made suggests
that anyone can be whatever he or she wants to be if they work
hard enough to achieve their goals, summarized in the expression
the American Dream. (Mur Efng, 2009: 127)
Self-Help and Society 21

Mur Efng here locates self-help as a distinctive aspect of American

cultural identity; self-making is both a central promise of many self-
help authors and a foundational aspect of the myth of the American
This single-minded focus on the US as source and site of self-help
culture obscures the genres diverse origins in other societies. Personal
advice books have long been part of popular literatures around the
world. For example, Arturo Cuys y Armengols There Needs to be a
Boy . . . [Hace falta un muchacho] (1924/1943), a self-help book published
in Spain in the early 20th century, has arguably inuenced Hispanic
self-help writing in the Americas from the 20th century to the present.
Yet it does not feature in the few available histories of the genre. Like-
wise, books of manners have been a distinctive form of self-help in
Europe for centuries. In 1788, Adolph Freiherr Knigge, a nobleman in
what was then the Electorate of Braunschweig-Lneburg, published his
treatise On Human Relations [ber den Umgang mit Menschen]. The book
offers advice on polite conduct in a variety of social situations, for
instance among individuals of different ages, among parents and chil-
dren, among spouses, among master and servant, among landlord and
tenant, and so forth. On Human Relations became a resounding suc-
cess during Knigges lifetime, and in the preface to the books third
edition, he comments on his surprise at the demand for practical life
advice (Knigge, 1788/2000: 4). Today, the text is still widely popu-
lar in Germany and has been republished numerous times. A website
dedicated to Knigges work offers Manners at the click of a mouse
(Knigge et al., 2015), and German authors still frequently use the
word Knigge as a synonym for a self-help book. Thus, recent German
self-help books carry titles such as Business Knigge for Men: More Suc-
cess through Good Manners (Pster et al., 2005) and Business Knigge
International (Oppel, 2006). This distinctively German emphasis on
good manners as a pathway to self-help improvement has so far not
been accounted for in academic debates on self-help and therapeutic
At the same time, however, the emphasis of the academic literature
on Franklin, Smiles and later American authors like Napoleon Hill and
Dale Carnegie is pertinent in so far as it draws attention to a specic
model of self-improvement that is, as we will argue in later chapters,
still pervasive in self-help writing today. In spite of the heterogeneity of
self-help writing at an international level, the ethos of self-making, as
described by Mur Efng (2009), is a common denominator shared by
many self-help authors today.
22 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

This ethos is clearly visible in Samuel Smiless Self-Help. Smiles opens

his argument as follows:

Heaven helps those who help themselves is a well-tried maxim,

embodying in a small compass the results of vast human experi-
ence. The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in
the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes
the true source of national vigour and strength. Help from with-
out is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably
invigorates. Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent
takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and
where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government,
the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.
[. . .] National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy, and
uprightness, as national decay is of individual idleness, selshness,
and vice. [. . .] It may be of comparatively little consequence how
a man is governed from without, whilst everything depends upon
how he governs himself from within. The greatest slave is not he
who is ruled by a despot, great though that evil be, but he who is in
the thrall of his own moral ignorance, selshness, and vice. (Smiles,
1859/1908: 1ff.)

In these sentences, Smiles formulates a programmatic statement for his

book and, reading his words in hindsight, for the self-help genre at
large. R. J. Morris (1981: 95ff.) described vividly how Smiles was inspired
by the liberal political ideals of his time. This liberal vision is certainly
also visible in his opening statements in Self-Help. Here, he depicts gov-
ernment from without, described elsewhere as governments laws and
regulations, as both ineffective and irrelevant to the success of indi-
viduals lives. This capacity depends on individuals capacity to take
self-directed action and improve their lives on the basis of industry,
energy, and uprightness. Self-help is thus a moral enterprise, and its out-
come depends fundamentally on whether individuals are able to foster
the right values.
At the same time, self-help is also an individual pursuit. Smiles is clear
in his rejection of over-guidance, and he consistently emphasises the
importance of individual efforts, both for individual achievement and
for national progress at large. His claim that national progress is the
sum of individual industry, energy, and uprightness underlines the indi-
vidualistic bent of his work; conceptualising society as the aggregate of
Self-Help and Society 23

individual action, he lacks a clear account of the ways in which social

structures and institutions may shape the life course.
This liberal vision, characterised by its individualism, its moralism,
and its emphasis on self-improvement as a result of directed individual
action, is likewise infused in early American self-help bestsellers. In How
to Sell Your Way Through Life (1939/2010), Napoleon Hill, a highly suc-
cessful self-help author in the US of the early 20th century, portrays
salesmanship as a key source of individual achievement:

Salesmanship in this book applies not merely to marketing com-

modities and services. You can sell your personality. You must do
it! As a matter of fact, the major objective in writing this book was
to teach men and women how to sell their way through life success-
fully using the selling strategy and the psychology used by the Master
Salesman in selling goods and services. (Hill, 1939/2010: 7)

Elsewhere, Hill (1939/2010: 5) portrays a salesman as a strategist at

mind manipulation and a character analyst. He concludes that the
Master Salesman is master of others BECAUSE HE IS MASTER OF HIM-
SELF! (Hill, 1939/2010: 6; emphasis in original). Hill in this sense
conceptualises self-improvement as self-mastery. Individuals need to
develop a specic set of cognitive and emotional skills, in order to
coax others in the pursuit of personal goals. Hill unequivocally portrays
personal success as an outcome of the mastery of these skills, rather
than as the result of external conditions. The gure of the self-made
man looms large throughout his work, and both How to Sell Your Way
Through Life (Hill, 1939/2010) and the wildly successful bestseller Think
and Grow Rich (Hill, 1937) feature numerous anecdotes of men who rose
from humble beginnings into positions of prominence by using their
individual efforts and skills.
Similar ideals are visible in the work of Dale Carnegie, an early
American self-help writer whose success rivals Napoleon Hillss. In How
to Win Friends and Inuence People (1936/1981) Carnegie is likewise con-
cerned with the problem of dealing with people and he invokes the
gure of the salesman as an ideal. For Carnegie as for Hill, success in life
is the outcome of autonomous self-improvement:

Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and
improve? Good! That is ne. I am all in favor of it, but why not
begin on yourself? From a purely selsh standpoint, that is a lot
24 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

more protable than trying to improve others yes, and a lot less
dangerous. Dont complain about the snow on your neighbors roof,
said Confucius, when your own doorstep is unclean. (Carnegie,
1936/1981: 15)

Carnegie here makes a case for self-improvement that is motivated both

by ethical and by instrumental rational concerns: self-improvement is
protable from a selsh standpoint, but, as the Confucian aphorism
suggests, it is also indicated in moral terms.
The works of Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill and Samuel Smiles share
a common liberal vision of the self, self-improvement and social rela-
tionships. The considerable power of this vision of the self-made man1
is illustrated by the fact that the works of both Carnegie and Hill are
still widely read bestsellers, featuring frequently in bestseller lists around
the world (Nielsen BookScan, 2015). Dale Carnegie Training today pro-
motes the authors writing and offers training courses according to his
principles (Dale Carnegie Training, 2015). Napoleon Hills work is mar-
keted by The Napoleon Hill Foundation, which likewise sells his written
works and offers a range of courses and workshops (The Napoleon Hill
Foundation, 2014).
Academic debates have linked Anglo-American self-helps liberal ethos
to broader processes of capitalist modernisation. R. J. Morris (1981: 108)
interprets Smiless Self-Help as a declaration of the Victorian petit bour-
geoisies aspirations for upward social mobility in the face of nancial
failure, sectarian and class hostility, political violence and administra-
tive chaos, and the power of social and economic elites. Anne Secord
(2003: 147f.) uncovers in Smiless work a Victorian politics of char-
acter that constructed the progress of individuals and the nation at
large as a result of sound moral values and personal initiative.2 Micki
McGee (2005) draws on Max Webers The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit
of Capitalism (Weber, 1930/2005) to explore the moral dimensions of
socio-economic development in the US.
These arguments locate the emergence of self-help culture within
specic socio-economic and political transformations of British and
American society. Webers argument that the development of the social
and economic institutions of industrial capitalism was bound up with
the rise of a specic set of cultural values a spirit of capitalism if
you will and understandings of self-identity and social relationships
has been foundational to sociological enquiry at large. As a durable
and prominent form of popular culture, self-help today as we illus-
trate still articulates these values and understandings and gives them
Self-Help and Society 25

an intelligible form. In this sense, self-help also offers crucial insights

into the cultural consequences of capitalisms permutations across time
and space (McGee, 2005).

The self in the marketplace

Self-help books promise to empower their reader. This is the source of

the genres lasting appeal. The promise of empowerment also explains
how self-help has changed and grown. A central argument we make in
this book is that there is considerable continuity between classical lib-
eral self-help of the sort we have documented earlier in this chapter
and contemporary self-help culture. Contemporary self-help addresses a
much broader range of issues than the early writings of authors such as
Smiles, Hill and Carnegie. Whereas the latter largely focused on mens
success in business and public life, contemporary self-help has con-
quered the private sphere and now seemingly addresses any sphere of
everyday life, from weight loss (McKenna, 2009) to lifelong love (Gray,
1996; Sohail, 2003), lasting marriages (Aris, 2005), and so forth. As we
argue throughout this book, self-help has also become a transnational
industry that attracts millions of readers across the globe, from China to
Self-helps growth can be usefully understood in the context of
the global spread of contemporary, neoliberal capitalism. At ever-
increasing speed, neoliberal capitalism has conquered the globe and
opened institutions and social relationships to the ethos of the mar-
ketplace (Harvey, 2007a, 2007b; Moran, 2015; Peck, 2010; Rosa, 2013;
Tomlinson, 2007). This process has entailed a growing precarisation
of institutional arrangements, social relationships and forms of every-
day experience, with both work and intimate relationships increas-
ingly becoming contingent, short-term affairs (Hochschild, 2003, 2012;
Sennett, 2006). Central to neoliberalism as a cultural project is the gure
of the entrepreneurial self (Brckling, 2007; Dardot and Laval, 2013).
Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval argue that entrepreneurship in the
context of neoliberalism becomes a form of self-government, dening
the norms and values by which individuals assess and discipline their

Every individual has something entrepreneurial about them and the

distinguishing feature of the market economy is that it liberates
and stimulates human entrepreneurship. [. . .] The pure dimen-
sion of entrepreneurship alertness to business opportunities is a
26 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

relationship of self to self [. . .]. We are all entrepreneurs, or, rather, we

all learn to be; we train ourselves exclusively through the play of the
market to govern ourselves as entrepreneurs. This also means that, if
the market is regarded as a free space for entrepreneurs, all human
relations can be affected by the entrepreneurial dimension, which is
constitutive of the human. (Dardot and Laval, 2013: 111f.)

This entrepreneurial dimension may be seen as an extension of the lib-

eral Victorian spirit of the self-made man. The basic continuity between
classical liberal and neoliberal socio-economic theory has been well
documented (Brckling, 2007; Dardot and Laval, 2013), and the accen-
tuation of the entrepreneurial dimension of agency seems fundamental
to this continuity. It is in this context that self-help continues to promise
its readers empowerment through introspection and self-directed action
in ever new spheres of everyday life. An extensive literature has shown
how human emotion has been opened to entrepreneurial interven-
tion in the pursuit of personal goals (Hochschild, 2003; Illouz, 2007).
In Feel the Fear . . . and Do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers (1987/2007) thus
mobilises her readers entrepreneurial talents in conquering their anx-
ieties through a shift in perspective. Even the ivory tower is now
host to self-making entrepreneurs (Alvesson, 2013). As careers have
become ever more unstable and unpredictable in a marketised and com-
mercialised academic world, self-help writers and careers coaches have
found a ready-made audience. There are now a considerable number of
self-help books for academics on their paths to academic success and
satisfaction (e.g. Bataille and Brown, 2006; Delamont and Atkinson,
Self-helps persistent commitment to an entrepreneurial ethos of self-
making has frequently been criticised as a form of social control, rather
than empowerment. Guy Redden (2002) offers a reading of New Age
self-help that emphasises the radical privatisation of concerns about fun-
damental questions, offering private solutions to personal troubles in a
social context that offers few solutions in collective terms. While New
Age is often identied as a countercultural and resistance movement,
Redden (2002: 49) nds that it is consonant both with neoliberal ide-
ologies which identify provision with private agency, and with a recent
stage of capitalism that has associated qualities of subjective authen-
ticity, rebellion and liberation with the consumption of commodities.
Reddens conclusions are of note in so far as they draw attention both
to self-helps diversication, here into the distinctive idiom of a spiritual
Self-Help and Society 27

counterculture, and to the persistence of the liberal cultural idiom of

self-making throughout this process of diversication. In this sense,
Heidi Rimke (2000: 62) argues that self-help, through its emphasis on
the individual, articulates the political logic of neoliberal government
in contemporary societies and thus serves as a tool of social control,
rather than individual empowerment:

Self-help techniques are an apparatus of governance through which

external psy authorities are able to prescribe ever more avenues for
individual self-management. They encourage some ways of life and
living over others. [. . .] Most signicantly, the technologies of the self
offered in self-help work appear to be remarkably congruous with
the political programmes of liberal democratic society. By structuring
personal truths and capacities in such a way that they are under-
stood and effected as individual desires, the liberal government of
populations neatly translates into the ways in which individuals are
encouraged to fashion a self via the medium of psychology. (Rimke,
2000: 73)

The history of Anglo-American self-help (Mur Efng, 2009) and a con-

siderable number of studies on contemporary self-help (e.g. Crawford,
2004; Cullen, 2009; Kintz, 2007; Philip, 2009; Tyler, 2008) support
Rimkes argument. In this sense, it is useful to consider contempo-
rary self-help in the context of the strategies of legitimation and social
control of neoliberal government.
At the same time, though, the story of self-help may not be quite
this clear-cut. Self-help and self-help books must be understood against
the backdrop of a broader therapeutic turn in contemporary societies
(Madsen, 2014; Moloney, 2013; Rose, 1998). This therapeutic turn has
long been an object of scholarly criticism that parallels some of the
arguments we have explored here (Furedi, 2004; Horwitz and Wakeeld,
2007; Lasch, 1979/1991, 1984; Moloney, 2013). Some recent research,
though, has highlighted more complex and ambivalent consequences
of the increasing prevalence of therapeutic forms of knowledge and
practice in everyday life. Rebecca Hazleden (2012) argues that notions
of individual responsibility in contemporary self-help books are con-
siderably more diverse than Rimke acknowledges, in line with con-
tradictions and tensions within liberal democracies about the remit
of public and private responsibilities. In a series of important stud-
ies, Katie Wright (2008, 2009, 2010) considers the social, cultural and
political consequences of the therapeutic turn in Australian society.
28 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

She acknowledges the cultural emphasis on self-mastery and individual

responsibility that has resulted from this therapeutic turn. However, she
emphasises that new forms of therapeutic knowledge may allow for the
expression and public recognition of personal troubles that previously
remained private. Telephone counselling and a government commis-
sion of human relationships are some of the examples Wright (2008)
cites to point to the ways in which therapeutic discourses may mobilise
collective and public responses to human suffering and thus entail
empowerment at a collective level.
The arguments we have outlined so far have, for the most part,
resulted from enquiries in the Global Northwest. Some commentators
have suggested that the transnational spread of therapeutic culture
beyond the Global Northwest might be understood as a process of
socio-cultural standardisation. For example, in a study that explores
therapeutic practices in far-ung places, from Hong Kong to Sri Lanka to
Zanzibar, journalist Ethan Watters (2010: Introduction) writes that [w]e
are engaged in the grand project of Americanizing the worlds under-
standing of the human mind. Similarly, Eva Illouz (2008) explicitly
describes the transnational diffusion of therapeutic culture as a process
of cultural standardisation with the USA at its centre. However, the by
now sizeable academic literature on the globalisation of medical mod-
els of mental health calls Watterss and Illouzs thesis into question,
emphasising hybridity and processes of cultural contestation instead
of a narrative of standardisation (Damousi and Plotkin, 2009; Gerlach
et al., 2013; Mills, 2014; Roland, 2001). Suman Fernando (2014) thus
warns against a global, homogenising understanding of mental health
and mental health care. Research on therapeutic discourses in popular
cultures beyond the Global Northwest has not kept pace with the lit-
erature on the globalisation of mental health. In particular, there are
very few studies on self-help books outside the Global Northwest (e.g.
Choon, 2008; Nehring, 2009a, 2009b; Salmenniemi and Vorona, 2014;
Ubirajara Sobral, 2006; Yamada, 2009). The ndings of some of these
studies resonate with Rimkes arguments, portraying self-help books as a
mechanism of social control in neoliberal capitalism (e.g. Salmenniemi
and Vorona, 2014). However, they also consistently point to the roots of
self-help narratives in locally specic politics of the self and social, eco-
nomic, cultural and political arrangements in societies like South Korea
(Choon, 2008), Japan (Yamada, 2009), Russia (Salmenniemi and Vorona,
2014) and Mexico (Nehring, 2009a, 2009b).
On the whole, therefore, it seems useful to work towards a reappraisal
of self-help writing. Frequent criticisms of the genre notwithstanding,
Self-Help and Society 29

self-helps role as a tool of neoliberal social control or source of empow-

erment is not fully understood. This is particularly due to the narrow
focus of research in this eld. A broader, truly transnational research
agenda seems necessary at this point in order to understand the cultural
signicance of self-help books.
Self-Helps Transnationalisation

Towards a transnational perspective on therapeutic culture

The preceding chapter situated the sociological analysis of self-help

books in broader academic debates about therapeutic culture. In turn,
this chapter argues for approaching these debates from a transnational
perspective. Research about the role which psychotherapeutic narra-
tives about self and social relationships play in contemporary popular
cultures has tended to focus on specic societies. The titles of key
studies in this eld alone already suggest this. Take Barbara Ehrenreichs
Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Under-
mined America (Ehrenreich, 2009), Micki McGees Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover
Culture in American Life (McGee, 2005), or Eva Moskowitzs In Therapy
We Trust: Americas Obsession with Self-Fullment (Moskowitz, 2001).
These all trace how cultural and socio-economic shifts in the contem-
porary United States promoted the growing prominence of psychother-
apeutic narratives in public and private life. These books have little or
nothing to say about the roles of American therapeutic narratives and
products in therapeutic cultures in other parts of the world, or about the
ways American therapeutic culture was itself shaped by inuences from
In social research, transnationalism refers to the converging, inter-
action and spreading of cultural objects, forms of practice, ways of
thought and socio-economic structures across national borders, which,
if extensive enough in geographical scope, count for instances of glob-
alisation (Tomlinson, 1999; Vertovec, 2009). We will use the term
transnationalism and its adjective to describe how specic narratives of
self and social relationships are shared across national boundaries, how

Self-Helps Transnationalisation 31

different actors in particular, self-help entrepreneurs, publishers and

readers are involved in this process of sharing, and how it is sustained
by specic cultural objects, in particular print books.1
Extant research on therapeutic culture has almost completely focused
on a few societies in the Global Northwest, implying, by way of omis-
sion, that therapeutic culture is not a signicant object of enquiry in
the majority of world countries and regions. Works focusing on Western
Europe (e.g. Furedi, 2002, 2004, 2006) and particularly the US (e.g.
Lasch, 1979/1991, 1984) dwarf research on the rest of the world. While
the former studies have arguably been eld-dening consider, for
example, the persistent, decade-spanning engagement with the work of
Christopher Lasch there is no indication that the few available stud-
ies on therapeutic culture in the rest of the world have had a similar
impact. Reviewing the academic literature on self-help books, Patricia
Neville observes:

Perhaps one of the most glaring omissions from the self-help book
canon has been the absence of globalization, either as a theorizing
construct or operational framework against which we could chart,
plot and measure the breadth and width of contemporary self-help
book culture. (Neville, 2012: 372)

Similarly, Micki McGee suggests that current research is characterised by

a focus on the makeover cultures of Western and largely global northern
cultures (McGee, 2012: 686).
These conclusions arguably characterise the extant scholarship on
commercial and popular therapeutic culture at large. The narrow geo-
graphical focus of studies on commercial and popular therapy contrasts
sharply, however, with the internationalisation of research on medical
psychiatry and psychotherapy. Journals such as the International Journal
of Social Psychiatry or Transcultural Psychiatry for years have published a
wealth of comparative research on forms of psychiatric knowledge and
practice around the world (e.g. Kim et al., 1999; Langsley et al., 1983;
Zhang et al., 2002). Likewise, there is a substantial academic literature
that critically interrogates this globalisation of psychiatric knowledge
and its social and political implications (Mills, 2014).
Eva Illouzs widely cited book Saving the Modern Soul (2008) is
emblematic of this narrow focus. Illouz (2008: 217ff.) does write of
the emergence of a global therapeutic habitus, and she uses com-
parisons between the US and Israel to explore this concept. However,
her respective argument only lls a few pages in a book of nearly
32 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

three hundred, and Illouz soon returns to her primary concern with
therapeutic culture in the US. Furthermore, while she argues that ther-
apeutic culture has become a global phenomenon, she draws on a
curiously limited conception of globalisation, which simply assumes the
transnational diffusion of cultural models and a concomitant process of
socio-cultural standardisation:

In a series of articles, John Meyer and his associates have argued that
globalization is the process by which an increasing number of states
worldwide adopt the same cultural models (of the economy, the
polity, the individual), thus making these models penetrate social life.
[. . .] In the modern globalized polity, individuals constitute them-
selves by using standard rules in order to establish the essence of
modern actorhood, such as being rational and purposeful. Psychol-
ogy is one of the main cores of cultural globalization, a source of
models around which individuality gets organized worldwide. This
model is diffused worldwide through university curriculum and train-
ing, through the regulated practice of professional therapy, through
the state adoption of therapeutic modes of intervention in society,
and through the more informal structures of the market. (Illouz,
2008: 217)

Illouz does not reach beyond this narrow view of globalisation as a

process of socio-cultural convergence, and does not explore critiques
of this perspective (Nederveen Pieterse, 2009) or alternative conceptual
approaches (Hopper, 2007). Saving the Modern Soul is fundamentally con-
cerned with the dynamics of emotional life in the contemporary US, and
the book does not exceed this remit by much.
This focus on the US is to some extent appropriate, given the preva-
lence of psychotherapeutic narratives and practices in key institutions of
social life in the country. Also, therapeutic narratives from the US have
a particularly strong transnational reach. For example, as we will show
below, texts written by US authors often dominate the bestseller lists for
self-help books in countries on four continents. However, Illouz (2008)
also implicitly posits therapeutic culture as central to this process of cul-
tural standardisation and convergence. For instance, her brief discussion
of therapeutic culture in Israel is largely concerned with a workshop on
emotional intelligence and the work of US self-help entrepreneur Daniel
Goleman. While Illouz rightly highlights the globalisation of therapeu-
tic habitus, her emphasis on the US as presumable contemporary centre
of this habitus fails to account for the diversity of distinctive therapeutic
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 33

narratives that have emerged in other societies, both within and beyond
the Global Northwest.
It is misleading to understand therapeutic culture as particular to the
Global Northwest and rooted in cultural and socio-economic develop-
ments specic to certain Western national societies. First, this view fails
to acknowledge the deep roots which therapeutic culture has taken
in other parts of the world. Second, it overlooks the ways in which
therapeutic narratives of self and social relationships, the material prod-
ucts in which these narratives are embodied, and the individuals and
organisations that promote these narratives operate across, beyond and,
sometimes, regardless of the boundaries of national societies.
Countering the overly narrow perspective dominating present schol-
arship, we will portray self-help as a multidirectional transnational
network, centred on the US but thoroughly heterogeneous and hybrid
in character nonetheless. More broadly, we seek to move the academic
discussion about therapeutic culture at large towards an appreciation of,
simultaneously, the transnational scope of contemporary discourses of
self and social relationships and their roots in, and interaction with,
locally specic social structures. The transnational spread of therapy
culture and self-help is marked by glocalisation. The term glocalisa-
tion, commonly associated with British sociologist Ronald Robertson,
is a portmanteau of global and local (Robertson, 1992, 1997). It signi-
es the merging of global and local cultural forms as globalising cultural
forms descend upon different polities, societies and cultures, setting in
motion dynamics of appropriation, hybridisation and competition. As a
mode of globalisation or transnationalisation, glocalisation contrasts
with straightforward cultural homogenisation and standardisation.
Our arguments about self-helps transnationalisation do not amount
to empirical generalisations about the genre. It is not our aim to develop
an empirically generalisable account of transnational self-help pub-
lishing. Rather, through a set of exploratory case studies, we set out
conceptual tools that may serve as a base for further debate about the
transnational scope of self-help and therapeutic culture. The chapters
subject matter signicant to the broader concerns set out above in so far
as charting the circulation local, regional, transnational of cultural
objects in this case self-help books may generate insights into the
geographical ows of the narratives transported by these objects. In this
sense, the present chapter is foundational to the project of establishing
self-help as a transnationally networked cultural phenomenon.
Our exploration of transnational self-help culture begins with a sur-
vey of publication statistics recorded by national and international
34 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

publishing agencies from the middle of the previous decade onwards.

Through these statistics, we will document the production, circulation
and consumption of self-help books in six countries: the UK, the US,
Mexico, India, South Africa and China. In addition, we also obtained
some basic publishing statistics for Argentina and Germany. Research
on self-help books in the UK and the US has by and large treated
them as localised cultural products, and our analysis provides a correc-
tive to this perspective. Therapeutic culture in the other nations has
received hardly any scholarly attention so far. The exploration of these
cases allows for important counterpoints to arguments made in the
context of the study of self-help and therapeutic culture in the Global
Following this survey of international self-help publishing, we turn
to the work of a bestselling self-help entrepreneur. Since the mid-1990s,
Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez has gained widespread popularity across
the Americas. His works combine advice on issues such as sexuality,
family life and successful careers with captivating ctional narratives,
grounded in a mixture of Christian moralism and scientic arguments.
As we will suggest, his work has much in common with and departs
in notable ways from the template established by Christian self-help
authors in the US. Through strategic entrepreneurial activities, his books
have gained lasting popularity at the international level. While his
narratives are built upon certain historically deeply rooted features of
religious conservatism in Mexico, we argue that they are sufciently
disembedded from locally specic cultural references to appeal broadly
to international audiences. They therefore contrast with books writ-
ten for and consumed by locally specic audiences. These strategies
employed by Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez are emblematic of the ways
in which self-help authors have managed to build a transnational

Publishing statistics: size and scale

Our exploration of transnational self-help culture will begin with

a survey of publication statistics recorded by national and interna-
tional publishing agencies from the middle of the 2000s onwards.
We managed to collect statistics about eight major countries: the
UK, the US, South Africa, Germany, India, Mexico, Argentina, and
the Peoples Republic of China. Though varying in denitional
criteria and trustworthiness, these statistics offer glimpses of the
scope of self-helps transnationalisation, the international dominance
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 35

of American self-help, and the hybrid, glocalised composition of

international self-help markets.
As the numbers consistently point to the popularity of the self-help
genre in geographically distant societies, they do provide an initial indi-
cation, basic as it may be, of the international popularity of self-help
books. Moreover, these statistics suggest self-help book markets tend
to have a glocal composition, with the bestseller rankings consisting
of a hybrid mixture of native products and foreign imports (which, in
turn, often derive from the US and the Anglosphere more generally).
Last, they reveal that the international self-help industry has moved
beyond the Global Northwest and, therefore, the narrow geographical
focus of the established scholarship on self-help reects a bias on the
part of scholars rather than the actual status of international self-help
To collect statistics about markets for self-help books, we drew on
several sources. The American market research company Marketdata
provides basic statistics about the entire American self-help market
(Marketdata Enterprises, 2010). Nielsen BookScan, a major market
research company that gathers media statistics at the international level,
provided us with material on the US, the UK, India, and South Africa
(Nielsen BookScan, 2015). Data on the production and sales of self-
help books in Mexico was made available by the National Chamber
of the Mexican Publishing Industry (Cmara Nacional de la Industria
Editorial Mexicana, 2013). Basic insights into the commercial mar-
ket for self-help books in Argentina can be gained from statistical
handbooks published annually by the Book Chamber of Argentina
(Direccin General de Estadstica y Censos, 2010a, 2010b, 2011, 2012).
Finally, we purchased data from the Chinese market research institute
Open Books, and accessed the freely available statistics published by
the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Brsenverein des
Deutschen Buchhandels, 2015). Considered jointly, the materials we
acquired from these sources indicate the international popularity of
self-help books, the cultural hybridity of national self-help book mar-
kets, and the dominance of the US in these nonetheless multidirectional
cultural exchanges.
With the currently available statistics, it is, however, difcult to put an
exact number on the economic size and audience outreach of the inter-
national self-help industry, though the available statistics indicate that
both are substantial. In 2010, a market research agency estimated the
domestic self-help market in the US including not just the books, but
also audio-visual products and infomercials to have an annual revenue
36 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

of around 10.5 billion dollars, while the self-help book market reached
a worth of 406 million dollars (Marketdata Enterprises, 2010: 2). Both
numbers should, however, only be taken as rough estimates of the self-
help markets size, because the reports categorisations are imprecise. For
instance, they include 2.2 billion dollars worth of medical weight loss
programmes (which seems an over-extensive denition of self-help),
but exclude the revenues from public events of self-help entrepreneurs
(which is a paradigmatic element of the self-help industry and, accord-
ing to the reports own admission, worth more than $1 billion per
year). The report, moreover, only covers the US. Similarly, holistic statis-
tics about the self-help market as a whole are not, to our knowledge,
available for any other country.
Furthermore, the size of the different national markets for self-help
books is also hard to determine, as the statistics offered by publish-
ing houses, national publishing associations and market research rms
systematically underestimate the size of self-help book markets. This is
because they draw on the self-denition by self-help authors and pub-
lishers: whichever book title is self-labelled as self-help, gets put in
the self-help category. The problem with this method is that due to
rhetorical, strategic and commercial reasons, many, if not most, self-help
titles are marketed as something other than self-help (e.g. as spiri-
tuality, theology, philosophy, science, literature, business handbooks).
Correspondingly, most self-help entrepreneurs do not call themselves
by that name, but rather use a variety of other self-labels, from the sim-
ple author to the more slippery psychologist or philosopher. As a
result, as British journalist Viv Groskop observes, self-help authors and
titles have surreptitiously conquered bestseller rankings without fully
showing up in the statistics:

Under the guise of modern philosophy and psychology, the self-help

market has taken over the bestseller lists. [. . .] These books are not
overtly marketed as self-help, but on the sly that is what they are:
they are manuals on how to live your life, and how not to. US pub-
lisher William Shinker of Gotham Books has called this self-help
masquerading as big-idea books. (Groskop, 2013)

Likewise, the Mexican daily newspaper El Economista notes that self-help

conquers bestseller rankings in the philosophy and psychology cate-
gory. In this way, self-help books are a very successful and probably
underestimated genre, all this despite the serious crisis of the Mexican
publishing industry as a whole:
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 37

Self-help books are a magnet for people who are looking to raise
their self-esteem, nd the key to success and obtain the formula
for resolving their existential problems. And they represent a very
attractive market, asserts Rigo Garca, the head of marketing at Edi-
torial Pax Mxico. [. . .] The national publishing industry is going
through a severe crisis. According to the Report on Editorial Activity
in Mexico 2009, the production of books fell by 17.27%. In this year,
66 million copies less were produced than in 2008, when the total
reached 385 million copies. In the CANIEMs thematic category Phi-
losophy and Psychology, self-help books, both in 2008 and 2009 made
rst place, selling the largest variety of titles and the largest number
of copies and contributing 60% to billing in this thematic category.
(Crow, 2005)

Based on the method of following the self-categorisations of authors

and publishers, market research rm Nielsen BookScan reaches particu-
larly low estimates of the American, British, South African and Indian
self-help book sales. Nielsen estimates the American self-help book mar-
ket of 2011 to have had annual revenue of a mere 9.3 million dollars
or 6.2 million pounds (Nielsen BookScan, 2015), which is microscopic
compared to the (perhaps still conservative) 406 million dollar esti-
mate by Marketdata. In 2014, in the UK, the number of sold book
copies categorised as self-help was 282,000, estimated to have a sales
value of 2.6 million pounds; India, at 274,000 sold copies, made
55.7 million rupees or 600,000 pounds; and South Africa, at 32,586
copies, reached 6 million rand or 333,000 pounds (Nielsen BookScan,
2015). The National Chamber of the Publishing Industry of Mexico
(Cmara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana, 2013) puts the
Mexican numbers for 2011 signicantly higher, at 4.3 million copies
and 351 million MXN or 15 million pounds.
Still, the sharpest contrast is with the much higher statistics that
emerge when one does not follow specic self-descriptions, but rather
places all of self-help and life advice in a broader category. The Chinese
market research institute Open Books (2011) categorises all self-help
titles under cultural and supplementary education ( , )
which adds up to annual sales of 18.2 billion RMB or 2.9 billion dollars.
It is, however, unclear how much of the larger cultural and supple-
mentary education could be considered self-help, as opposed to, for
instance, language learning textbooks or cooking manuals. Nonethe-
less, self-help may well count for over half of this category, given the
staggering popularity of self-help in China (discussed in Chapter 4). So,
38 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

the advantage of using such a broad categorisation is that fewer self-

help titles escape being captured in the ofcial statistics. At the same
time, the obvious disadvantage is other types of educational materi-
als and guidebooks go into the same category, thereby inating the
In this light, the statistics about Germany by the German Publishers
and Booksellers Association are useful. To begin with, it places self-
help into the broad advice (Ratgeber) category and does not draw on
the narrow, strategic self-denitions by publishers and authors. More-
over, it also offers information about the composition of that broader
advice category. It consists of hobby/house (13.2 per cent), nature
(9.3 per cent), vehicles, planes, ships, spacecraft (2.9 per cent), sport
(4.2 per cent), food and drinks (27.6 per cent), health (20.3 per cent),
spirituality (4.7 per cent), life help, everyday (14.4 per cent), and law,
career, nance (3.5 per cent) (Brsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels,
2015). Now it is possible to subtract the other advice categories from
the total and arrive at the total revenue of self-help book sales. If one
assumes that self-help covers the categories of health, spirituality,
life help, everyday, and law, career, nance, then self-help forms
42.9 per cent of the total advice market and 5.7 per cent of the total
German book market. Self-help book sales in Germany in 2014 would
thus amount to 544 million euros or 390 million pounds.

Publishing statistics: growth trends and composition

We will now move from the size of self-help markets to their composi-
tion and growth in the past few years. The tables in this section are based
on the self-categorisations of publishers and authors themselves. In spite
of their limitations, they do offer rough indications of growth trends
and the composition (foreign versus native self-help titles) of national
self-help book markets.
In Mexico, between 2005 and 2011, the annual sales of self-help books
remained more or less stable, with more than 3.5 million books sold
every year (Table 3.1). Figures on the production of new self-help titles
in Mexico likewise suggest the market for these books is consistently
strong. While there has been a notable decrease since the onset of the
crisis of the publishing industry, hundreds of new self-help titles were
consistently produced every year in Mexico between 2005 and 2010,
and millions of new self-help books were printed (Table 3.2).
Recent research implies that self-help is likewise prevalent in the
book markets of other Spanish-speaking countries.2 Vanina Papalini
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 39

Table 3.1 Sales of self-help books in Mexico, 20052011

Year Number Number Sales value in

of titles of copies Mexican pesos ($) and
sold sold British pounds ()

2005 4,642 4,101,759 $241,019,606

10.7 million approx.
2006 5,485 4,536,105 $311,824,402
13.9 million approx.
2007 3,529 4,557,996 $319,399,314
14.2 million approx.
2008 5,966 3,773,438 $270,025,220
12 million approx.
2009 6,328 3,599,363 $224,512,334
10 million approx.
2010 8,578 4,328,206 $303,168,849
13.5 million approx.
2011 8,572 4,299,865 $350,702,536
15.6 million approx.

Source: National Chamber of the Publishing Industry of Mexico (CANIEM), personal corre-
spondence; sales values converted from Mexican pesos and rounded up.

Table 3.2 Production of self-help books in Mexico, 20052010

Year Number of new Number of copies of

titles produced in new titles produced
Mexico in Mexico

2005 1,424 3,910,714

2006 1,304 4,450,012
2007 898 5,309,830
2008 1,109 3,878,584
2009 968 3,537,212
2010 1,074 3,652,113

Source: National Chamber of the Publishing Industry of Mexico (CANIEM),

personal correspondence.

(2010: 453) estimates that self-help books belong to the most frequently
sold genres in Argentina, Colombia and Spain, with their share of the
book market in 2009 consistently surpassing 10 per cent. According to
ofcial data on the editorial industry in Argentina, between 3.5 and
5 per cent of new titles produced by local publishers between 2009 and
2011 were self-help books (Direccin General de Estadstica y Censos,
2010a: 8; 2010b: 8; 2011: 9; 2012: 8).
40 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Data gathered by Nielsen BookScan suggests a decline in the sales

value of self-help books in the US (Table 3.3). In the UK, recent media
reports on the basis of data from Nielsen BookScan likewise point to
a steep fall in the sales of printed books (e.g. Flood, 2015). Between
2004 and 2014, the number of self-help books sold (in the narrow
self-dened self-help category) fell from nearly 700,000 to less than
300,000 (Table 3.4).

Table 3.3 Sales value of self-help books in the

United States, 20072011

Year Sales value in US dollars

($) and British pounds ()

2007 $10,974,528
7,340,000 approx.
2008 $13,451,439
9,000,000 approx.
2009 $10,816,539
7,234,000 approx.
2010 $9,829,242
6,574,000 approx.
2011 $9,308,077
6,225,000 approx.

Source: Nielsen BookScan, personal correspondence; sales

values converted from US dollars and rounded up.

Table 3.4 Sales of self-help books in the United Kingdom,


Year Number of Sales value in

copies sold British pounds

2004 688,958 5,783,417.58

2005 566,800 4,871,973.82
2006 752,546 6,411,288.09
2007 621,590 5,539,094.94
2008 472,936 4,114,892.10
2009 520,352 4,294,451.01
2010 356,951 2,893,585.14
2011 407,060 3,231,298.87
2012 283,110 2,449,142.95
2013 294,797 2,643,733.03
2014 282,293 2,554,977.16

Source: Nielsen BookScan, personal correspondence.

Self-Helps Transnationalisation 41

This decline could represent a mere decline in the popularity of

the self-help label, in that more and more self-help authors and
publishers chose to use a different self-description, such as philosophy
or psychology. If the lower numbers signal a real decline in sales,
however, it would indicate that self-help follows the overall crisis
of the British publishing industry over the same period. In this key
study of the contemporary publishing industry, John B. Thompson

The economic recession triggered off by the nancial crisis in 2008 hit
the publishing industry hard, especially in the United States. Begin-
ning in August 2008 and accelerating through September and Octo-
ber, most trade publishers in the US experienced a sharp downturn
in sales. [. . .] With lower sales and higher returns, trade publishers
were not just earning less; they were also facing higher write-offs
for unearned advances and higher provisions for returns. And if any
retailers or wholesalers went out of business along the way some
have already and more could if the recession continues to bite: pub-
lishers live in constant fear of Borders going under they would face
further substantial write-offs for bad debts that could obliterate any
prot that remains. Similar trends, less dramatic were evident in the
UK (and Borders in the UK did, in fact, go under [. . .]). (Thompson,
2010: 395)

Thompson here sets out the scenario in whose context the statistics in
this chapter might be understood. While other factors apart from the
overall crisis of the publishing industry might have contributed to read-
ers declining interest in self-help books, it is at least conceivable that
this trend may to a large degree be attributed to an overall decline in
the sales of printed books.
Next, compared to Britain, the numbers for self-help book sales in
India and South Africa are more stable, yet also signicantly lower
(Tables 3.5 and 3.6). With the current limited data, it remains unclear
whether this shows that the latter markets are really signicantly smaller
or that the difference with the UK is explained by differences in the
categorisation practices of publishers, authors and booksellers.
More than statistics on the overall size of self-help markets, bestseller
lists offer insights into transnational cultural ows, specically the pop-
ularity of certain self-help authors across borders, the proportion of for-
eign imports versus bestsellers by native authors, and the international
popularity of American authors.
42 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Table 3.5 Sales of self-help books in India, 20112014

Year Number of Sales value in Indian

copies sold rupees (`) and
British pounds ()

2011 230,383 ` 49,076,905.44

530,000 approx.
2012 312,451 ` 65,318,680.71
701,000 approx.
2013 276,355 ` 59,409,084.68
640,000 approx.
2014 273,630 ` 55,653,994.78
600,000 approx.

Source: Nielsen BookScan, personal correspondence; sales values

converted from Indian rupees and rounded up.

Table 3.6 Sales of self-help books in South Africa, 20092014

Year Number of Sales value in South

copies sold African rand (R) and
British pounds ()

2009 34,236 R 5,482,539.76

305,000 approx.
2010 49,046 R 7,985,018.24
444,000 approx.
2011 47,798 R 7,210,228.50
401,000 approx.
2012 46,203 R 7,297,485.63
406,000 approx.
2013 38,462 R 6,218,955.64
346,000 approx.
2014 32,586 R 5,986,138.29
333,000 approx.

Source: Nielsen BookScan, personal correspondence; sales values con-

verted from South African rand and rounded up.

Tables 3.7 and 3.8 show how two authors from the US have achieved
international popularity. Napoleon Hill (18831970) was one of the
earliest self-help authors and entrepreneurs in the US. Think and Grow
Rich (1937) is one of the dening works of Hills career. As Table 3.7
shows, the book is still widely read today, achieving bestseller status in
the US, as well as India and South Africa.
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 43

Table 3.7 Bestseller rankings of Napoleon Hills Think and Grow Rich

Ranking in bestseller lists in:

Year United United States India South Africa


2011 Not ranked n/a 10 n/a

2012 Not ranked 31 12 39
2013 Not ranked 27 15 Not ranked
2014 Not ranked 42 8 34

Source: Nielsen BookScan, personal correspondence; ranking according to copies sold.

Table 3.8 Bestseller rankings of Stephen Coveys The 7 Habits of Highly Effective

Ranking in bestseller lists in:

Year United United States India South Africa


2011 3 n/a Not ranked n/a

2012 1 2 Not ranked 4
2013 2 6 13 2
2014 1 7 1 3

Source: Nielsen BookScan, personal correspondence; ranking according to copies sold.

Other works by Napoleon Hill, particularly the posthumously pub-

lished Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success (2011), also
appear regularly in the bestseller lists for the UK, India and South Africa.
Another early self-help author whose works still excite readers is Dale
Carnegie (18881955). According to data gathered by Nielsen BookScan
(2012, 2015), books such as How to Win Friends and Inuence People
(Carnegie, 1936/1981) and How to Develop Self-Condence and Inuence
People by Public Speaking (Carnegie, 1926/1956) have found a steady
audience in India, the UK and the US.
Another, somewhat more recent, self-help classic is the late Stephen
Coveys The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2005). Published more
than a quarter of a century ago, it has been cited as a key exemplar of
US self-help culture (McGee, 2005). Its reputation is borne out by its
continuing status as an international bestseller, as shown in Table 3.8.
Tables 3.7 and 3.8 signal the international reach of self-help books
originally written and published in the US. Authors such as Napoleon
44 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Figure 3.1 Percentage of US titles among top self-help bestsellers.

Source: The gures for the US, the UK, South Africa and India represent the top 20 bestsellers
in the yearly bestseller rankings provided by Nielsen BookScan in the years 2011 up to and
including 2014. In the case of the US, however, data for 2011 were lacking, so the numbers
represent only the years 2012, 2013 and 2014. The gure for Germany represents the top-
ten self-help titles in all the yearly advice (Ratgeber) and non-ction (Sachbuch) bestseller
rankings published by Focus and Spiegel in the period from 2005 up to and including 2010.
The gure for China represents the 14 top-ten bestseller rankings in the category self-help
( ) published by Open Books in the years 2009 and 2010.

Hill, Stephen Covey, Spencer Johnson and Susan Jeffers have devel-
oped a language of self-improvement that speaks to readers well beyond
the borders of the US, while proting from the gigantic reach of
Anglosphere publishers and culture industries.
Figure 3.1 shows that such internationally successful American self-
help authors are not exceptions, but rather belong to a pronounced
systematic feature of international self-help. American authors wrote a
very substantial proportion of the top self-help bestsellers in the US, the
UK, India, South Africa, Germany and even China, demonstrating the
dominant nodal role of American self-help in the international self-help
Although US self-help thus has a visibly inuential position in
the transnational self-help universe, this does not imply that the
transnationalisation of self-help is mono-directional. If anything, closer
inspection of the bestseller lists suggests that self-help is a multidirec-
tional, glocalising transnational network. Indian bestseller lists feature
a prominent number of Indian authors, and works by South African
authors are consistently present on South African bestseller lists. In the
UK, British authors dominate the rankings, often with self-improvement
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 45

narratives notably different from those of their US counterparts, as we

show in Chapter 5. Bestseller lists also shed light on the hybrid, glo-
calised character of national markets for self-help books, since each
of the national bestseller rankings we studied comprises authors from
a variety of national and cultural backgrounds. Mexican author Don
Miguel Ruiz, for example, has made the bestseller lists in the US, while
British author Bear Grylls has also gained considerable recognition in
the US and South Africa. So, the US is unique in the scope of its inter-
national inuence, but the transnational circulation of self-help texts is
nonetheless multidirectional.
Moreover, the transnationalisation of self-help is not marked by the
straightforward standardisation of therapeutic and life narratives in an
American mould. Due to the international dominance of US self-help,
American self-help entrepreneurs do dene templates and set standards
that authors elsewhere use as points of departure. But this does entail
signicant creativity on the part of local or glocal players a dimen-
sion absent from the perspective of, for instance, Eva Illouz (2008:
217). In each national locale, glocal self-help entrepreneurs experi-
ment with, expand upon and depart fundamentally from the American

A transnational self-help entrepreneur

Therefore, we now explore the transnationalisation of self-help from

another perspective and look at the strategies self-help entrepreneurs
employ to popularise their work at the international level. The Mexican
Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez has been particularly successful in this
regard. Since the early 1990s, he arguably became one of the most
acclaimed self-help entrepreneurs in Mexico. A steady string of books
focuses on issues of intimacy, sex and family life, while business suc-
cess forms a second thematic pole of his work (Nehring, 2009a, 2009b).
His activities transcend Mexico and have attracted an audience at the
international level, particularly in the Spanish-speaking world. The
entrepreneurial strategies he has pursued over the past 20 years are char-
acteristic of those pursued by other successful self-help writers outside
the Global Northwest.
Self-help entrepreneurs do not compete for readers attention on a
level playing eld. In particular, the reach of US and British publishing
houses constitutes a major advantage for authors who are able to secure
contracts with these corporations. In his seminal study on the contem-
porary publishing business, John B. Thompson (2010: 100ff.) points to a
46 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

process of concentration which has profoundly transformed publishing

in recent years, replacing a multiplicity of independent publishers with
a relatively small number of large corporations. In the early 21st century,
companies such as Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, and Simon
and Schuster, for instance, have played a dominant role in publish-
ing in the US, belonging, in turn, to even larger media conglomerates,
such as Pearson or Bertelsmann (Thompson, 2010: 116). This might to
some extent explain the strong international presence of US self-help
authors, as shown in Figure 3.1. In comparison, for example, major
Mexican trade publishers, such as Diana, Planeta and Miguel Angel
Porra, are much more limited in their ability to promote the work of
their authors at the international level. Online booksellers, particularly
Amazon, do make books from a variety of countries easily accessible at
the international level. Nonetheless, authors under contract with very
large publishers do seem to enjoy distinct advantages.
For more than two decades, Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez has been
successful as a writer of self-help books and motivational speaker, in
Mexico, in other countries in the Americas and to a more limited extent
in the wider world. This success rests, rst, on his ability to circum-
vent the relative weakness of the Mexican publishing industry and
ensure his products are available internationally to a broad audience.
Central to this is his use of a publishing house, Editorial Diamante,
dedicated almost exclusively to the sale and promotion of his works.
According to the sparse publicly available records, Editorial Diamante
was founded in 1992 (Inbooker, 2012). In early 2015, its website, edi-, stated that bookshops could only be supplied and
individual customers could only place orders from within Mexico, and
it only advertises the Spanish editions of his texts. However, it also dis-
played lists of authorised distributors in 12 countries in the Americas,
from Paraguay in the south to the US in the north of the continent
(Editorial Diamante, no date). Moreover, the online catalogue on the
website contains links to major distributors of e-books, such as Amazon
Kindle, iTunes, Kobo and Google Play, and his books are internation-
ally available in electronic format through these online stores. The
website promotes the works of Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez and, in
recent years, a small number of other authors through advertisements,
catalogues, videos, and so forth. In addition, the publisher also hosts
dedicated channels on social networks such as YouTube, Twitter and
Facebook. Content is consistently displayed in Spanish, even though
online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer transla-
tions of his works in English, Portuguese and German, both in print and
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 47

as e-books. In addition, Cuauhtmoc Snchez also advertises his books,

television appearances and public speaking events through a personal
website,, and a Facebook page. Again, both are
kept entirely in Spanish. All this suggests Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez
primarily engages with Spanish-speaking audiences in the Americas;
he apparently does not seek to address other readers in major ways,
even though many of his books have been translated into various
Second, Cuauhtmoc Snchezs success seems to derive from his abil-
ity to be present and engage with Spanish-speaking audiences at the
transnational level. His personal website announces a steady stream
of speaking events, for example in April and May 2015 in Mexico,
Colombia, Panama and Guatemala. His Facebook site prominently dis-
plays a link to the news that, in March 2015, he was awarded a medal
by the vice president of the Dominican Republic, for the promotion of
values through literary works (Servicios de Noticias, 2015). His speak-
ing events in the US are promoted through media aimed at Hispanic
audiences, both in Spanish and in English (e.g. Chicago Latino Network
E-Newsletter, 2009; Hoy en Delaware, 2011). A promotional note from
2011 promises much:
Ready to change your life? Inicia Tu Exito (Initiate Your Success) lasts
just one day, but what you learn will stay with you for a lifetime.
Hispanic business gurus and motivational speakers Carlos
Cuauhtemoc Sanchez and Carlos Marquez join forces for Inicia Tu
Exito, a powerful seminar that gives people the tools they need to
achieve any goal in any economy.

Presented by The Results Academy, Inicia Tu Exito focuses on more

than just motivation. It provides business training that includes prac-
tical, easy-to-follow skills that allow anyone to prosper, even during
challenging times. The bottom line: theres no need to wait for the
economy to recover. You can take the rst step now and initiate your
own success. [. . .]
Cuauhtemoc Sanchez needs no introduction to Hispanic audi-
ences. The author of 23 bestselling books, his are the most read books
in Mexico after the Bible. Hes a highly sought-after speaker, offering
both spiritual renewal and proven business tools that change the way
people think about all aspects of their lives.
The secrets contained in Inicia Tu Exito have led audience mem-
bers to successful new businesses, unimagined income spikes and
revitalized personal lives. Let this unique seminar do the same for
48 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

you. Its time to write the next chapters in your life, Marquez says.
Well show you how. Inicia Tu Exito takes place from 9 a.m. to 5
p.m., June 19, at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach,
Calif. (Newswire, 2011)

It is evident that self-promotion at the international level is central

to Cuauhtmoc Snchezs entrepreneurial strategy and that his work
is likewise promoted to Hispanic audiences in various countries by a
variety of actors, from members of government to journalists. In this
sense, it seems appropriate to describe Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez as a
transnational self-help entrepreneur.
A strong distribution network and strategic self-promotion are not
sufcient, however, to explain Cuauhtmoc Snchezs success. The
development of narratives of self-improvement that speak to readers
beyond Mexico and have a transnational reach forms a third, crucial
element of his work. The moral vision that underpins his writing has
deep roots in Mexican Christian conservatism (de la Torre et al., 2005;
Gonzlez Ruiz, 1998). Nonetheless, he couches it in ways that appeal to
a broader international audience.
To begin with, he makes aggressive claims to moral leadership on the
basis of extensive scientic knowledge and literary talent. In early 2015,
he introduced himself on his website as follows:

Millions of people consider Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez to be the

most important cultural and ethical guide of our time (Time Mag-
azine, New York Times, Los Angeles Times); unique communicator;
engineer specialised in advanced business management, founder of
prestigious educational institutions; author; according to literary crit-
ics, he renews the telling of ction. Winner of the National Prize for
Literature. Declared to be the most widely read writer in the National
Reading Survey. Author of 27 books, of which almost all have been
real bestsellers. Orator of great impact; winner of the Toast Master
Prize for Excellence in Oral Expression. One of the most highly valued
Hispanic public speakers. (; accessed
10 March 2015; authors translation)

His ambitions to international acclaim are clearly visible through his

references to US media. Supporting his credibility with praise from
renowned sources, such as the New York Times and Time, Cuauhtmoc
Snchez here stakes a claim to general moral leadership, grounded in
his scientic understanding of the world and his talents as a writer.
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 49

In a second, more detailed self-portrait on his website, he also claims

his works are more widely read in Mexico than those of internation-
ally famous authors like Miguel de Cervantes, Pablo Neruda or Gabriel
Garca Mrquez. He clearly seeks to set himself up as a bearer of privi-
leged knowledge, which he passes on to his readers through his books
and speaking events.
Cuauhtmoc Snchezs work mainly deals with two thematic areas.
On the one hand, he is concerned with the moral regulation of inti-
mate relationships and sexuality. In this context, he has published a
wide variety of highly popular self-help novels, such as Youth in Sexual
Ecstasy [Juventud en xtasis], Eternal Laws [Leyes eternas] and A Desperate
Cry [Un grito desesperado]. These novels typically tell a story of moral
redemption, in which the protagonist overcomes a series of negative
external events as well as his or her own moral disorientation in order
to discover the true way (based on Christian values) for having sex and
practising intimate relationships. Second, Cuauhtmoc Snchezs publi-
cations deal with business management and competitive success in the
public sphere. The products in this group include titles such as The Price
of Success: Discover and Practice the Secrets of Success Used by Those who
Triumph [El precio del xito: Conozca y practique los secretos de xito que
usan los triunfadores] and Leaders of the Future: Show the Children How to
Think and Act Like Leaders! [Dirigentes del mundo futuro: Ensee a los nios
a pensar y actuar cmo lderes!].
Cuauhtmoc Snchez has consistently promoted a distinctive model
for self-improvement. It runs through his writings, from the 1990s
bestseller Youth in Sexual Ecstasy (1994) to recent books like The Eyes of
My Princess [Los ojos de mi princesa] (2004), and it is easily notable in talks
such as those posted on Editorial Diamantes YouTube account. This
model for self-improvement, on the one hand, rests on a paternalistic-
moralistic notion of absolute moral truth (Nehring, 2009b). Family life,
intimate relationships, sexuality and life on the whole follow eternal
laws that must be learned and adhered to. Specically, Cuauhtmoc
Snchezs eternal moral laws adhere closely to the vision of conser-
vative Catholicism in Mexico. His writings consistently posit lifelong
marriage, sexual abstinence outside marriage, and family, understood
as consisting of a married heterosexual couple and their children, as
central to both personal fullment and social stability. At the same
time, he castigates divorce, abortion and other practices he describes
as deviant from the moral laws of life. For example, in the self-help
novel Youth in Sexual Ecstasy (Cuauhtmoc Snchez, 1994), the protago-
nist, Efrn, a young university student, discovers that a classmate he has
50 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

slept with has unintentionally become pregnant and sought an abor-

tion. At the same time, he has also contracted a serious and painful
sexually transmitted disease. He sees a doctor who treats the infection
and lectures him on his decient values and conduct, using a mix-
ture of moral and scientic arguments. For example, the doctor asks
Efrn to watch The Silent Scream, a US anti-abortion lm produced in
1984 by the National Right to Life Committee, an ultraconservative
organisation that has a strong historic association with the Catholic
Church in the US. Cuauhtmoc Snchez describes in great detail how
the lm depicts an abortion as the bloody murder of a self-aware human

The abortionist introduces the speculum into the womans vagina

[. . .]. With a probe, he measures the depth of the uterus and applies
the dilators [. . .]. At the same time, on the ultrasound screen the
foetus can be seen moving normally and peacefully; his heart beats
at 140 per minute; he is asleep, sucking on the thumb of his left
hand. Suddenly he wakes with a sudden discharge of adrenaline.
He has noticed something strange. [. . .] Then the enormous negative
pressure breaks the placenta, and the liquid in which the child was
oating begins to ow out. At this exact moment, the little one begins
to cry. But his profound and desperate weeping cannot be heard on
the outside. (Cuauhtmoc Snchez, 1994: 35; authors translation)

This is just a short extract from a long account spanning several pages.
Efrn is shocked, and his moral understanding of sex begins to change
as a result, setting off a process of profound self-transformation, from
a confused drifter into a young man who, at the storys end, is deeply
committed to his family and his newly found ance.
Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez thus writes narratives of moral redemp-
tion, whose protagonists discover moral truths, be it about sex and
intimacy or about economic success. At the same time, his recipes
for self-transformation have a strong voluntaristic dimension (Nehring,
2009b). In his narratives, improvement of ones self, ones relation-
ships with others and ones place in life are ultimately self-motivated
and grounded in ones capacity for introspection and concomitant
behavioural modication. For instance, having watched large parts of
The Silent Scream, Efrn comes to his own, deeply felt conclusions about
the wrongs of abortions:

I could not bear it any longer. I turned off the TV, feeling great
confusion. How could I have supported something like this for so
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 51

long? I did not have the least doubt that the origin of all of mans
sin lies in ignorance. Even the abortion doctors themselves do their
work blindfolded, smelling the delicious aroma of money. But man
is not bad when he knows. He is bad out of ignorance. I felt a strong
urge to crawl between my bedsheets and cry. (Cuauhtmoc Snchez,
1994: 37)

While Efrn was guided into watching the lm by a benevolent bearer

of privileged knowledge, his doctor, here it is clearly shown his rejec-
tion of abortion has resulted from personal insights and feelings and is
a matter of personal choice. Likewise, Cuauhtmoc Snchezs books on
competitive success place a heavy emphasis on individual responsibility
and choice. For example, Champions Blood [Sangre de campen] (Forstorp,
2005) contains chapter titles like A champion accepts the consequences
of his acts, A champion chooses his friends wisely, A champion has
a strong capital of self-esteem, and A champion makes an effort to
be happy. There is thus a distinctive tension between the paternal-
istic and the voluntaristic elements of Cuauhtmoc Snchezs model
of self-improvement. He invites his readers to play an entrepreneurial
role in transforming their lives, taking responsibility for their own
choices to the best of their ability and knowledge. At the same time,
there are clear limits to their freedom of choice, set by universal
moral laws. For instance, acting against these laws, the protagonist of
Youth in Sexual Ecstasy nds himself in an increasingly desperate situ-
ation, struggling with illness and successive unsuccessful relationships.
Equally, Cuauhtmoc Snchezs other books contain numerous exam-
ples of individuals who faced ruin because they disobeyed the laws
of life.
Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchezs model of self-improvement is clearly
grounded in Mexican conservatism and its historically deeply rooted
emphasis on religious morality as source of social order and personal
fullment. Scholarship has highlighted the persistence of such conser-
vatism in politics and public life in Mexico, in response to processes
of modernisation and socio-economic crisis over the past three decades
(Amuchstegui, 2001; Osterberg, 2005; Rodrguez, 2005). Cuauhtmoc
Snchezs work can be understood within this trend.
At the same time, though, he speaks to a much broader audience. His
writings are conspicuously de-contextualised. He mostly does not refer
to specic countries, cities or other places, and the protagonists of his
self-help novels can be imagined as living practically anywhere. Like-
wise, there is a distinct afnity between his moral stance and that of
the religious right in the US. His prominent use of The Silent Scream,
52 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

a popular tool in the US culture wars, is one obvious example of this.

His mixture of strict Christian moralism and self-reliant entrepreneuri-
alism also parallels a moral outlook that scholars have described as
characteristic of the US religious right (Dobson, 2005; Evans, 2005).
On the whole, his work seems designed to appeal to a broad audience
at the international level, rather than just in Mexico. For this reason,
Cuauhtmoc Snchez can be appropriately described as a transnational
self-help entrepreneur.

How is self-help transnational?

In this chapter, we have begun to show that therapeutic culture, in the

form of self-help books, have a broad appeal beyond the Global North-
west. The case studies we have presented do not allow claims as to the
possible global reach of therapeutic culture, as suggested by Illouz (2008:
217). They do, however, offer insights into the transnational constitu-
tion of self-help. Each of the ve markets for self-help books that we
explored consists of an uneven mix of local and foreign authors. Some
of these authors primarily seem to reach local audiences. For instance,
the Indian authors that regularly feature on bestseller lists for India do
not appear on rankings available for other countries, and the work of
many of them is difcult to access even through the catalogues of very
large, international online booksellers such as Amazon. At the same
time, there is a class of self-help entrepreneurs who have managed to
achieve a broad appeal beyond national connes and whose works cir-
culate transnationally. While US authors feature strongly in this class,
writers from other national and cultural origins have likewise managed
to establish an audience across national borders.
Three strategies seem central to success at the transnational level. First,
authors need to establish a publishing platform that will allow for the
transnational promotion and sales of their work, be it through contracts
with very large publishers or self-promotion through independent pub-
lishers, as in the case of Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez. Second, through
a range of media and entrepreneurial activities, authors need to engage
with audiences and partners who may promote their work in different
countries. Examples of this are Bear Grylls media work in the UK and
North America, as documented in Chapter 1, and Carlos Cuauhtmoc
Snchezs efforts at reaching out to readers and publicising his work to
Hispanic audiences across the Americas. Third, and perhaps most cru-
cially, authors must be able to construct narratives of self-improvement
that appeal to readers from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds. Carlos
Self-Helps Transnationalisation 53

Cuauhtmoc Snchez has achieved this with religiously infused narra-

tives of personal success and moral redemption that ostensibly resonate
with Hispanic audiences not just in Mexico, in spite of the deep roots of
his work in Mexican religious conservatism. Likewise, Bear Grylls stories
of rugged survivalism in hard times seem to strike a chord with readers
in crisis-stricken Britain and the US.
Importantly, it does not seem to be the case that the transnational-
isation of self-help has entailed a wholesale standardisation of narratives
of self-improvement. Our discussion of the work of Carlos Cuauhtmoc
Snchez has offered initial insights in this regard. Self-help narratives
may be constituted in and through specic, locally rooted cultural
frameworks of references, such as Mexican religious conservatism, to
use but one example. In this sense, they may expand upon and move
beyond the cultural models dened by early self-help writers in the
Global Northwest, such as Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and so forth.
As this chapter has begun to suggest and as the following chapters
will show in greater detail, much self-help is written in this way, in
reference to quite specic socio-cultural contexts. Some of these texts
achieve transnational popularity on this basis, as in the case of Carlos
Cuauhtmoc Snchez, while others do not cross borders.
Yet, it does not seem warranted to reject entirely arguments drawing
attention to the standardisation of therapeutic narratives and practices.
Authors from the Global Northwest and particularly from the US are
prevalent in the rankings we surveyed. From this, important questions
follow about the ways their narratives dene templates and set standards
that authors elsewhere use as a point of departure and that shape read-
ers understanding of the genre. This is a second set of concerns which
will be addressed in the following chapters.
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China

The rise of self-help in China

Self-help today is a global phenomenon. While the previous chapter

mentioned examples of self-help in the Americas, Western Europe and
South Asia, we now focus on the rise of self-help in the Peoples Republic
of China. Self-help enjoys considerable popularity in East and South-
east Asia; reports indicate that self-help books have a broad readership
in countries such as South Korea (Choon, 2008), Japan (Helwig, 2015;
Tan, 2014) and Vietnam (Viet Nam News, 2011). In the post-socialist
Peoples Republic of China of the late 20th and early 21st century, self-
help and self-help entrepreneurs have likewise experienced a remarkable
prominence, enjoying a considerable presence in mass media and pub-
lic life. Though the exact size of the market for self-help is unknown,
supplementary educational books, of which self-help forms the bulk,
accounted in 2010 for 34 per cent of the total annual revenue of
the market for print books in China, equalling 18.2 billion RMB or
approximately 1.9 billion pounds (Open Books, 2011).
Arguably, the Communist Partys current neoliberal ideology and
its highly competitive capitalistic emphasis on socio-economic self-
reliance, competition and insecurity (Keith et al., 2014) has facilitated
a widespread obsession with individual career success and its oppo-
site: the fear of failure. In reaction and in seeming deance of the
worn-out dichotomy between Western individualism and Eastern col-
lectivism Chinese people have turned to narratives of individual
self-help. A recent report on Chinas publishing industry observes:

The signicant market in self-help and management titles is a clear

reection of the new insecurities of life in China, caused by the

Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 55

increasingly competitive pressures of a rampant market economy.

It is reected too in the dominance of textbooks and supplemental
learning titles in the market, symptomatic of the ercely compet-
itive educational system and family pressure to succeed. (Barry,
2007: 9)

In the following, we trace the ascent of self-help narratives in

China over the past two decades, considering the central role of self-
help entrepreneurs in this process. With this, we extend the argu-
ment begun in Chapter 3. In particular, our analysis of self-help and
self-help entrepreneurs in China reveals that self-help has become a
transnational, even global, phenomenon, capable of breaking through
the cultural walls separating the West and the East.

Mental life and social change in Chinese society

Self-help emerged against the backdrop of the wider transformations of

self-identity and social relationships that marked the reform era.1 De-
collectivisation and Chinas transition to state-managed capitalism form
the context of the rapid growth of psychological forms of knowledge
and psychotherapeutic and psychiatric institutions in recent years. Sing
Lee (2011) traces these developments by exploring the increasing preva-
lence of depression in Chinese society. Lee points out that, until the
1990s, depression was an uncommon condition, which occurred among
less than 0.5 per cent of the population (2011: 177). He explains this
through a tendency in Chinese people to control the outward expression
of emotions:

In the area of psychopathology, anthropological and psychiatric

research indicates that Chinese people often hold in their inner
depression and are inclined to express interpersonal distress by way
of physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, chest discomfort,
and dizziness. There is a widely used cultural category for expressing
these physical symptoms. It is known as neurasthenia or, in standard
Chinese, shenjing shuairuo [. . .]. (Lee, 2011: 179)

In an article published in the very early stages of Chinas reform era,

L. B. Brown (1980) likewise notes that neurasthenia seems to have been a
common topic of psychiatric research in China at the time. Brown more-
over points to the politicisation of psychiatric practice in pre-reform
China and argues that political links in China are inextricable, since
56 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-Tung Thought, and scientic materialism

dene the philosophical base of the new society (Brown, 1980: 22). Lee
also explains the prevalence of neurasthenia through the socio-political
conditions of Maoist China and what he describes as the antipsychiatric
ethos of this period:

The notion of emotional disease or mood disorder was unimagin-

able. Psychiatry was brought to a standstill and viewed with suspicion
by the Chinese state as an imperialist import. Social sciences that
formed the scientic basis of psychiatry, such as psychology, anthro-
pology, and sociology, were highly restricted or banned. Mental
health was about developing moral character via a continuous strug-
gle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Mental disorder
was attributed to the failure of the old political system and the
injustices brought about by moribund capitalism. It was thus to be
rectied with thought reform, especially readings of Maos writings
and imposed work therapy. (Lee, 2011: 180)

Under these conditions, the suffering resulting from social experi-

ments such as the Great Leap Forward could at best be indirectly
expressed, for instance in the form of bodily ailments associated with
neurasthenia. A comparative study of depressive symptoms in Chinese,
Korean-Chinese and Koreans in the late 1990s (Kim et al., 1999: 312)
equally found that their Chinese participants tended not to disclose
emotional suffering or displeasure in clinical settings, instead expressing
physical discomfort. They associate this with a poorly developed public
understanding of psychiatry, and medical services geared towards the
treatment of physical ailments.2
Chinas transition to state-managed capitalism since the late 1970s
has had a profound impact on social relationships, the scope of emo-
tional expression in private and public, and the recognition of mental
distress and illness. Lee (2011: 186ff.) suggests concerns about mental
wellbeing are increasingly becoming depoliticised, and he points to the
emergence of a range of services, from telephone counselling services
to psychiatric hospitals, that have sprung up in Chinas urban cen-
tres. Depression in particular is more and more frequently diagnosed, as
patients are able to express their concerns more openly and clinical prac-
titioners have become increasingly receptive to Western classications
of mental distress, as well as to the commercial interests of pharmaceu-
tical rms in the market for anti-depressant drugs (Higgins et al., 2008;
Li et al., 1994; Naftali, 2010).
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 57

As Chinas turn to neoliberal capitalism with Chinese characteris-

tics (Harvey, 2007a) sparked social tensions, demand for mental health
services rose steadily.3 The transition entailed the state withdrawing
from the in-depth regulation of citizens thoughts and private lives.
It has also, however, led to a growing emphasis on personal responsi-
bility and self-reliance in a sometimes viciously competitive consumer
society. Harvey (2007a: 147f.) describes the gated and protected com-
munities of high-income housing [. . .] for the rich, and spectacular
privileged consumption zones, restaurants and nightclubs, shopping
malls, and theme parks, and he suggests that this wealth has resulted
from socio-economic polarisation and the super-exploitation of labour
power, particularly of young women migrants from rural areas. These
inequalities irrupt into young Chinese peoples private lives by creating
an intensely competitive dating market, one in which economic sta-
tus signicantly impacts young mens and womens ability to nd and
retain an intimate partner (Wang and Nehring, 2014). This new, brutal
competition can spill over into psychological distress, as well as inter-
personal conict, as young people struggle to cope with the expectations
placed on them:

For young people, a feeling of institutionalised unfairness is strong,

and is projected into their emotional lives as a big disparity between
pure ideal love and cruel social reality. We dont have a future, and
he didnt give me a promise. We just drift along. He doesnt care about
the future. He always says, What the future will be like, lets think
about it later. I told him that I dont care about money, but he said,
without the material basis, its a waste to talk about love. (Chu Yu, F,
22). Such power struggles among dating couples reect wider cultural
tensions around youths expressions of post-traditional individualism
in contemporary Chinese society. There are so many luxurious houses
and fancy cars and so much fashionable clothing, and all these seem
so close to the young, while it remains so difcult to actually attain
them. (Wang and Nehring, 2014: 597)

The outlined social transformations and their consequences for

Chinese peoples everyday lives involve a process of individualisa-
tion. The individualisation of self-identity and social relationships has
been an object of sociological debate among Western sociologists since
at least the mid-1980s (Beck, 1986/2000). More recently, individual-
isation has likewise become a focus of attention among scholars of
China (Hansen and Svarverud, 2010; Yan, 2009, 2010). A key feature of
58 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

individualisation is the psychologicalisation of life risks and social prob-

lems, from unemployment to divorce. That is, these risks and problems
are depicted as personal issues rather than as issues of social struc-
ture. Hence, they are believed to only require a solution on the level
of the atomised individual: individuals must reexively fashion solu-
tions in their own terms and through their own efforts. Yan Yunxiang
describes the key features of individualisation in Chinese society as

[I]ndividualization in China is characterized by the management of

the party-state and the absence of cultural democracy, the absence
of a welfare state regime, and the absence of classic individualism
and political liberalism. [. . .] Yet individuals in China also live in
an environment where a uid labour market, exible employment,
increasing risks, a culture of intimacy and self-expression, and a
greater emphasis on individual responsibility and self-reliance have
been created by the globalization of the market economy and an
ideology of consumerism. (Yan, 2010: 510)

In this context, new cultural understandings of mental health and

personal development emerged. The advent of a more and more individ-
ualised society driven by market-based competition is thus accompanied
by the emergence of distinctive new concerns about mental life and
personal wellbeing. Jie Yang (2012) points to the emergence of an affec-
tive state in contemporary China, which relies on a therapeutic ethos
to provide ostensible care for marginalised social groups. Yang considers
the cultural and political implications of song wennuan ( ; send-
ing warmth), a public poverty-relief programme developed in response
to the mass poverty and unemployment caused by the privatisation
of state-owned enterprises. Portraying song wennuan as tokenistic, she
argues it serves to legitimise Chinas model of neoliberal capitalism by
cloaking it in socialist forms (2012: 120). On the other, winning-
oriented side of the cultural spectrum, but legitimising that same model
of neoliberalism, Chinas self-help entrepreneurs provide society with
a kind of help that, though perhaps equally tokenistic in its effects,
openly discards any socialist pretence.

Chinas glocalised self-help eld

Fitting the international pattern, the Chinese self-help eld is glocal,

consisting of a heterogeneous mixture of self-help authors, teachings,
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 59

Figure 4.1 Origin of top-ten self-help bestsellers in China.

products and discourses from a variety of countries, with American

self-help being the dominant foreign inuence. Of the top-100 best-
selling titles in the self-help ( ) category around 30 per cent
derive from China and the Mandarin cultural zone (including Taiwan);
the rest derive predominantly from the US (Open Books, 2011). In the
top ten, the proportions are slightly different. Translated American titles
covered 37 per cent of the top-ten slots between January 2010 and
December 2011 (Open Books, 2011). Only a few bestselling titles derived
from countries other than China, Taiwan and the US. The two most
prominent foreign authors in this other category (see Figure 4.1) were
the Israeli Tal Ben-Shahar and the Australian Rhonda Byrne.
In the early and mid-1990s, when the self-help eld rst emerged
on the Chinese mainland, Taiwanese authors were predominant. In the
words of one mainland commentator, these early days were the era of
Liu Yong (Open Books, 2008: 111). Between 1998 and 2001, Lius book
titles on self-actualisation, communication skills and parenting covered
on average three of the top-ten slots in monthly self-help bestseller
rankings (ibid.). Why were Taiwanese authors and their book titles so
predominant on the mainland directly after the mainland opened up its
market for life advice in the wake of Deng Xiaopings reform policies?
Taiwan, being much more capitalistic and Americanised than its main-
land brother, already housed its own glocal, US-oriented self-help eld,
while belonging to the same Mandarin linguistic-cultural area. These
two factors combined appear to have been what allowed Taiwanese self-
help entrepreneurs such as Liu Yong, Li Kaifu and Zeng Shiqiang to
be among the rst to move in when new commercial and educational
opportunities emerged on the mainland. Afliated with the general cul-
ture and uent in Mandarin, they quickly entered the mainlands mass
60 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

media, while publishers eagerly transliterated their writings into the

mainlands simplied Mandarin characters.
Taiwanese self-help entrepreneurs serve as a bridge between the West
and Chinese culture. An example is self-help entrepreneur and man-
agement professor Zeng Shiqiang. Zeng has been teaching on the
mainland from 1990 onwards. He has a strong personal connection to
the Anglosphere; he was educated in Britain and the US. Simultane-
ously, however, Zeng claims to teach the authentically Chinese way,
Confucian and harmony-oriented approach to management, causing
some mainlanders to celebrate him as the father of Chinese man-
agement. In connection to this, he also presented a lecture series on
CCTV-10 explaining The Book of Changes. He argues this classical reli-
gious text from the fourth/third century BCE offers insights relevant to
modern management (Zeng S., 2007). On such occasions, Zeng wears
the traditional mandarin jacket garb from pre-socialist China instead
of a Western business suit, symbolising his allegiance to traditional
China. The result is a curiously hybrid discourse; one that has American
self-help written all over it, but is symbolically connected to Chinese
The Taiwanese entrepreneur Li Kaifu sides more fully, or more openly,
with Western modernity. Li, who holds dual Taiwanese and American
citizenship, has worked in the management of Apple, Microsoft and
Google, but more recently started up his own venture capital fund on
the Chinese mainland. During the nineties, he began providing career
advice to Chinese youngsters on the mainland, authoring books such
as A Walk Into the Future and Be Your Personal Best. More broadly, he
campaigns for education reform. Li believes that the Chinese education
system produces quantity not quality. Therefore he argues for a focus
on creativity and individualism in Chinese education (Li, 2006, 2008,
2009). In a sense, Li is encouraging mainland students to become more
Western, or at least more like the idealised picture of Western students.
In the early 2000s, translated English-original self-help titles, most
of which derived from the US, engulfed the Chinese eld. Spencer
Johnsons Who Moved My Cheese? topped the Chinese bestseller rank-
ings in 2001. Later Anglo-American bestsellers on the Chinese book
market include Will Bowens A Complaint Free World and Rhonda
Byrnes The Secret (Hendriks, 2015). Each of these stirred up media
hype on its Mandarin release and, in its wake, an army of native, glo-
cal emulators. Chinese publishers and authors market their titles by
associating them with the latest imported trend. Mimicking and cit-
ing their Anglo-American examples, Chinese bookstores overow with
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 61

Mandarin-original books on topics such as how one can raise ones

emotional intelligence (a concept popularised by American psychol-
ogist Daniel Goleman); how one can take control over ones destiny
through the power of positive thinking, as propagated by Will Bowen
and Rhonda Byrne; and how one can cope with change and lost
entitlements, drawing on Johnsons moved-cheese allegory.
The last is arguably the most striking. In the wake of Johnsons
bestseller, books on the cheese problematic ooded Chinese self-
help. Soon numerous Mandarin-originals appeared with titles such as
Whose Cheese Can I Move? ( ), I Dont Want To Move Your
Cheese ( ), Who Dares Move My Cheese? ( ),
Whose Cheese Am I About To Move? ( ), Learn to Make Your
Own Cheese ( ), and No One Can Ever Move My Cheese
( ). In such instances, it is possible to directly trace
the lines of discursive inuence running from American to Chinese
For all its Americanised overtones, however, it is still a signicant fact
that native Chinese self-help has signicantly gained in prominence
and creative assertiveness vis--vis international self-help. While in 2004
translated foreign titles covered 45 per cent of the top-100 self-help best-
sellers in China, they covered only 2030 per cent in the period from
2006 to 2011 (Open Books, 2011). The glocal Chinese eld was picking
up steam. Illustrative of this glocalisation process, the Chinese edition
of the international magazine Psychologies, which offers self-help advice
and pop-psychological infotainment, increasingly ran locally produced,
Mandarin-original items rather than translated items imported from
the other national editions. From its founding in 2006 onwards, the
Chinese edition initially contained mainly Mandarin translations of
imported foreign items. By 2012, however, the proportion of translated
foreign items had sunk to about 10 per cent and locally produced con-
tent had correspondingly risen to 90 per cent. The feature editor of the
magazines Chinese edition noted: As our Chinese team matured and
attained a deeper understanding of the value of our work, we began
to run more localized topics truly reecting urban Chinese peoples life
conditions (Wang, 2013).
Bi Shumin is one of the most prominent mainland self-help
entrepreneurs. After publishing dozens of inspirational novels, which
were dubbed psychotherapy novels, she set out to publish straight-
forward self-help guides such as Wonderful Medicine to Feed the Heart
( ) and Bi Shumins Understanding of Life: Days with Love
( : ). These books exhort people to focus on nding
62 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

inner happiness rather than on obtaining more material gain. The

source of Bi Shumins charismatic authority is her purportedly balanced
and happy life and patriotic life story. She worked as an army doctor
and was stationed in the Tibetan Himalayas for 11 years. In addition,
she seems to prot from her close afliation with the Party, and she
is a certied psychologist. While identifying herself as standing in the
Western school of humanistic psychology, she employs the EQ concept
and encourages Chinese youth to work on raising their emotional intel-
ligence. Cases such as Bi Shumins illustrate the interaction between
foreign imports and native production is complex, and native self-help
is not simply a counterforce. Instead of blocking the penetration of
US-style self-help, native authors carry the discourses, styles and strate-
gies of the US-centred, international self-help tradition into the Chinese
mainland. They are a glocalising force.
Still, it is often difcult to distinguish between direct cultural inu-
ences running from US authors on mainland authors and their publish-
ers, which are manifestations of cultural glocalisation, on the one hand,
and the effects of the emergence of structural equivalences between
Chinese and American society due to Chinas turn to market capital-
ism, which can produce analogical cultural features in the absence of a
direct cultural lineage, on the other. This distinction is comparable to
that made in evolutionary biology between homologous features deriv-
ing from direct lineage and analogous features deriving from unrelated
species having to adjust to similar environmental pressures. To illustrate:
that eagles and owls can both y is one of the many indications that
they share the same evolutionary ancestor, but bats and ying insects
developed their capacity for ight independently from birds. Confus-
ingly, Chinese and American self-help are both genealogically related,
like eagles and owls, albeit in an asymmetrical fashion, and analogously
shaped by similar environmental pressures, like birds and bats. So, there
are many explicit traces of the direct inuence of American self-help on
the neolith Chinese eld, but there has also been a partial convergence
of the socio-economic environments of self-help culture in mainland
China and the US.
Of course, China and the US remain very different, but they are
less different than before Chinas market reforms under Deng Xiaoping
and his political heirs. Particularly impacting self-helps direct social
environment is the commercialisation of the media and book mar-
kets (Rohn, 2010; Sparks, 2010). Television broadcasters, magazines,
booksellers and book publishers, though still standing under heavy
political surveillance, now cater to consumers in an attempt to maximise
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 63

commercial gain, while proliferating political propaganda only in more

subtle and thus marketable ways (Fung, 2008: 162; Sun, 2002; Zhao,
2003, 2011).
The structural convergence of environmental pressures may account
for many of the similarities between Chinese and American self-
help. If so, these similarities will be easily mistaken for the products
of direct cultural Americanisation as it is easy to mistake the wings
of birds and bats for the products of a direct genealogical connec-
tion. To illustrate, the new structural conditions put strong incentives
on Chinese self-help entrepreneurs and publishers to opt for mar-
ketable rhetorical styles and ideational content. Often this translates
into employing ashy slogans, simple language, a personalised narrative
focused on the authors life story, and positive happy end con-
clusions about the individuals prospects, whatever the readers actual
current circumstances may be. These are, however, also key charac-
teristics of life teachings in the international, US-oriented self-help
In consequence, the emergence of an American-style self-help cul-
ture in Chinese is an overdetermined phenomenon. The commercialisa-
tion of the media in particular, and the commercialisation, individuali-
sation and psychologisation of society in general, not only allowed for
the massive import of American and American-style self-help, but, in
itself, also already furthers the ourishing of that kind of commercial,
therapy-oriented life advice. Hence, the two developments cultural
borrowing and the effects of structural convergence complexly overlap
and intertwine.
Therefore, in the absence of direct references to Anglo-American self-
help, it is often difcult to determine whether or not a Chinese self-help
product or teaching is directly inuenced by the Anglo-American self-
help tradition, even when it appears to smack of American inuences.
An example is Yu Dans bestseller Confucius from the Heart and the pop-
ular television lecture upon which it was based (2006a; also see Zhu
Ying, 2012: 163166). Yu Dan purports to popularise Confucius life
philosophy, but she turns it into an individualistic, upbeat message
of individual self-actualisation: The true meaning of the Analects of
Confucius is to tell us how we can live as happily as our hearts and souls
desire (2006b). Some of her many critics speculate that her unusual
take on Confucianism, models itself on some of those American
self-help books (D. A. Bell, email correspondence 19 September 2009).
Still, because Yu Dan does not cite any authors or concepts from the
international self-help tradition, the Americanised appearance of her
64 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Confucianism may also simply reect general market considerations

and/or the individualisation and psychologisation of Chinese society
at large.
That said, as the case of Yu Dan underlines, Chinese self-help also
possesses unique content features emerging from a creative interplay
with native Chinese traditions of life advice, particularly those asso-
ciated with Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism and Chinese medicine.
Certainly not all references to tradition in Chinese self-help are sincere:
some are opportunistic in character, functioning as means for self-help
entrepreneurs to raise their perceived authority or marketability without
involving a serious attempt to transmit insights from those old tradi-
tions. In addition, the versions of Buddhism and Confucianism that
reach the Chinese mass media are marked by political correctness;
they downplay the Buddhist notion of spiritual community and fully
omit references to the Dalai Lama, while putting Confucius in the ser-
vice of Chinese nationalism and Party ideology (Liu, 2013: 188189).
In particular, many intellectuals criticise Yu Dan for her complacent and
politically conformist account of Confucius. Dissident and Nobel laure-
ate Liu Xiaobo calls Yu Dan a pseudoscholar . . . with a sales pitch that
combines tall tales about the ancients with insights that are about as
sophisticated as the lyrics of pop songs (2013: 189). Still, the many
irtations with Chinas ancient traditions no matter how super-
cial or opportunistic do provide Chinese self-help with its distinct
Another striking characteristic of self-help in China (and East Asia) is
the way in which Jewish culture and tradition are exoticised as a source
of profound knowledge about career and business success. Westerners
may be surprised to learn that the old Western stereotypes of Jews as
cunning, business-savvy and intelligent still holds sway in East Asia as
a fully respectable notion. Strikingly, Chinese parents read the Talmud,
one of the central religious texts of Judaism, to their children in the
belief that behind a faade of religiosity, it possesses hidden insights
into secular business success, insights that may benet their children
in advancing their future careers. The idea is that the Jews somehow
possess secret knowledge about business and career success, and this
knowledge has made Jewish individuals successful in starting businesses
and earning Nobel Prizes. Chinese publishers seek to exploit this popular
image of Jewish people by selling secular guidebooks to the Talmud and
other Jewish texts which purport to uncover the secret knowledge of
the Jews. Illustrative of this discourse about Jewishness in Chinese self-
help, a pirated Mandarin translation of Thou Shall Prosper by American
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 65

rabbi Daniel Lapin, an advocate of Jewish prosperity gospel, states on its

front cover:

The Jews are the richest people in the world, and they are known
across the world as the wisest people. Relating to the wealth of the
Jews, there is a classical saying: The money of the world is in the
Americans pockets, but the money of the Americans is in the pockets
of the Jews.
, ,
: ,
(Publishers statement on the cover of Lapin, 2009)

No matter how absurd, even offensive, such ideas and slogans may
seem to contemporary Westerners familiar with the legacy of European
anti-Semitism, they reect the cultural hybridity and heterogeneity of
Chinese self-help. Operating in, and responding to, a competitive mar-
ket environment, the Chinese self-help eld consists of a unique, glocal
mixture of cultural imports and Chinese adaptions. These Chinese
adaptations hybridise American self-help and Chinas native religio-
philosophical traditions; globalised psychological discourse and old
superstitions; neoliberal individualism and new-style CCP propaganda
in surprising, original and sometimes deeply opportunistic ways. In this
glocal form, self-help entrepreneurs, discourses, teachings and products
have obtained a broad public and cultural outreach in contemporary

Self-help in Chinese culture and public life

The contemporary Chinese self-help eld has become a prominent pub-

lic player and cultural force. To access the public and cultural presence of
self-help entrepreneurs in China, we focused on the following sample of
12 prominent Mandarin self-help entrepreneurs: Bi Shumin ( ), Wu
Ganlin ( ), Wu Weiku ( ), Ma Yun ( ), Li Yanhong ( ),
Wang Fang ( ), Bai Yansong ( ), Liu Yong ( ), Zeng Shiqiang
( ), Li Kaifu ( ), Yu Dan ( ) and Ma Yueling ( ). This sam-
ple aims to balance the elds spectrum of thematic foci, styles and levels
of authoritativeness.
Using online databases by media organisations and search engines
Google and Baidu, we studied the appearances of these prominent
self-help entrepreneurs in Chinas ten most widely distributed daily
66 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

newspapers and ten most watched Chinese television channels in the

period 20052011. These are Reference News, Peoples Daily, Yangzi Evening
News, Guangzhou Daily, Nanfang City News, Information Times, Yangcheng
Evening News, Chutan Metropolitan Daily, Yanzhao Metropolitan Daily and
Qilu Evening News (Abels, 2009: 849872, 860); and CCTV-1, CCTV-
5, CCTV-8, Phoenix Chinese, CCTV-6, CCTV-2, Hunan TV, CCTV-3,
Shanghai TV and Fujian Southeast TV (Abels, 2009: 771). We added the
CCTV-10 channel to the selection, because it is the ofcial education
channel of Chinas main broadcaster.
By utilising these mass media platforms (and many others), self-help
entrepreneurs shape the landscape of knowledge on offer in Chinas
mass media and public life. In addition, the discourses, styles and rhetor-
ical formats of international self-help appear to inuence or even
invade new, commercialised versions of Chinese medicine and popular
philosophy, while also making their appearance in formal educational
institutions such as high schools and universities. Besides writing and
promoting books and teaching semi-public seminar programmes, the
Mandarin self-help entrepreneurs also blog (usually via the microblog-
ging website Weibo) and frequently appear on television, in magazines
and in newspapers.
One media platform deserves special mention: the television pro-
gramme Lecture Room on the educational (or, more precisely, edu-
taining) CCTV-10 television channel. From its start in 2001 onwards,
the programme has been one of self-helps most signicant media plat-
forms in China. In each episode, a teacher provides an inspiring, enter-
taining and accessible lecture. The topics addressed range from Chinese
history to the secrets of happiness, health and career success. Many
Chinese self-help entrepreneurs acquired fame through the programme;
examples are Zeng Shiqiang and Bi Shumin. In addition, Lecture Room
boosted the career of Yu Dan. Also, the programme has featured famous
foreign speakers such as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking.
The format of a show such as Lecture Room in which life teach-
ers from different elds of knowledge appear side by side, with their
messages and stories cast in similar, commercialised and media-friendly
moulds illustrates how deeply the Chinese self-help eld intertwines
with, and extends into, the mass media, celebrity culture and the
media-oriented edges of academic elds of knowledge such as medicine
and philosophy. Let us now provide a number of examples of the
intertwining of self-help with these surrounding socio-cultural elds,
so as to outline its extensive socio-cultural outreach in contemporary
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 67

First there is self-helps extension into the media eld; more specif-
ically, into journalism and celebrity culture. Examples of prominent
journalists who turned to teaching self-help on the side are Bai Yansong
and Wang Fang. In 2010, Bai, a famous CCTV news anchor and the
producer of various documentaries, wrote the book Are You Happy? The
book, which became a major bestseller, is autobiographical, telling how
Bai overcame a sad phase in his own life. However, it also wants to pro-
vide the reader with advice on how to nd happiness in our age (Bai,
2011). Wang, a long-time television talk show host on Beijing TV, in
extension of her therapeutic, Oprah-like talk shows, wrote a self-help
book about the challenges of romantic relationships titled Im Loves
Advocate. What players such as Bai and Wang have in common is they
draw on their previously acquired media prominence to quickly launch
their careers in self-help on the side, selling self-help books while
continuing their main occupation in television journalism.
In addition, there is an inuential class of celebrity businessmen who
have gained prominence in the self-help eld. Their biographical eld
trajectory runs from business to the mass media to self-help: their initial
success in business allowed them to establish themselves as celebrities
in the mass media, which, in turn, allowed them to rapidly invade the
self-help eld and establish themselves as self-help entrepreneurs in the
career advice segment. These players blur the boundaries between self-
help and the media (and business) by employing their media capital
inside the self-help eld.
Prominent examples of these types of players in Chinese self-help are
Ma Yun, Li Yanhong and Li Kaifu. All three derive from Chinas vogu-
ish IT branch. Ma Yun is the self-made founder and CEO of the Alibaba
Group which employs about 22,000 people worldwide. His bestselling
self-help book Ma Yuns Comments on Starting a Business ( ),
which was connected to a television programme in which he also
appeared, provides advice to young, aspiring entrepreneurs. Li Yanhong
is the co-founder of Baidu, Chinas most popular search engine. He
teaches on what he calls the 29 principles of Baidu, a set of princi-
ples meant to further ones success in business and life. Li Kaifu, who
held top management positions at Google, Microsoft and Apple, has
authored numerous self-help titles and has, for over a decade, been
active on the Chinese mainland as a self-help entrepreneur specialised
in career planning.
All the above examples feature players with substantial media capital
moving from the mass media eld into the eld of self-help. How-
ever, there is also movement in the opposite direction: in those cases,
68 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

self-help entrepreneurs acquire substantial media prominence and, sub-

sequently, come to also play the role of general celebrities with some
even taking on the additional role of critical journalists.
Bi Shumins broad presence in the mass media offers a good example
of this. Though primarily known for her books on the art of happiness,
she has used her extensive media presence to comment on a wide range
of topics, including politically controversial ones. She has, for example,
criticised local government for its unfair land-ownership policies and
the lack of legislation that could protect the rights of ordinary citizens
(Bi, 2009). The political discussion about land-ownership is particularly
contentious, because, over the last three decades, millions of Chinese
have been forced out of their homes by urban renewal projects against
which they were completely defenceless (Bi, 2009).
It should be said, however, that Bi Shumin can only get away with
her criticism because, rst of all, she is, paradoxically enough, so close
to the Party. She is a Party member and a Red Army veteran cele-
brated for her patriotic service in inhospitable Tibet in the 1970s and
1980s. This provides her with some political capital. Second, she criti-
cises local government a frequent scapegoat rather than the central
government in Beijing, and fails to mention the names of specic of-
cials, thereby complying with two crucial, unwritten preconditions for
accepted public criticism under the present political conditions. Still,
the social commentary of a Chinese self-help entrepreneur such as Bi
Shumin is signicant, because, in the West, one of the things self-help
entrepreneurs are often criticised for is exactly that their overly exclu-
sive focus on the individual has a depoliticising effect; that it distracts
from critical political discussions of social problems (Ehrenreich, 2009;
McGee, 2005).
It seems that, in China, the social roles of self-help entrepreneur,
media celebrity and critical journalist or social commentator are not
particularly differentiated from each other. In the mass media a range
of public gures simultaneously play all these roles. Hendriks compares
the public roles of self-help entrepreneurs in China and Germany in his
doctoral dissertation (2015). This comparison shows that, in Germany,
the public roles played by self-help entrepreneurs are more limited and
that, as a socio-cultural phenomenon, self-help is more boxed in. That
is, it is more clearly differentiated from celebrity culture, journalism, and
intellectual criticism. It is more autonomous a eld.
The relative lack of differentiation in China between the public roles
of the self-help entrepreneur, the celebrity, the journalist and the pub-
lic intellectual may be related to the fact that, due to a long tradition
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 69

of political suppression and censorship, all these are relatively new

and fragile social possibilities. Especially critical journalism and criti-
cal social commentary continue to be only weakly developed under
the authoritarian Chinese regime (and judging from the fact that Xi
Jinpings Document Nr. 9, a condential memo to Party cadres, has
recently decreed a further crackdown on intellectual freedom, there is
no indication that this is about to change in the foreseeable future).
A similar heteronomy a similar blurring and lack of clear dividing
lines between cultural elds and social roles emerges when we examine
the relationship between self-help entrepreneurs and the media-savvy
representatives of Chinese medicine, popular philosophy, pop psychol-
ogy and management research. The Chinese mass media house a host of
semi-charismatic life teachers (in the Weberian sense) who are located
in-between self-help and more ofcial elds of knowledge. They repre-
sent, or claim to represent, academic institutions and/or more formal
bodies of knowledge, and draw prestige from those. At the same time,
however, their book publications and public lectures target a broader
audience, focus on providing advice rather than descriptive analysis,
cater to the mass media and the market, and foreground the guru
gure the (semi-)charismatic life teacher who is presented as an exem-
plar of wisdom. In terms both of their self-presentation and the contents
of the ideas they promote, these kinds of heteronomous life teachers
approximate, and are often indistinguishable from, Chinese self-help
teachers in the international self-help tradition.
Examples of this ambivalent type of life teachers are Zeng Guoping,
Ma Yueling, and of course the above discussed Yu Dan. Zeng Guoping,
a professor of management at Chongqing University, acquired fame
by lecturing on CCTV-10s Lecture Room on how one could raise ones
emotional intelligence so as to further ones success in life (Zeng,
2005). He is clearly not purely an academic scholar. In fact, his public
presence is indistinguishable from that of mainstream Chinese self-
help entrepreneurs. First, he uses the same media platforms. Second,
he takes an advisory rather than merely an explanatory, academic
approach. Lastly, he propagates the exact same ideas on emotional
intelligence that were rst popularised by the bestsellers of American
psychologist Daniel Goleman in the nineties (Goleman, 1996) and
which have come to be closely associated with the self-help movement
also in China, where, for example, Bi Shumin has established herself as
a prominent proponent of the emotional intelligence doctrine.
Zeng Guoping represents a much broader intertwining of self-help
movements and academia. Positive psychology and the emotional
70 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

intelligence (EI) movement are entering the curricula of Chinas business

schools and psychology departments. These movements in psychol-
ogy and management studies, both of which originated in the nineties
in the US, have a contested academic status in the West due to the
commerce-oriented approaches of some of their principal proponents
and their close association with popular self-help culture (Eysenck, 2000:
109; Held, 2004; Locke, 2005; Max, 2007; Miller, 2008; Noram, 2002;
Phillips, 2005; Sample, 2003). Apparently, however, this has not pre-
vented EI from becoming part of the ofcial curricula of public schools
and universities in China. Likewise, positive psychology boosted in
2010 by the bestselling book Happier by Israeli positive psychologist
Tal Ben-Shahar seems to be gaining ground in Chinese institutions
of formal education.
Meanwhile, Chinese medicine which, for a number of reasons, is sig-
nicantly less traditional than many in the West imagine (Kim, 2004)
is being transformed by new, media- and business-savvy players such as
Ma Yueling. Ma Yueling is a prominent teacher of Chinese medicine in
the mass media and a bestselling author of Chinese health manuals. This
has earned her the nickname Godmother of Health, though she may
have permanently fallen off her pedestal due to a series of scandals in
2010 involving her patients/readers getting sick as a result of following
her health advice. Yet, what is striking about the story of her career is
not her eventual downfall, but rather how when she launched her pub-
lic career in the nineties, she started out as nothing more than a nurse.
Certainly it cannot have been her institutional status as a nurse that is,
her very limited institutional capital that allowed her to become the
Godmother of Health. Key here were her marketable books and public
The fact that her (claimed) authority in the tradition of Chinese
medicine seems supported, above all, by her extensive media promi-
nence, her celebrity status, rather than by any serious amount of
institutional capital, causes her to occupy an ambivalent position
in Chinas cultural space. Here it is important to realise, in China,
Chinese medicine is not, as in the West, considered a kind of pop
cultural or alternative form of medicine; it is actually part of the of-
cial, institutionalised medical infrastructure provided and regulated by
the state. There is, therefore, at rst glance, a clear division between
institutionalised Chinese medicine and Western-style, health-related
self-help. However, the division between the two elds is blurred by
charismatic and business-savvy gures such as Ma Yueling, who func-
tion largely outside medical institutions, and consequently operate in
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 71

the same life-advice market as the products and teachers of the self-help
movement. As a result, the relationship between Chinese medicine and
Western-style, health-related self-help is highly complex. (Adding to
the complexity is the fact that some conceptions from Chinese medicine
had already inuenced some of Western self-help to begin with.)
What Ma Yueling is for Chinese medicine, Yu Dan is for Chinese
philosophy. Yu Dan, an associate professor in media studies at Beijing
Normal University, gained tremendous prominence in her role as pop-
ular interpreter of classical Chinese philosophers. This prominence,
rst conned to China, eventually also extended internationally as her
bestseller on Confucius was translated into English and then also other
languages, attracting critical scrutiny in Western media (Sun, 2009 and
others). Though at least the Chinese media tend to celebrate her as a
philosopher, or as someone making a serious contribution to the public
dissemination of philosophical knowledge, intellectuals and academic
philosophers tend not to recognise her at all. Confucius must be turning
in his grave, writes Confucian philosopher Daniel A. Bell, who teaches
philosophy at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing (Bell, 2008:
174). Above we saw how more politically minded intellectuals such as
Liu Xiaobo reach a similar, equally damning conclusion.
Their heteronomous status as commerce-oriented life teachers mov-
ing in-between popular self-help and more formal institutions and
elds of knowledge, almost automatically renders gures such as Yu
Dan, Zeng Guoping and Ma Yueling controversial among intellectuals
(though the controversy surrounding Ma is also due to her predilection
for old-fashioned quackery). It should be said, however, that self-helps
detractors are mostly politically uninuential (on 13 April 2010, twenty
scholars demonstratively burned self-help books at the South China
University of Technology to signal their desperation). The party-state,
by contrast, is a great friend of the thoroughly liberal-bourgeois self-
help movement, no matter the Partys socialist pretensions. Besides
allowing self-help entrepreneurs onto Chinas central media platforms,
it also indirectly furthers self-helps public prominence by suppressing
much of self-helps would-be public competition from institutionalised
The tacit political support, in combination with a swelling capital-
ist media market, has enabled self-help to obtain such an extensive
outreach in Chinese society, culture and public life. Exactly due to
its extensiveness, however, it is only weakly delineated from adjacent
socio-cultural elds and Chinas broader structural transformations. Self-
help gradually shades into Chinese medicine, pop psychology and pop
72 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

philosophy, while aligning itself with societys commercialisation, psy-

chologisation and individualisation. Meanwhile, as mainstream Chinese
self-help despite the occasional critical note by a Bi Shumin or a Li
Kaifu tells atomised individuals to criticise and reform themselves
rather than society and to chase after their individual happiness and suc-
cess in an imaginary social vacuum, it ts all too well with the Partys
new ideology. This new ideology, adorned with the slogans of social
harmony (President Hu Jintao) and the Chinese Dream (President Xi
Jinping), combines political authoritarianism and neoliberal individual-
ism. In a sense, Chinese self-help entrepreneurs promise their students
that the self-made success of the Chinese Dream an obvious play on
the old American Dream is within reach, albeit only if those promis-
ing students do not lose themselves in fruitless activities disruptive of
social harmony such as social criticism and political activism (Yang,

Transnational self-help in contemporary China

Enabled by the socio-cultural and political liberalisation of Chinese soci-

ety since the beginnings of the reform period, self-help entrepreneurs
and their teachings, products and associated discourses on therapeutic
self-improvement have gained tremendous visibility in Chinese public
life (though self-help may be a primarily metropolitan phenomenon, as
there is a great socio-economic divide between the coastal metropolises
and rural China). In turn, a growing interest in narratives of personal
change and empowerment reects the growing socio-economic inse-
curity and polarisation brought about by privatisation, marketisation
and individualisation. The Chinese party-state indirectly advances the
engagement with therapeutic narratives of individual life-improvement
by curtailing much of self-helps would-be public competition; that
is, the more politically dangerous life advice offered by institution-
alised religion, critical philosophy and political activism. Perhaps the
party-state even intentionally props up self-help entrepreneurs via its
numerous state-controlled media as a cynical means of social control,
promoting the narrowing individualism of self-help advice to forestall
social activism and, more generally, any politicised expression of col-
lective dissatisfaction. In any case, the rise of self-help culture in China
was enabled, shaped and fuelled by the cultural, political and economic
development of Chinese society.
At the same time, it is impossible to disentangle these localised
developments from broader, transnational social processes. The Chinese
Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China 73

self-help book market teems with translated American and Taiwanese

titles, and many Chinese self-help entrepreneurs closely mimic their
American examples (as the emulation hypes around Johnsons Who
Moved My Cheese?, Will Bowens A Complaint Free World and Rhonda
Byrnes The Secret attest). Instead of merely importing the global-
ising package of therapeutic discourses, however, Chinese self-help
entrepreneurs actively appropriated and hybridised them to t with
local conditions, thereby carrying the global into the locale of Chinese
public life. This gives the Chinese self-help eld a distinctive, glocalised
character, both in terms of its mix of imported and locally produced
texts and in terms of the ways in which local self-help narratives have
been blended with inspirations from elsewhere. The story of self-help in
China is thus one of cultural blending, appropriating and transforming,
rather than a tale of straightforward cultural Americanisation.
Considered jointly, our ndings in this and the preceding chapter
highlight the transnational scale of self-help and, more broadly, ther-
apeutic culture beyond the Global Northwest. First, our case studies
illustrate how self-helps prescriptions for a better life have come to
appeal to individuals transnationally. The strong market for self-help
books existing in nations as diverse and distant from each other as
Mexico, India, South Africa and China is a case in point. Second, the
gure of the self-help entrepreneur is key to understanding the popular-
isation of self-help at the transnational level. Though many Chinese
self-help entrepreneurs conne their work to China, the ways they
achieve prominence e.g. by employing a rhetorically powerful, per-
sonalised life story; hybridising Anglo-American therapy culture and
local religio-philosophical traditions; and promoting marketable books
via public lectures and media appearances are similar to the profes-
sional strategies pursued in the Americas by authors like Cuauhtmoc
Snchez. At the same time, self-help entrepreneurs such as Cuauhtmoc
Snchez and Yu Dan are so successful that, just like the most promi-
nent Anglo-American self-help entrepreneurs, they themselves achieve
international prominence.
Third, models for self-improvement, and the normative accounts of
the social world in which these models are grounded, can vary widely
between different cultural settings, while at the same time sharing
basic assumptions about the possibility of voluntaristic betterment of
ones life. We suggest that, while individuals experiences of everyday
life continue to be grounded in localised, highly specic social condi-
tions, they are also increasingly shaped by the discourses, policies, social
relationships, institutions and forms of economic practice of global
74 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

neoliberal capitalism. It is in this context that prescriptions for a bet-

ter life relying fundamentally on notions of individual responsibility
and autonomous self-making have acquired such attractiveness. Our
exploration of Chinese self-help may be read as one poignant exam-
ple of this trend. In the following chapters, we will further explore its
transnational outreach.
Self-Help in Crisis

Self-help in an age of diminishing opportunities

Paul McKenna is a popular British self-help entrepreneur. Since the early

1990s, he has published self-help books on a wide range of topics, from
weight loss in I Can Make You Thin (McKenna, 2009) to happiness in
I Can Make You Happy (McKenna, 2011) and enhanced intelligence in
I Can Make You Smarter (McKenna, 2012). Alongside his books, McKenna
has gained public attention as a hypnotist and personal development
expert. He promotes therapies to cope with trauma (Moore, 2013) or
to achieve greater success through mental reprogramming (McKenna,
2014), and newspapers write of his successful work with celebrities
(Lampert, 2008). As with many self-help entrepreneurs, his success
seems to rest on a mixture of claims to scientic expertise, stories of past
success and high visibility across a wide range of media platforms. His
personal website, for instance, highlights his doctorate before pointing
out that Paul McKenna is the UKs most successful non-ction author
and listing a succession of bestsellers (McKenna, 2013). This is followed
by a set of testimonials by former patients, who attest that McKennas
advice enabled them to lose weight and improve their lives dramati-
cally. Likewise, he promotes his work through Twitter and Facebook, and
Apples online shop iTunes sells various apps allowing users to track their
success applying McKennas self-help techniques. Over the years, he has
also been the host of various TV series, and channels on video plat-
forms such as YouTube and Hulu allow viewers to watch him in action
Through these activities, he has become a popular author in the UK.
In early 2015, the online bookselling giant listed several
of his books as #1 Best Seller. Sales statistics collected by Nielsen
BookScan likewise show that Paul McKennas books consistently rank
among the bestselling self-help books in the UK (see Table 5.1). Table 5.1

76 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Table 5.1 Annual sales of self-help books by Paul McKenna, 2006 and 2012

Year Title Sales rank Sales volume Sales value

2006 Instant Condence 1 176,436 1,388,850.29

2006 Change Your Life in 7 Days 2 81,604 614,294.28
2006 How to Mend Your Broken 18 5,098 46,043.55
2012 Instant Condence 2 14,525 119,300.52
2012 Control Stress: Stop Worrying 3 10,415 89,634.40
and Feel Good Now!
2012 I Can Make You Happy 5 7,561 67,716.16
2012 I Can Mend Your Broken 18 3,429 29,915.94
2013 Instant Condence 5 8,614 74,287.32
2013 Control Stress: Stop Worrying 7 8,237 72,554.64
and Feel Good Now!
2013 I Can Make You Happy 16 4,270 38,779.87
2013 I Can Mend Your Broken 28 2,203 19,408.36

2014 Control Stress: Stop Worrying 2 10,120 73,258.02
and Feel Good Now!
2014 Instant Condence 3 8,807 68,079.69
2014 I Can Make You Happy 17 3,769 32,885.14
2014 I Can Mend Your Broken 31 1,791 15,771.45

With Hugh Willbourn.

Source: Nielsen BookScan, personal correspondence.

lists only those books included in Nielsen BookScans ranking of the

top 50 bestselling self-help books in each year. Even so, it is evident
that thousands of copies of Paul McKennas books are sold annually,
at a sales value of at least 180,000 pounds per year. On the whole, it
does not seem difcult to conclude that Paul McKenna is a typical self-
help entrepreneur, relying on a multimedia strategy of self-promotion
and continuous public visibility to achieve professional and commercial
At the same time, in his books, McKenna also offers a classic
promise of far-reaching entrepreneurial self-improvement. The opening
paragraphs of Change Your Life in 7 Days (McKenna, 2004) could hardly
be any clearer on this point:

You hold in your hands a book that has the power to change your life
Self-Help in Crisis 77

Does that seem like an outlandish claim? So many of the people

Ive guided to achieving their desires started out wondering how it
is possible and ended up astounding themselves. Now its your turn.
Dont underestimate the power of the system in this book. I promise
you it will change your life!
Success and happiness are not accidents that just happen to some
people and not to others they are predictable results created by
deliberate ways of thinking and acting, ways that Ill be sharing with
you over the next seven days. As the saying goes, success is all about
luck ask any failure! (McKenna, 2004: 3)

In the rst sentences of this quotation, McKenna offers his readers

self-helps foundational promise of fundamental personal transforma-
tion. He asserts his advice will change your life forever and, in so
doing, stakes a claim to authority over his readers attempts at self-
improvement. He does not support his claim in any way, rather coaxing
his readers to accept it, and therefore his authority, at face value: Dont
underestimate the power of the system in this book. However, there is
more to McKennas narrative than a simple attempt to coax his read-
ers to believe him. Crucial to McKennas proposal for self-improvement
is the belief that success and happiness are predictable results created
by deliberate ways of thinking and acting. While he may provide his
readers with the guidance and advice, they are ultimately still self-
made women and men. Self-improvement, in other words, depends
on McKennas readers ability to develop an entrepreneurial attitude in
making deliberate choices that will lead them towards desired outcomes.
This entrepreneurial approach to self-improvement is equally appar-
ent in McKennas use of hypnosis. His professional experience as a
hypnotist adds a somewhat unusual feature to his prole as a self-help
entrepreneur. However, the way in which he instructs his readers to
make use of hypnosis ts well within common tropes of self-help writ-
ing. A good example is the second chapter of Change Your Life in 7 Days
(McKenna, 2004), titled A Users Manual for Your Brain. It begins with
the following instructions:

Before you begin today, listen to the hypnotic trance (www., then take a few moments to go through
the Reprogramming Your Self-Image exercise from day one:

1. Relax and breathe deeply. As your muscles relax, it becomes easier

and easier to unleash your imagination.
78 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

2. Now, imagine another you standing in front of you. This is the

most magnicent you that you can imagine your authentic self.
3. Take a moment to feel totally happy with your authentic self. Look
at the way that the authentic you stands, breathes, smiles, walks,
and talks. Look at how the authentic you speaks to others. Notice
how the authentic you handles problems and goes for goals.
4. Now, step into and synthesize with your authentic self. See
through the eyes of your authentic self, hear through the ears of
your authentic self, and feel how it feels so good to live life as your
authentic self!
5. Finish your programming session by taking a minute to daydream
about how your life will be different as you live more and more
from your authentic self. You can imagine yourself living authen-
tically in any number of real situations from your past, present
and future. (McKenna, 2004: 40)

McKennas account of mental life shows little of the complexity char-

acteristic of psychoanalytic and psychological theories. Rather, as the
chapter title begins to suggest, McKennas mind resembles a computer
that can be used and reprogrammed to achieve a desired outcome,
i.e. synthesis with ones authentic self. McKennas account of self-
improvement, in Change Your Life in 7 Days as in his other works,
consistently relies on the opposition between an incomplete and there-
fore decient and unfullled self and a supposed authentic self, ready
to full its true potential. The gulf between the decient self and
the authentic self has to be bridged by following a sequence of set
steps of behavioural modication, such as the quoted ve steps of
the Reprogramming Your Self-Image exercise. Therefore, underneath
its appearance of originality, McKennas model of self-help is not so
very different from those of early self-help writers, such as Samuel
Smiles, Napoleon Hill or Dale Carnegie discussed in Chapter 2. In this
sense, Paul McKenna might be characterised as a classic self-help
In the context of this chapter, this matters due to McKennas last-
ing success. As Table 5.1 shows, both in 2006 and between 2012 and
2014 at least three of McKennas books have featured among the 50
bestselling self-help books in the UK. While the overall sales volume of
McKennas works dropped markedly between 2006 and 2012, there was
no decline in their sales rankings; rather, the drop might be attributed
to an overall decline in the British market for print books in this period
(see Chapter 3). In other words, the period of socio-economic crisis and
Self-Help in Crisis 79

austerity that began in 2008 has had little impact on one of Britains
most successful mainstream self-help authors. Over the last four years,
his books have been as popular as they were before the crisis, while the
models of self-help they advocate have not changed signicantly.
Does this mean the great crisis that began in 2008 has had little impact
on self-help writing at large? This is the central question we pursue
in this chapter, looking at self-help narratives in the UK and the US.
Both societies have been at the forefront of political experiments with
neoliberalism, resulting in economic deregulation, the privatisation of
key institutions, a decline of welfare state provisions, a marked growth
in corporate power, and a notable reduction in the scope and effec-
tiveness of democratic politics (Crouch, 2004; Daguerre, 2013; Dean,
2009; Harvey, 2007a). In both countries, the socio-economic crisis that
began in 2008, as a result of neoliberal economic policies, has entailed
widening socio-economic inequalities and a growing sense of social
polarisation, injustice and diminishing opportunities for upward social
mobility (Dufour and Orhangazi, 2014; Gilligan, 2012; Harrison, 2012).
At the same time, neoliberalism as a cultural, political and economic
system seems to have survived the crisis largely intact (Crouch, 2011;
Dowling and Harvie, 2014; Mirowski, 2013; Small, 2011; Urry, 2014).
How, if at all, have self-help writers in the UK and the US responded to
this deep malaise? Does self-helps classic promise that a better life can
be achieved in little time still hold sway? In this sense, is Paul McKennas
work still typical of the self-help genre at large, or are his recipes for a
changed life in seven days the exception to new norms in self-help writ-
ing? To answer these questions, we now survey some recent trends in
self-help writing in the US and the UK.

Feel-good books in an age of crisis: Mainstream self-help


Within the diversity of self-help texts available today, there is a main-

stream of self-help writing, by both American and British authors, whose
features do not differ much at all from pre-crisis texts. These texts artic-
ulate a particularly pervasive model of self-improvement, and they do
not pertain to a particular subculture or milieu. Much as before the
crisis, these books continue to promise their readers material improve-
ments in their life more money (Aubele et al., 2011), better career
prospects (Owen, 2015), a happier marriage (Miles, 2014), a painless
divorce (Elliott, 2009), and so forth. Much as before the crisis, these
books argue that such material improvements in readers lives are an
80 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

outcome of individuals efforts to improve their habits and attitudes.

Self-help in these texts still is self-improvement, understood on purely
individual terms. To a large extent, it might be said that self-help writ-
ers on both sides of the Atlantic have not responded much at all to the
consequences of the great crisis.
Thus, in Britain Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab (2014) suggest readers
unleash their inner psychopath to achieve self-fullment. On the open-
ing pages of their recent The Good Psychopaths Guide to Success, they

In the pages that follow, we will reveal SEVEN SIMPLE PRINCIPLES

that will make you more successful. And then well help you apply
them. We are not interested in what kind of success it is youre after.
It could be big: Maybe you want a raise? Or a promotion? Or to clinch
the deal that will get you that raise and promotion? [. . .] Whatever it
is, this book is designed to meet the EVERYDAY needs of EVERYDAY
people in EVERYDAY life: in the workplace, outside the workplace,
with colleagues, with friends, with family. It can: make you money,
save you money, get you out of trouble, get you into trouble [. . .],
get you preferential treatment. Whatever the success is that youre
after, we are going to show you how to get it. (Dutton and McNab,
2014: 22f.)

They argue the secret to unmitigated success lies in cultivating a set

of personal traits that characterise a good psychopath who does not
cause undue harm to others, someone between James Bond and Gordon
Gekko (Dutton and McNab, 2014: 42, 51). These traits include, among
others, ruthlessness, fearlessness, reduced empathy, charisma, narcis-
sism, and belligerent self-condence (Dutton and McNab, 2014ff.).
The book stakes a claim to novel, attention-grabbing advice for life
improvement by amboyantly depicting as desirable a type of person-
ality likely to invoke in readers a number of obvious and very negative
associations. Underneath their loud style, though, Dutton and McNab
simply invoke the image of the entrepreneurial self that has driven self-
help writing for a very long time indeed (see Chapter 2): The self they
posit as ideal makes strategic, rational choices in the pursuit of success.
It achieves the autonomy to do so by prioritising self-interest, boldly
rendered by Dutton and McNab as narcissism, ruthlessness and so on.
Dutton and McNab justify their model of the entrepreneurial self by
situating it in a social context pervaded by market-based competition,
Self-Help in Crisis 81

invoking ice-cool hedge-fund managers, silver-tongued barristers,

ruthless CEOs, and Special Forces soldiers as emblems of success
(Dutton and McNab, 2014: 29).
This entrepreneurial self stands centre-stage in contemporary main-
stream self-help. Consider, for instance, popular nancial advice books.
For two decades, Suze Orman has been publishing bestselling books,
as well as a variety of other media, that advise their readers on how
to best manage their money (Orman, 2015). Throughout her writings,
she has consistently encouraged an entrepreneurial mind-set. In 2001,
she opened her argument in The Road to Wealth by stating: When it
comes to money, I deeply believe that the obstacles that keep us from
being more and having more are rooted in the emotional, psychological,
and spiritual conditions that have shaped our thoughts: In other words,
what we have begins with what we think (Orman, 2001: xi). She then
goes on to argue that problems such as excessive and unproductive debt
are primarily related to problematic mental traits, such as a lack of self-
esteem (Orman, 2001: 4). While she offers a broad range of information
and practical advice on how to deal with issues such as insurance, home
ownership and credit cards, her argument is fundamentally based on the
assumption that an entrepreneurial mind-set, characterised by high self-
esteem, strategic planning and self-interested actions, is fundamental to
nancial success.
This has not changed much at all in her more recent writings.
In 2009, at the height of the subprime mortgage crisis, at a time when
many Americans were suddenly losing their homes, she published Suze
Ormans 2009 Action Plan (Orman, 2009). The book discusses the cri-
sis extensively, acknowledging the anxiety likely felt by her readers and
arguing that a full economic recovery would be unlikely until 2014 or
2015 (Orman, 2009: 6). Thus, the book includes extensive discussions
of issues such as foreclosure, bankruptcy and dealings with debt collec-
tors. Amidst all this, however, Orman still argues that an action plan
will be able to see her readers through the crisis. Her approach to self-
improvement is fundamentally entrepreneurial; she promises to advise
her readers when to act and when to leave it (Orman, 2009: 3), and,
in a section titled Accent on Action, she points out: The fact is, the
new reality requires new strategies. They will not necessarily be whole-
sale changes in every aspect of your nancial life, but tactical actions to
make sure you do not let the credit crisis knock you off course (Orman,
2009: 4). Later on, she encourages her readers to start your job hunt
right now, network like crazy and make sure to meet 100 per cent of
82 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

employers needs (Orman, 2009: 189). While Orman shows a consider-

able understanding of the origins of the crisis in institutional failings
and structural problems, the action plan resulting from her arguments
is still fundamentally individualistic; in her account, her readers cannot
do much beyond cultivating their entrepreneurial talents and plan their
personal future as best they can.
The crisis, if anything, seems to have led some self-help authors to
further accentuate the need to fashion an entrepreneurial self in a
competitive society. The personal branding literature is one instance
of this trend. Over the last few years, a host of self-help books have
been published that advise their readers on how to get ahead by turn-
ing themselves into desirable brands. Books such as Brand New You
(Middleton, 2012), Brand You (Purkiss and Royston-Lee, 2012), Personal
Branding for Brits (Holloway, 2015) and Personal Branding for Dummies
(Chritton, 2014) primarily mean to coach their readers for improved
success at work or while looking for work. Personal branding books take
the entrepreneurial ethos of mainstream self-help to new lengths. Self-
help books have long asked their readers to reinvent themselves as a
new you that is better prepared for success. The narratives of personal
branding books take the ethos of the self-help man further, by asking
their readers to tool their personal features into an image, or brand, from
which they can derive economic advantages. In You Branding, Mark Cijo
(2014: Foreword) thus invites readers to use the strategies of successful
companies to identity their strengths, Unique Selling Points and goals.
In Cijos account, personal development follows the competitive logic
of the marketplace:

While corporate branding might be different in terms of scope and

some of the techniques, the goals are actually quite similar [to per-
sonal branding]. You want people to associate you with certain
qualities and characteristics based on your name and who you are
as a person. You are marketing and advertising yourself with your
brand, essentially, and it can be a good idea to watch the way the
big companies take care of their corporate branding. [. . .] You need to
show people what it is that makes you different, and therefore better
than, your competition. (Cijo, 2014: Ch. 3)

While Cijo (2014: Ch. 1) elsewhere identies Napoleon Hill as a major

inspiration, he goes far beyond Hill in asking his readers to understand
their personal characteristics as commodities to be used in the pursuit
of competitive advantages. In his account, the social self your name,
Self-Help in Crisis 83

who you are as a person only exists as a strategically fashioned image

to be capitalised upon.
Implicit in narratives of personal branding is the assumption of a
mutable self that can be fashioned and re-fashioned through a ratio-
nal process of introspection and behavioural modication. The personal
branding literature shares this assumption with many earlier careers
advice books that teach their readers a winning attitude and the right
habits are the key elements of professional success (e.g. Cialdini, 1993;
Denny, 2010; Drucker, 2007; Goleman, 2006). However, they articulate
this assumption much more sharply than these earlier texts. Mark Cijo

Dene your values. Your values can and should be a very important
part of your personal brand. Having a set of values you dene and
live by can help you make the right decisions for your branding no
matter what choices you have to make. These values are the princi-
ples by which you live, and by which people will view your brand.
[. . .] Your values need to align with your brand, your work, and your
life in order for you to be happy. [. . .] It is about understanding and
bettering the type of person you are. (Cijo, 2014: Ch. 5)

Cijo acknowledges that values are about understanding and bettering

the type of person you are. Nonetheless, he does not portray them as
organically connected to lived experience and the social processes in
which lived experience is embedded. Instead, they appear as objects of
rational choice in a process of strategic self-fashioning, in terms of their
contribution to ones brand and ones life in general.
The personal branding literature justies the need for a strategically
crafted image of the self with the changing nature of work. On the
one hand, these authors tend to emphasise the competitive, unstable
nature of work. Justifying the need for personal branding, Jeff Beals
thus concludes: Todays marketplace is crowded and noisy. [. . .] Bil-
lions of people are competing for the spotlight. [. . .] Each person is
a brand. Regardless of your chosen profession, you are a business
of one rather than an employee of someone elses business (Beals,
2008: v). Similarly, Mark Cijo (2014: Ch. 1) argues that the world is
becoming a freelance-centric place and that employees are in a near
constant state of unease because they never know when the next lay-
off might be creeping up on them. The result, both authors argue,
is an urgent need for workers to understand themselves as businesses
of one and devise entrepreneurial strategies for professional success
84 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

on the basis of a well-crafted personal brand: Positioning your brand

and keeping watch on other opportunities out there that might make
excellent potential employers [sic] is the name of the game today. Think
about your career as though you are a free agent. It is always in your
best interest to look for new and better opportunities (Cijo, 2014:
Ch. 1).
In this sense, we again see there is a considerable degree of con-
tinuity between this new form of self-help and older narratives of
self-improvement, for example on positive thinking (Peale, 1952/2003),
emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1996) and leadership (Carnegie,
1993). The personal branding literature is new and distinctive in its
direct appropriation of the rhetoric of marketing and in its highly
explicit description of the self as a commodity in market-based
exchanges. Personal branding thus responds to its awareness of the exi-
gencies of the neoliberal workplace in a time of crisis by encouraging
workers to endorse and take to its limits the ethos of the self-made
man or woman. In these books, the self in its entirety becomes an
object of market forces, to be moulded and re-moulded in the pur-
suit of competitive success. Ultimately, though, it shares with these
older texts the notion of a mutable self, intelligible through intro-
spection and open to far-reaching transformation through deliberate,
rational choices. Self-improvement in all these texts results from, rst,
the realisation of the selfs mutability, second, the use of this insight for
conscious behavioural modications and, third, the deployment of such
behavioural modications in the pursuit of competitive success. There-
fore, in the end, personal branding might be interpreted as a somewhat
novel articulation of well-established tropes of self-help writing.
Our exploration of self-help narratives so far suggests the genre has
not changed signicantly since the beginnings of the great crisis of 2008.
Some well-known authors have explicitly acknowledged the impact of
the crisis on their readers lives, while others do not mention it at all.
Moreover, even authors like Suze Orman (2009, 2010), who discusses the
crisis extensively and in drastic words, have not changed their propo-
sitions for self-help. Self-help in these texts continues to be portrayed
as autonomous self-making by rational individuals. Perhaps Jeff Bealss
(2008: v) metaphor of the self as a business of one best represents
mainstream self-helps persistent assumption that success and wellbe-
ing are the outcome of individual agency, outside of social bonds and
regardless of alternatives for collective action. The world of mainstream
self-help is still a world of atomised individuals acting in the pursuit of
Self-Help in Crisis 85

Self-help dystopias: Opting out and getting by

At the same time, though, there are both in the UK and in the US niches
of self-help writing that have responded to the crisis in notably different
ways. Since the beginnings of the great crisis in 2008, one notable trend
in self-help writing in both the UK and the US has been a growth in the
number of survivalist self-help books. These books are distinguished,
rst, by a strong emphasis on the stress, anxiety and the risks of every-
day life, and second, by their focus on the practical skills and attitudes
their readers need to either cope with these risks or begin a new life
altogether. Survivalist self-help books offer dystopian visions of societies
that offer few opportunities for self-fullment. There are a few early,
pre-crisis examples of this form of self-help. For example, in Getting Out
from Under, Stephanie Winston emphasises the constant overwhelming
nature of contemporary life:

Those same people for whom gaining control over their papers and
their closets was enough ten or fteen years ago now nd that their
crisis of time is not simply solved by getting more organized. The
clutter they experience is as much internal as external the result
of having too many conicting choices, a growing list of priorities
to shufe in the same time frame, and a burgeoning afiction of
guilt and disappointment at not being able to handle everything per-
fectly. [. . .] The birth of new possibilities has given rise to the birth
of new shoulds, doubling the intensity of already crowded lives.
These shoulds are reinforced by an ever-widening cadre of experts
discoursing in every public medium about what it means to be a
good parent, a productive employee, an appealing personality [. . .]
and still have time to plant petunias. (Winston, 1999: 1f.; emphasis
in original)

The notion of a crisis of time is central to Winstons argument through-

out the book. This crisis of time requires individuals to make choices
about competing realms of their everyday lives, from careers to marriage
to children, and balance the responsibilities they acquire through these
choices. Winston here evokes images of crisis highlighted at roughly the
same time by sociologists Arlie Russell Hochschild (1997) and Richard
Sennett (1998). In studies written in the late 1990s, a period of economic
prosperity in the US and Western Europe, Hochschild and Sennett both
point to the growing difculties involved in creating lasting intimate
and community ties. These difculties, they argue, result to a large
86 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

degree from the exibilisation and precarisation of labour and growing

demands placed on individuals in terms of work time, mobility, and so
forth. Winston, though, does not explore the socio-economic context of
her crisis of time in much detail, instead offering her readers practical
advice to get out from under:

I liken the panic many people experience to being buried in an

avalanche of snow. They paw furiously to escape even though they
have no idea which direction leads to freedom. They are driven by a
survival instinct but are working blind. The same is true of many peo-
ple who are simply overwhelmed as they scramble to dene time for
work, family, partners, children, community, and themselves. Often
their attempts to escape the morass lead to panic-stricken failing. [. . .]
When youre really in a state of time crisis, the rst imperative is get-
ting some room to breathe. On a very practical level, you need to
open up some time and space in your daily life. Lets practice time
triage. Deal with the emergency rst. Once its over and youre breath-
ing, well look at making changes that will keep you out of danger.
(Winston, 1999: 2ff.)

Through the metaphor of the avalanche and repeated allusions to dan-

gerous, overwhelming situations and emotional states of panic, Winston
here builds up a rather threatening scenario that requires a survivalist
response. The advice she offers, though, is oddly muted. Winston only
advises her readers on how to cope better with everyday problems they
may face, and her model of self-improvement consists mainly of recipes
for better time management and long-term planning: Long-term plans
can include everything from a college fund for little Timmy to a ded-
icated savings plan for a down payment on a house. It may not be
possible for you to make a big change right now. But that doesnt mean
there are not countless small steps you can take on the road to that
change (Winston, 1999: 168f.).
Since 2008, the eld of survivalist self-help has experienced notable
growth. A plethora of titles by British and US authors now encourages
readers to opt out of the rat race altogether. Titles such as BREAK FREE!
(Cascio, 2014), Sail Away (Rodriguez, 2011) and Enough (Naish, 2009) are
examples of an increasingly common strand of self-help books. A shared
theme of these books is the achievement of self-fullment through the
voluntary return to a simpler way of life. For example, John Naish (2009)
asks readers to avoid excessive consumption by avoiding online shop-
ping and discount offers, and he lauds a dairy farmer who shunned
Self-Help in Crisis 87

opportunities to grow his farm and increase his prots in favour of a

simple rural life. In Choosing Easy World, Julia Rogers Hamrick (2010)
asks her readers to leave strife and struggle behind and focus on their
innate potential for creativity:

The world with which you are probably most familiar is not your
original world. Your origins are in a far kinder, gentler place a place
of ease, fullment, and joy. [. . .] Your current tumultuous reality may
be fascinating, but it is not your true home. [. . .] Its time to redis-
cover Easy World, the reality of your origins the state of being in
which you dont simply survive, you thrive. Its time to come home
to the reality in which you are fully supported in being your Self and
doing what is in alignment with your hearts desire. [. . .] Its time to
remember that being in Easy World is a decision you can make at any
time, and that if you decide to revisit Difcult World, you recognize
that its a choice, not a necessity. (Hamrick, 2010: Ch. 1; emphasis in

Hamricks understanding of self-improvement differs fundamentally

from Winstons. Self-fullment for her results from ones ability to be
your Self and do what is in alignment with your hearts desire. She
uses the image of the journey from Difcult World to Easy World to
describe a process of rediscovery of an authentic self. Difcult World,
as characterised throughout the book, is associated with the challenges
of everyday life, from work to family, that inhibit creativity and happi-
ness and entail a state of simple survival, barely getting by. In contrast,
life in Easy World involves detachment from such material interests,
the nurturing of an attitude of continuous contentment, and the will-
ingness to let things fall into place on their own (Hamrick, 2010:
Ch. 1).
In this sense, survivalist texts encourage an inward turn in self-
improvement, in that they emphasise mental and emotional wellbeing
over material gain. Hamricks Easy World is one example of this.
Another, particularly notable, part of this inward trend in self-help writ-
ing is the mindfulness literature. Mindfulness has complex roots in
Buddhism as well as academic psychology (Purser and Milillo, 2014).
In recent years, it has attracted an audience in academic elds such
as management and medicine, as well as among clinical practitioners.
While its meanings in Buddhism are notably complex, mindfulness
is nowadays commonly associated with techniques to combat stress
(Purser and Milillo, 2014; Sharma and Rush, 2014). In this context, a
88 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

substantial volume of mindfulness self-help books has emerged propos-

ing a variety of techniques for stress reduction.
In Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams and
Danny Penman (2011: 1f.) invoke the image of sleeplessness in trou-
bled and frantic times to promote a specic form of meditation. Their
meditative techniques, they claim, will allow their readers to combat
depression, cope with anxiety and sadness, or simply reveal our innate
joie de vivre (Williams and Penman, 2011: 3). The text engages obliquely
and briey with the social nature of mental life; the authors highlight,
for instance, the prevalence of depression at the international level
(Williams and Penman, 2011: 17). Fundamental to their recipe for self-
improvement, though, is the need to engage with ones own emotions.
Thus, they consider the case of Lucy, outwardly a successful buyer for
a high-street clothing chain but on the inside a woman who lives in a
netherworld of overwork, general low-level unhappiness, dissatisfaction
and stress (Williams and Penman, 2011: 15f.). They then trace Lucys
condition to a vicious cycle of thoughts, feelings, impulses and bod-
ily sensations that make for a troubled mind (Williams and Penman,
2011: 20). To alleviate a troubled mind like Lucys, they encourage their
readers to adopt new ways of thinking, and they propose a number of
techniques for doing so. One these is the Being mode:

Negative feelings persist when the minds problem-solving Doing

mode [. . .] volunteers to help, but instead ends up compounding the
very difculties you were seeking to overcome. But there is an alter-
native. Our minds also have a different way of relating to the world
its called the Being mode. Its akin to but far more than a shift
in perspective. [. . .] It helps you to step outside of your minds nat-
ural tendency to over-think, over-analyse and over-judge. [. . .] And
you nd that you can change your internal landscape [. . .] irrespective
of whats happening around you. You are no longer dependent on
external circumstances for your happiness, contentment and poise.
(Williams and Penman, 2011: 34f.)

Implicit in these statements are assumptions about the self and self-
improvement that arguably characterise the mindfulness model as a
whole. Negative feelings are portrayed as a mental and emotional, rather
than a social, condition. In this sense, they are internal to the individual
and can be addressed through a shift in perspective, described here as
shifting into Being mode and the happiness and contentment that fol-
low from it. Williams and Penman therefore encourage their readers to
Self-Help in Crisis 89

pursue an inward turn on the path to self-improvement; a better, more

fullled life for them follows from sustained introspection and the abil-
ity to modify ones mental state that follows from such introspection.
They do not ask whether Lucys working conditions at the high street
clothing chain might be related to her stress, and they generally do not
consider changes to ones relationships with others or to ones living
conditions as part of their self-improvement programme.
Perhaps the most successful survivalist self-help writer in recent years
is John C. Parkin. Parkin, a British self-help entrepreneur, has since 2009
attracted considerable attention with books such as The Way of Fuck It
(2009) and F k It Therapy (2012). Between 2012 and 2014, F k It Therapy
was consistently ranked among the top 20 self-help bestsellers in the UK
(Nielsen BookScan, 2015), and the book is distributed internationally
in the US, Canada, India and South Africa (Parkin, 2012). Since 2005,
Parkin and his partner have also run F k It Weeks at their retreat in
Italy, gaining the attention of the British media in the process (Parkin
and Pollini, no date).
In F k It Therapy, Parkin uses the metaphor of the prison to describe
life in contemporary society: The point of a prison is to protect soci-
ety from its dangerous inmates, to rehabilitate, or simply to punish.
These factors give a prison meaning in our society. And the meaning
youve found in your life and society may well have become your prison
(Parkin, 2012: Part 1). For Parkin, this state of imprisonment results
from excessive attachment in an essentially impermanent and unstable

Like dogs on heat, trying to shag the legs of human strangers, lamp-
posts, re hydrants, benches, and occasionally cats, we try to shag
meaning out of anything that will have us. We are on-heat meaning
machines, desperately trying to nd meaning: in the pointless work
we do; the fruitless relationships we have; the interminable stuff we
accumulate (which we carry slowly from store to dump); the gods we
invent; the rules of conduct we imagine and enforce; characters we
dream up for ourselves; stories we tell . . . And on and on until we die,
when we go . . . nowhere, and certainly not to nally see the point,
because it wasnt there in the rst place. (Parkin, 2012: Part 1)

Parkin here offers a mixture of social criticism and nihilism. Attempts

to derive a meaningful life from lasting intimate, religious or mate-
rial attachments are futile; our relationships are fruitless, god is a mere
invention, and the consumer goods we buy will unavoidably be dumped
90 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

in the end. In his own words, the search for meaning, which most of us
are on, is a pretty potty affair (Parkin, 2012: Part 1).
From this diagnosis of the contemporary condition, Parkin develops
a surprisingly simple recipe for a fullling life. On the one hand, he
advises his readers to take the chill pill, and slow it all down, give up a
few things, do less, under-perform, trust it will work out, [. . .] and gen-
erally enjoy life more (Parkin, 2012: Part 5). On the other hand, he
suggests it is important to pursue ones dreams: If you love it, please
go and do it. If you hate something in your life, please go and change
it (Parkin, 2012: Part 5). Combining these two attitudes will enable his
readers to discover a state of freedom from concerns about issues like
money, careers and relationships, and enjoy a state of gradual, unfo-
cused and creative self-discovery. Obstacles to the success of this recipe,
Parkin argues, lie mainly in a range of problematic emotions and atti-
tudes, such as fear, self-doubt and perfectionism. Much of the book is
taken up with a critique of these emotions and attitudes and advice on
how to leave them behind.
At rst glance, survivalist self-help books thus differ notably from clas-
sic texts by authors like Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill. Survivalist
authors like Hamrick, Parkin and Bear Grylls (see Chapter 1) have
largely abandoned the promises of material success that characterise
the classic texts. Instead, they combine the assumption that contem-
porary societies are characterised by adversity with calls for spiritual
growth, on the platform of a post-materialist, inward-looking orien-
tation to everyday life. While Parkins colloquial style is notably dif-
ferent from the other texts we have examined so far, he shares with
their authors a concern about spiritual survival and wellbeing under
dystopian social conditions that offer little beyond stress, panic and
futile attachments. Self-help books such as Parkins, Hamricks and
Nashs frame self-improvement as a journey of spiritual self-discovery
that is enabled by withdrawal from complex or threatening life situ-
ations. Even though these books typically do not make reference to
specic religious, spiritual or philosophical traditions, they share the
assumption that partial or full withdrawal from everyday challenges is
the path to a better life.
However, these books do share classic self-helps strong voluntaris-
tic bent. They typically claim opting out is a matter of autonomous
personal choice, and they do not explore in any detail the condi-
tions, economic, political, emotional and otherwise, under which these
choices must be made. Thus, for instance, when John Parkin (2012)
asks his readers to f k it, he seems to do so on the basis of the
Self-Help in Crisis 91

implicit assumption that his readers will have the nancial resources,
professional skills, and personal and professional relationships to both
let go and pursue their dreams. Parkin attributes personal troubles his
readers may face to a misguided outlook on life, using the metaphor
of the prison. Changing this outlook requires a process of systematic
introspection and the mental disposition to change, for which his books
and workshops provide the tools. His model of self-improvement there-
fore does not differ fundamentally from those developed by pre-crisis
self-help entrepreneurs. The same conclusion applies to survivalist nar-
ratives by other authors. In spite of their distinctive style, survivalist
narratives offer classic recipes for self-improvement that emphasise
autonomous individual choices as the source of spiritual growth and

Truth in the marketplace

While survivalist self-help texts have achieved some popularity in both

the UK and the US, Christian self-help texts are a distinctive feature
of American self-help. In difference from secular Britain1 , where such
books are more marginal, in recent years there has been a notable
increase in the number of Christian self-help books available in the
American book market (Archibald, 2007). Through theological and spir-
itual reection, Christian self-help books offer advice on contemporary
social challenges such as marriage and other interpersonal relation-
ships, nancial management, leadership development, and career plan-
ning. By highlighting the importance of traditional Christian values,
Christian self-help books attempt to offer readers insights on how to
live and strive for both materially successful and spiritually rich lives.
Notable authors of this kind of Christian self-help include well-known
Christian leaders like Joel Osteen, John C. Maxwell and T. D. Jakes.
With titles such as Developing the Leader Within You, You Can, You Will:
8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner, and Reposition Yourself: Living Life
Without Limits, these authors emphasise spiritually inspired lessons, val-
ues, and habits which, they argue, may lead to nancial and career
A fairly typical example of Christian self-help writing is T. D. Jakes
Reposition Yourself (2008). Jakes is the bishop of the non-denominational
evangelical megachurch The Potters House in Dallas, Texas. His website
portrays him as a charismatic leader, visionary, provocative thinker,
and entrepreneur and lists numerous awards and media appearances
to underline his distinguished status:
92 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Named Americas Best Preacher by Time Magazine, Jakes voice rever-

berates from the worlds most prominent stages. Through his nexus
of charitable works, T.D. Jakes is known for extending a hand of help
to the needy, heart of compassion to the hurting, and message of inspiration
to the disenfranchised.
Beyond the pulpit, Jakes ranks among EBONYs Power100 and
is the winner of several prestigious awards including BET Honors,
Stellar Award, NAACP Image Award, Keeper of the Dream Award
and McDonalds 365Black Award for his humanitarian efforts. (Jakes,
2014; emphasis in original)

Jakes has published numerous books, including a number of self-help

texts. Among these, Reposition Yourself provides an excellent case study
of the way in which Christian self-help books inform modern notions
about success and the ways in which such life achievement can be or
ought to be attained.
Originally published in 2008, Reposition Yourself hit American book-
shelves at the same time as early symptoms from the nancial crisis were
beginning to be felt throughout the country. The main thesis advanced
by T. D. Jakes is that God favours those who are both reexive and
exible enough to reposition themselves and seize opportunities in a
constantly changing global marketplace for ideas, labour, goods and ser-
vices. Central to Jakes argument is the notion that God helps those who
help themselves.
Reposition Yourself recasts many of the key tenets found in the socio-
economic message advocated by proponents of conservative American
political thought. Under this scope, poverty and social inequality are
primarily a result of an individuals lack of motivation, poor moral and
ethical judgement, and insufcient diligence and persistence to pursue
and attain economic self-reliance in a world and society in which mate-
rial gain and success is attainable in a mostly justiable and meritable

My message is simple. Life is not fair. You will have to overcome odds
that may be stacked against you. But you can change the outcome
of your life if you will refuse to give up hope and each day rene
your vision of who you really are [. . .] the key is that you do not
allow others perceptions and probabilities to dene and decide your
destiny. You are the only one who controls the ultimate odds against
your own likelihood of success. (Jakes, 2008: 58ff.)

Here Jakes assures his readers that in spite of systemic social problems
which may impact the life chances of certain segments of the American
Self-Help in Crisis 93

population, any given individual can and should be capable of attaining

socio-economic success.
T. D. Jakes narrative emphasises the need for individuals to be ready
and exible to rebrand, retrain and reconceptualise themselves in order
to materialise gains in todays fast-paced, post-industrial, neoliberal
society. As Jakes argues:

If you are to reposition yourself for success, my friend, you must seek
out the options that are most conducive to your ultimate goals. But
you must also give yourself permission to close doors behind you
[. . .] to say no to good opportunities if theyre not advancing you
strategically toward the large goals youve established for yourself.
(Jakes, 2008: 87)

However, the justication for individuals to want to reposition them-

selves is not only based on their own self economic interest but in the
belief God will nd favour in such behaviour as part of an individuals
pathway to spiritual and nancial growth since, as Jakes contends, God
wants to help those who help themselves.
Although T. D. Jakes linkage between spirituality and economic
behaviour is reminiscent of Webers well-known arguments about the
inuence of Calvinist theology and the Protestant work ethic in the
advancement of capitalism in northern European Protestant societies,
Jakes focus leans much more towards the individual need to constantly
adapt and recongure oneself than towards the Calvinist emphasis on
diligence, hard work and accumulation. As Jakes argues: Unfortunately,
our parents, in an effort to raise children who were not lazy, taught us
that hard work was equal to better living [. . .] productivity centred on
efforts and energy not strategies and structure (Jakes, 2008: 27). Instead,
Jakes argues that success in contemporary society requires more than a
strong work ethic:

To survive in the highly technical and post-industrial age that you

and I live in today, we have to update our personal philosophy [. . .]
Could our rst century techno age require us to reposition ourselves
for a new way of thinking? It involves throwing off the shackles of
your addiction to apathy and embracing the tools needed to repo-
sition yourself for a life of freedom and enrichment. (Jakes, 2008:

Reposition Yourself offers various examples of individuals and corpo-

rations such as Deion Sanders, Krogers Inc., Nelson Mandela, Ellen
94 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Johnson Sirleaf, and Apple Inc. which have, according to Jakes, intelli-
gently repositioned themselves to changing life or market conditions in
order to achieve success. However, in addition to these, Jakes weaves in
his personal life experience as a prime example of his message. Through-
out the book Jakes presents himself not only as a modern spiritual leader
but as a minister with entrepreneurial insight and accomplishment. The
foreword to Reposition Yourself, written by TV personality and Christian
self-help author Dr Phil McGraw, describes the way T. D. Jakes has been
able to wisely reect upon and enact the necessary life shifts required to
rise from his humble beginnings as a teenager taking care of his invalid
father through modest jobs in local industries. Today, T. D. Jakes is a
prominent pastor of a megachurch with approximately 30,000 members
whose sermons are regularly broadcast through Black Entertainment
Television and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, among other popu-
lar American networks. Jakes credits his own success to a combination
of Gods blessings and his entrepreneurial ability to reposition himself:
My life has constantly changed as I responded to events, people and
opportunities. I have been divinely blessed by my Creator. Ive also made
deliberate attempts to grow, position myself to receive, and to reposition
myself to receive more (Winston, 1999: 3).
Jakes advice is echoed by other Christian self-help authors. For exam-
ple, in his 2011 book Every Day a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days
a Week, Joel Osteen, a televangelist, megachurch pastor and author,
unequivocally asks his readers to lead a no-excuses life:

Its often easy to come up with explanations as to why you cant do

or be your best. Most people think they have a handicap of one kind
or another, something that is holding them back. It may be a phys-
ical challenge, a personality issue, or maybe a divorce or a nancial
problem. Ive heard many explanations including Im just the wrong
nationality. And I was born on the wrong side of the tracks. Each of
us has challenges to overcome, but just because you think you have
a disadvantage doesnt mean you should sit back and settle where
you are. God still has something great for you to do. You may not
look like everyone else. You may not be able to do what others can
do. But if you will stay in faith and stay positive about your future,
you can turn your liabilities into assets. (Osteen, 2011: Ch. 9)

Here, Osteen explicitly discards class and nationality as explanations

for underachievement. Instead, staying in faith and retaining a posi-
tive attitude are for him key sources of a successful life. Osteens view
Self-Help in Crisis 95

resonates strongly with T. D. Jakes advice that [y]ou are the only one
who controls the ultimate odds against your own likelihood of success
(Jakes, 2008: 60). Both authors emphasise Christian faith and morality as
sources of a successful life, alongside strong, positive self-belief. Neither
Jakes nor Osteen offer any practical considerations for life improvement.
Instead, their writings are focused entirely on convincing their readers
of their interpretation of Christian morality:

Jesus was saying when you have a setback, or when life deals you a
tough blow, dont be bitter. Dont settle there. Recognize that you are
a prime candidate for God to show His favor and goodness through.
If you feel you are disadvantaged or disabled, instead of saying, Its
not fair, God, your attitude should be: God, Im ready. I know You
have something great in store. I refuse to live defeated and depressed.
I know this disadvantage is simply another opportunity for You to
show up and show out. (Osteen, 2011: Ch. 9)

Osteen combines such advice with motivational anecdotes about people

who overcame crises, such as serious illness, through a determined atti-
tude. Notably, Osteen never explores the context of these crises. Issues
such as the cost of health care do not form part of his accounts of indi-
viduals who overcame illness and disability. Instead, he unequivocally
points to their rm faith as the source of their recovery.
We could cite many works by American Christian self-help authors,
such as Joyce Meyer (2014) or Rick Warren (2011), and discover very
similar prescriptions for self-improvement. A key reason for this is that
these books form part of the distinctive, historically deeply rooted evan-
gelical subcultures existing throughout the US and have exerted growing
inuence on popular culture in recent years (Naish, 2009; Stephens
and Giberson, 2011). Christian self-help books thus are often marketed
through publishing houses that cater to the faithful. For example, T. D.
Jakes, Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer have all published books with Faith
Words, a specialised imprint of the Hachette Book Group which, in its
own words, publishes books for the growing inspirational market, [. . .]
acquiring a solid list of faith building ction and high-prole authors
with edifying messages [. . .] (Faith Words, 2015). Moreover, in differ-
ence from mainstream self-help authors, Rick Warren, T. D. Jakes, Joel
Osteen and other leading Christian self-help entrepreneurs are at the
same time pastors in megachurches regularly attended by thousands
of faithful. These megachurches are networked among each other and
form part of a nationwide network of evangelical Christian institutions
96 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

encompassing not only churches, but also bookshops, rock bands,

holiday retreats, political activist groups, museums and universities
(Stephens and Giberson, 2011).
This marks an important difference between Christian self-help
and the work of mainstream authors. Mainstream self-help authors
often remain largely disconnected from their audience, communicat-
ing through books and brief, staged events that offer few opportunities
for long-term engagement or the construction of lasting self-help com-
munities. Consequently, readers engagement with self-help books may
often remain supercial.2 In a classic article, Paul Lichterman (1992)
has described self-help as thin culture, characterised at best by a
loose, impermanent commitment to the programmes of behavioural
modication espoused by self-help authors, even among serial readers.
Lichtermans conclusion characterises the broad audience of main-
stream self-help texts. Christian self-help does reach such a broad
audience, even at the international level. For example, T. D. Jakes Repo-
sition Yourself has been translated into major world languages such
as Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean and marketed worldwide
through its publisher, Atria Books. The Spanish version is distributed
to bookstores and libraries across Spanish-speaking countries through
popular online booksellers such as Amazon and Muchos Libros. The
Chinese version can be found in the National Library of China, the
Shanghai Library and the Chueh Sheng Memorial Library in Taiwan and
is also distributed online via Amazon and DuShu. The Korean version
of the book is also distributed by Amazon as well as Korean retailers
such as Kyobo. Nonetheless, it may be assumed that authors like Jakes,
Osteen and Warren write primarily for already established communities
of evangelical readers, whose everyday lives tend to be structured closely
through their membership in churches and other religious institutions
(Stephens and Giberson, 2011). In turn, the ethos of these religious insti-
tutions often matches the mixture of Christian morality and capitalist
individualism promoted in books such as Reposition Yourself or Every Day
a Friday (Maddox, 2012; Sanders, 2014).
This suggests a paradox. Christian self-help differs from other self-help
texts, as it is embedded within a specic religious community. Socio-
cultural and intellectual tensions within US evangelicalism should not
be underestimated, and media portrayals of evangelicals as a mono-
lithic fundamentalist block are often misleading. Nonetheless, recent
scholarship does emphasise the cohesiveness of evangelicalism: The
American evangelical community, numbering roughly one hundred
million people, represents a kind of parallel culture that, in its
Self-Help in Crisis 97

extreme forms, aims to establish its own beliefs as the only worth-
while ones (Stephens and Giberson, 2011: Introduction). Stephens and
Giberson go on to argue that evangelicalism is characterised by its own
intellectual culture, forms of knowledge, and experts who engage in
debates that largely take place outside the mainstream of American
public life.
And yet, the Christian self-help texts we have surveyed here, writ-
ten by some of the leading gures of US evangelicalism, do not frame
their arguments in terms of the ways of life and the intellectual and
political programmes from which they have emerged. Books like Every
Day a Friday or Reposition Yourself mostly do not make mention of reli-
gious communities or of social communities at large. Social and political
events, such as the great crisis of 2008, and their consequences for
the lives of ordinary people do not gure in their argument. Likewise,
they do not articulate self-help as a collective action programme on
the basis of a shared faith. Instead, their recipes for self-improvement
are highly individualistic. In so far as the characters of their narratives
encounter crises, such as sudden illness, long-term disability, or nancial
difculties, these crises are described as personal troubles and misfor-
tunes disconnected from larger socio-economic, political and cultural
patterns and processes. Therefore, these crises can only be resolved by
cultivating individual values and skills, in particular an abiding religious
This seeming contradiction might be explained through contempo-
rary developments in the religious landscape of the US. Lyon (2000:
74) argues that religious identities are increasingly fashioned through
processes of consumption, which serve as a redemptive gospel in the
search for meaning. He concludes that religious activity is, increasingly,
subject to personal choice, or voluntarism, and that, increasingly, for
many in the advanced societies, religious identities are assembled to cre-
ate a bricolage of beliefs and practices (Lyon, 2000: 76). Maddox (2012)
and Wade (2015) depict megachurches as corporate spaces pervaded by
the ethos of consumer capitalism, in terms of their organisation, pur-
suit of commercial growth, and the messages they communicate to
their faithful: They sacralise malls, ex-urban sprawl, car-dependency,
single-mindedness, incessant marketing, branding. Their profane is
the world of the non-successful, judged according to the marketing
ideals of happy, suburban families and all-conquering entrepreneurs
(Maddox, 2012: 153). Wade (2015: 9ff.) refers to writings by Rick War-
ren and Joel Osteen to describe the construction of megachurches as
accessible but anonymous consumer spaces, whose happy go lucky
98 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

prosperity gospel speaks to the felt needs of a wide variety of religious

The self-help books written by these pastors speak to just this individ-
ualistic, non-communal and consumerist form of spiritual life. Under-
neath their religious rhetoric, their narratives closely parallel those of
mainstream self-help. Self-improvement is rendered as the outcome of
autonomous choices that allow individuals to develop the attitudes
and skills necessary to thrive in a competitive world. At the same
time, these texts neither examine the social context framing indi-
viduals choices, nor do they consider the collective and relational
dimensions of personal development and self-help. It is for this rea-
son the writings of authors like T. D. Jakes and Joel Osteen remain
so de-contextualised, offering a sense neither of the place nor of his-
torical time. Within these de-contextualised narratives, there has, of
course, been no space to consider the social and personal conse-
quences of the great crisis of 2008, and Christian self-help writing has
remained invariant and unresponsive to the features of a changing

No crisis: Self-help in the Anglosphere

In this chapter, we have glimpsed various niches and forms of self-

help writing. While these document only a small fraction of self-help
writing in the UK and the US, they do highlight the genres charac-
teristic diversity of narrative forms, values, beliefs and propositions for
self-improvement. Nonetheless, we believe it is possible to understand
British and American self-help as the two parts of a shared Anglosphere
of self-help writing. Self-help texts from British and American authors
circulate on both sides of the Atlantic, giving the genre a common
form. Moreover, even though niches like evangelical Christian self-help
have distinct roots in local culture, such as the world of evangelical
megachurches, these texts still share fundamental assumptions about
the self, agency and social relationships that make it part of this
On the one hand, this highlights the hybridisation of self-
help. Hybridisation refers to processes through which cultural forms
become separated from existing practices and recombine with new
forms in new practices (Rowe and Schelling, 1991: 231). The
idiom of hybridisation usefully characterises how an initially narrow
genre of popular literature has permeated wider and wider cultural
spheres, achieving convergence with secular and medical-scientic
Self-Help in Crisis 99

(Williams and Penman, 2011), spiritual (Parkin, 2012), and religious-

fundamentalist (Osteen, 2011) forms of knowledge and practice.
On the other hand, self-help in the Anglosphere is not without a
cultural centre of meaning. This centre of meaning lies in the perva-
sive assumption of a quasi-Cartesian self and the consequences of this
assumption. Typical of much of Anglo-American self-help, as portrayed
in this chapter, is the assumption of a bounded, a-social self that exists
outside of social interaction and societys institutional framework. As a
consequence of this assumption, the self in Anglo-American self-help
texts is typically portrayed as intelligible through rational introspec-
tion and systematic modication and improvement. This assumption
of a solipsistic, mutable self is closely interwoven with an emphasis on
individual action in the pursuit of personal fullment. Self-help writers
encourage their readers to identify their own dreams and goals and for-
mulate action strategies that will lead them closer to the achievement
of these dreams. Self-fullment is understood as an individual quality
which is attained by acting on ones own. The world of Anglo-American
self-help is a world of isolated individuals.
In a recent article, Micki McGee (2012: 690f.) asks how self-help writ-
ing will be transformed by the great crisis of 2008 and speculates the
genre will change little, if at all. Our reading of self-help narratives
written over the past seven years supports this assumption. There is
broad continuity between classical liberal (e.g. Carnegie, 1936/1981;
Hill, 1937) and contemporary neoliberal self-help narratives. Now as
then, the gure of the self-made woman or man is central to these
texts, in terms of their assumption of a mutable self that can reach
fullment through just the right entrepreneurial strategies. McGee
(2005) is right to point to the changing social contexts in which this
ideal of entrepreneurial self-making is articulated and suggest that the
self is increasingly belaboured in contemporary, exible and precarious
capitalism, potentially giving self-help new meanings. Nonetheless, out-
lined fundamental continuities in Anglo-American self-help do need to
be acknowledged. The crisis of the global economy that began in 2008
has led to widespread protests and public debates about the legitimacy
of neoliberal capitalism and the socio-economic inequalities it has cre-
ated (Dorling, 2014; Sayer, 2015). In this context, it is signicant that
popular advice books, widely read in both Britain and the US, continue
to advocate understandings of selfhood and agency that have been cen-
tral to the neoliberal project (see Chapter 2). Heidi Rimke argues that
self-help techniques are an apparatus of governance through which
external psy authorities are able to prescribe ever more avenues for
100 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

individual self-management (Rimke, 2000: 73). By engaging their read-

ers in neoliberalisms foundational narrative of individual self-making,
choice and responsibility, self-help narratives extend the legitimacy of
this narrative in contemporary popular culture.
This continuity highlights the conservative character of the kind of
self-help books we have explored in this chapter. While self-helps osten-
sible premise is the possibility of transformation and change, books by
writers like Paul McKenna, Suze Orman, John Parkin and Joel Osteen
ultimately promote continuity, by asking their readers to succeed or
sometimes just to cope and get by within pre-existing social, economic
and political conditions. Some authors, such as Suze Orman (2009), do
discuss these conditions, but they are never questioned or identied as a
target for change. Self-help is not about changing the world, it is about
pursuing personal gain while assuming that the world will not change.
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life
and Transnational Narratives

Self-help in Latin America

In Latin America over the past two decades self-help texts have grown in
both production and circulation, making self-help one of the most pop-
ular book genres across the region. Self-help texts amount to between
13 and 20 per cent of the books sold in the bigger Latin American coun-
tries such as Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru
(Souroujn, 2009). Self-help books are notably popular in the region.
As indicated in Chapter 3, the national publishers chamber of com-
merce in Mexico has found that between 3.5 and 4.5 million self-help
books were sold annually in Mexico between 2005 and 2011; similar
trends pointing to an increased circulation of self-help books have also
been identied in other nations in the region1 (Camara Nacional de la
Industria Editorial Mexicana, 2013; Papalini, 2010).
The self-help marketplace in Latin America includes both works by
national authors and bestsellers from the US and Western Europe. In the
past two decades, some of the leading foreign self-help books in the
Latin American book markets have included Spanish translations of
classic self-help works well known to English-speaking readers, such as
Stephen Coveys The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dale Carnegies
How to Win Friends and Inuence People, Jack Canelds Chicken Soup for
the Soul, and Deepak Chopras The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and
Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, among others. In contrast to the Spanish
translations of these English-language bestsellers, self-help authors from
Latin American countries incorporate and address national and regional
political and cultural concerns while offering their didactical advice in
their self-help texts (Nehring, 2009a).
But exactly what kind of books can be considered self-help texts in
Latin America? As in the rest of the present work, we identify self-help

102 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

texts in Latin America as a collection of books which offer advice and

guidance on a very broad range of topics on major life issues. These
include intimate relationships, sexuality, marriage, divorce, friendship,
serious illness, weight loss, workplace relationships, death of loved
ones, professional success, nancial gain, business management, and
the achievement of a generally happy and fullling life. In Mexico, the
narrative structure of self-help books may vary considerably and present
advice on the aforementioned topics in the form of novels, parables,
autobiographies, science-based narratives, or even a more distant and
impartial narrative resembling investigative journalism.
In offering advice about a particular topic, an important feature of
self-help texts is their inclusion of clear and explicitly stated didacti-
cal objectives. They articulate specic sets of social norms and beliefs
about the nature of social life and the relationship between individuals
and their society (Rimke, 2000). In line with Hochschilds (2003) analy-
sis, self-help texts offer a systematic self-examination of certain aspects
of individuals lives in terms of a didactical description of a moral and
social reality identied by the author and the prescription of certain
formal techniques or modes of behaviour with the goal of achieving
success within particular areas of social life. In this sense, following
Gauntlett (2002) and McGee (2005), self-help texts are geared towards
the narrative re-construction of self-identity by improving or regulating
of the self with regard to a particular area of social life. The perceived
improvement comes rst, in terms of encouraging the consolidation
of certain aspects of individuals ways of thinking, feeling and acting
to achieve self-transformation, and second, in amending ones view of
oneself as well as the perception of the self by others.
Taking into account the cultural and didactical re-construction of the
self and society embedded in self-help books, the present chapter anal-
yses salient cultural narratives found within self-help books written by
local Mexican authors during the past two decades. During this period,
Mexico, along with most of the region, has experienced rapid urban-
isation, middle-class growth, economic crises, neoliberal reforms, and
a notable increase in the proportion of women in the labour force
(Nehring et al., 2014). These social changes and the social concerns
associated with them simultaneously represent both the context in
which self-help narratives are written and also the very issues these texts
attempt to address.
The salience of self-help texts in urban Mexico, as described in the
next section, warrants their treatment both as indicators of cultural
models and public discourses and as spaces in which positions on
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 103

national and regional social concerns are not only presented but also
politically advanced. Additionally, this chapter examines the way in
which narratives on personal and intimate relations in Mexico are
linked to broader transnational self-help narratives particularly those
from the US and to discussions on the ways in which self-help portrays
individuals as having the ability to manage and produce a desired life
change through isolated, autonomous and voluntaristic agency absent
from, or minimally in need of, social interaction and collective social

Self-help and intimate life in Mexico

As in many other Western countries, self-help texts in book and maga-

zine form are widely sold throughout Mexican cities. Self-help texts are
sold in a wide variety of settings, ranging from Sanborns and Liverpool
department stores typically frequented by middle- and upper-class cus-
tomers to more informal newspaper stalls in different neighbourhoods
and bookshops in ea markets. The widespread circulation of self-help
books in urban spaces suggests Mexicans need and demand for guid-
ance on matters of personal nance, personal relationships, spirituality
and professional success is signicant.2
An overview of 75 self-help books written by Mexican authors in the
past two decades also conrms a salient concern for matters of intimate
life in contemporary Mexico with particular attention to issues such
as tradition, stability, family values, self-actualisation, and individual
choice in personal relationships. This interest in personal and intimate
life in self-help narratives is set against the backdrop of economic insta-
bility, drug-related violence, and rapid social change which have come
to dene Mexicos national panorama during the same period. Since
entering the North American Free Trade Agreement with the US and
Canada in 1994, Mexicos economy and household incomes have
become increasingly susceptible to economic trends in the US and to the
needs and demands of international trade and investment. Concerns
over economic insecurity have been further impacted by heightened
violence in various parts of the country where drug cartels operate.
As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Since June 2008, Times reporters and photographers have chron-

icled the savage struggle among Mexican drug cartels for control
over the lucrative drug trade to the U.S. The conict has left thou-
sands dead, paralyzed cities with fear, and spawned a culture of
104 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

corruption reaching the upper levels of the Mexican state. (Los

Angeles Times, 2015)

Drug-related violence has resulted in gruesome civilian deaths in

notable incidents. These include the narcoterrorist attack on the Casino
Royale in the city of Monterrey in 2011 which left over 50 dead after the
casino building was set on re with customers trapped inside and, more
recently, the kidnapping and execution of 43 rural college students by
police and cartel members close to the city of Iguala late in 2014.
The concern for intimate relations found in self-help books also cor-
responds to the transformation of cultural models of personal and
romantic relationships in Mexico during the past three to four decades.
Until the 1970s, the Mexican cultural narratives regarding intimate
relations were mainly, and almost exclusively, shaped by hegemonic
patriarchal cultural models related to Catholic moral principles. These
narratives were characterised by the exclusive social legitimacy of the
nuclear family model which designated a clearly dened gendered divi-
sion of duties and responsibilities where men would exercise family
leadership and take on the role of providers while women were relegated
to the domestic sphere (Tun Pabls, 1987; Villafuerte Garca, 1998).
These patriarchal models also involved a fervent belief in limiting sex-
ual ties and expressions within the practice of religiously sanctioned
marriage. Another important ideological element was the ritualised
organisation of individuals relationship trajectories in terms of a set of
mandatory steps leading from courtship to lifelong marriage (Nehring,
2005). In this context, and according to prevalent Catholic religious
imagery, fertility choices relied on the belief that childbearing was the
principal and mandatory objective of any womans life. Marriage and
sexual relationships between women and men in this context were
meant to facilitate the objective of reproduction, thus amounting to a
central institutional pillar of society at large (Nehring, 2005). In spite
of some variations in actual patterns of fertility, marriage and family
life across periods of Mexican history, social classes and geographical
areas (Stern, 1995), men and womens experiences and understanding
of childbearing and sexuality were practised within this narrow cultural
Since the late 1970s, these traditional relationship models have lost
their inuence on most of urban Mexicos everyday life to a substantial
degree, and, as a result, a pluralisation of the cultural models of inti-
mate life seems to be taking place (Nehring et al., 2014). Factors such
as economic crises and neoliberal structural reforms, a notable decline
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 105

in womens fertility rates since the 1970s, womens massive incorpora-

tion into the labour market, feminist movements, and experiences of
migration have come to challenge, to various degrees, the hegemonic
status of patriarchy-dominated relationships (Chant and Craske, 2003;
Garca and de Oliveira, 2005; Hirsch, 2003). Recent research on intimate
and personal relations in Mexico indicates substantial local variations in
the social organisation of gender relations and individuals day-to-day
management of intimate relationships, and there is evidence of a partial
trend towards companionate, love-based and egalitarian relationship
forms (Gonzlez-Lpez, 2005; Hirsch, 2003).
At the same time, patriarchal principles and practices of couple rela-
tionships and family life continue to retain considerable social and
political inuence in Mexico (Nehring, 2005), particularly among con-
servative political groups and in rural and small-town settings. This is
visible, for instance, in the activities and communications of the still
culturally inuential Catholic Church, the conservative National Action
Party (PAN; Partido Accin Nacional), and prominent social movements,
such as the National Union of Parents (Unin Nacional de Padres de
Familia), which has frequently lobbied, at both federal and state gov-
ernment levels, against family planning, abortion, and sexual education
in public schools (Gonzlez Ruiz, 2002; Human Rights Watch, 2006).
In this context, the accounts of and prescriptions for intimate life pro-
vided by self-help texts in Mexico may be understood as reections of
the increasingly diverse and often conicting cultural models of inti-
mate life in urban Mexico. At the same time, however, self-help texts
also may play an important role of their own in shaping these cultural
models, in so far as they seem to provide a number of contemporary
urban Mexicans with cultural options for making sense of their inti-
mate lives. For these reasons, self-help texts constitute an important
source for addressing issues concerning, on the one hand, the need for
stability in personal relationships in a country coming to terms with
global economic forces and violence related to drug trafcking, and on
the other hand, the rapid cultural transformation of intimate life in
urban Mexico.
In order to focus our analysis on the central concerns of this chapter,
we selected a sample of 75 self-help texts published by Mexican authors3
over the past 20 years which directly discuss intimate and personal rela-
tionships in contemporary Mexican society. These texts were selected
from the bestseller self-help sections of Sanborns and Librera Ghandi,
Mexicos two largest book retailers, and from national media stories fea-
turing self-help books on personal and intimate relations. The narratives
106 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

included in the vast majority (71 out of the 75) highlighted the impor-
tance of conservative and traditional models of intimate life or stressed
individual choice and responsibility in personal relations. The den-
ing feature of these texts is that they all stress contemporary changes
of intimate life in Mexican society, communicate value judgements
regarding these changes, and propose normative prescriptions regarding
the socially legitimate and personally fullling management of cou-
ple relationships and sexuality in everyday life. By focusing on these
texts, the present chapter brings to the foreground the way in which
a collection of self-help books written by Mexican authors underscore
stability and change in personal relationships, articulate themes linked
to broader, transnational self-help literature, and contribute to struggles
and debates over intimate citizenship.4 The following sections discuss
leading authors and narratives whose work best portrays the two coun-
terpoised trends in Mexican self-help literature on couple relationships:
the defence of the conservative-patriarchal relationship model; and the
advancement of plurality and individual choice in intimate life.

Conservative-patriarchal relationships in Mexican self-help

As we discussed in Chapter 3, Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez is one of

Mexicos most prolic self-help writers. Cuauhtmoc Snchezs work
includes self-help books on leadership, faith and spirituality, personal
relationships, marriage, and nancial success. Since the early 1990s,
he arguably has become one of the most acclaimed transnational self-
help entrepreneurs in Mexico. He is also currently one of Mexicos
most widely read contemporary authors and has gained notable acclaim
in other Spanish-speaking countries; his work been translated into
English, French and Portuguese (Hernndez, 2011). In particular, he
is well known for his conservative social views and defence of tradi-
tional values. The majority of his books have been published by his
own publishing company, Editorial Diamante, which primarily markets
his texts to Mexican and Latin American readers. In addition to this,
Cuauhtmoc Snchez also promotes his books, television appearances
and public speaking events through a personal website, carloscuauhte-, and his Facebook page. Through his strategic promotional
activities, his books have gained prominence in Latin America and in
areas in the US with large Latino populations. While his narratives
are built upon historically rooted features of Catholic conservatism in
Mexico, they also include cross-cultural examples and references to
appeal broadly to international audiences.
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 107

Cuauhtmoc Snchezs work mainly deals with two themes. On the

one hand, he writes about the moral regulation of intimate relationships
and sexuality based on Mexican Catholic traditions. In this context, he
has published some highly popular self-help novels including Youth in
Sexual Ecstasy [Juventud en xtasis], Eternal Laws [Leyes eternas] and A Des-
perate Cry [Un grito desesperado]. These novels present stories of moral
redemption, in which the main character(s) overcomes a series of chal-
lenges linked to his or her own moral disorientation in order to nd
the true pathway (based on Christian values) to experience intimate
relationships. On the other hand, Cuauhtmoc Snchezs publications
also convey techniques and strategies on business management and
entrepreneurial success. The texts included in this group include titles
such as The Price of Success: Discover and Practice the Secrets of Success Used
by Those Who Triumph [El precio del xito: Conozca y practique los secretos de
xito que usan los triunfadores] and Leaders of the Future: Show the Children
How to Think and Act Like Leaders! [Dirigentes del Mundo Futuro: Ensee a
los nios a pensar y actuar cmo lderes!].
His bestselling book, Juventud en xtasis [Youth in Sexual Ecstasy] (1994),
has sold over 2 million copies and vividly exemplies his defence of
traditional marriage and abstinence from pre-marital sexual relations.
In this book, Cuauhtmoc Snchez defends moral laws which adhere
closely to the vision of conservative Catholicism in Mexico. The text
consistently positions lifelong marriage, sexual abstinence outside mar-
riage, and family, understood as consisting of a married heterosexual
couple and their children, as central to both personal fullment and
social stability.
Written in the form of a novel, Juventud en xtasis is directed at
Mexicos youth and provides guidance on managing sexuality and cou-
ple relationships. The book tells the story of Efrn, a college student
whose promiscuous sexual conduct results in him getting infected by a
sexually transmitted disease. As a result, Efrn seeks medical and moral
help from the sex therapist Dr Asaf Marn, who represents Cuauhtmoc
Snchezs voice in the story. The following passage reects Dr Asaf
Marns assessments on sexuality among Mexicos youth:

If you have a balanced life before marriage, have fun in a decent and
measured way, it is difcult for you to become corrupted after getting
together with a woman. On the other hand, if you live unhealthily
and without control, when marital problems arise, you will have the
tendency to ee through the wrong door of licentiousness. In the
developed countries the environment among the youth has been
108 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

degraded so much that it is now very difcult to nd successful young

marriages; young people are used to so much depravation that after
marriage as seems logical they do not manage to overcome their
promiscuous habits.5 (Cuauhtmoc Snchez, 1994: 38)

In this passage, Cuauhtmoc Snchez considers pre-marital sexual expe-

riences as the cause of potential divorce since the difculty inherent in
resolving usual marital problems could tempt young couples to return
to the promiscuous and carefree pre-marital life. In addition to this,
Cuauhtmoc Snchez ties the rise in alternative forms of intimate rela-
tions among urban Mexican youth partly to foreign cultural inuence
from the US and Europe.
In his self-help literature, Cuauhtmoc Snchez proposes and defends
traditional forms of intimacy not only as an isolated conservative prin-
ciple but rather as part of a plan to lead a wholesome life and a
broad strategy to best respond to the exigencies of a neoliberal eco-
nomic order and labour market. As observed in the following passage,
Cuauhtmoc Snchez argues that a stable heterosexual marriage built
upon religious principles and preceded by a traditionally sanctioned
process of courtship is a vital pillar of personal support needed to chan-
nel ones energy into rebranding oneself, pursuing nancial success in
the neoliberal economy, and retrying in the event of failure:

The fundamental base of society and humanity is marriage. If mar-

riages keep on disintegrating then society as a whole will corrupt
itself. A good and stable marriage is a necessary pillar of support
to face the challenges and possible failures encountered in modern
personal and work life [. . .] after all, success at a given sport, trade,
discipline or profession is the result of trying again and again in the
face of failure. The key to acquire and develop a skill is not simply to
try when one succeeds but to practice over and over when one fails
[. . .] the true worth of an individual is not accounted for by his or her
accumulated instances of success but rather by the number of times
he or she has risen from defeat. (Cuauhtmoc Snchez, 1994: 7778)

Cuauhtmoc Snchezs linkage of traditional marriage and conservative

practices in intimate relations to a holistic life which is more likely to
succeed in the face of pressures stemming from neoliberal economic life
is highly reminiscent of religiously inspired messages of self-help text
authors in the US such as Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and T. D. Jakes.
Cuauhtmoc Snchez, just as the aforementioned American authors,
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 109

avoids or de-emphasises an evaluation of the merits of a neoliberal

economic order or collective sources of social action and, instead, con-
ceptualises poor socio-economic outcomes primarily as a result of, on
the one hand, departure from faith-based prescriptions for personal life,
and on the other, individual apathy and stagnation. As T. D. Jakes states:
If you are so deeply embedded in your addiction to apathy and medi-
ocrity that you do not see what you are doing to yourself, afraid to let
yourself hope [. . .] Dont be afraid to want more and go after more [. . .]
Get off the fence and onto the road of recovery through reposition-
ing (Jakes, 2008: 24). The following promotional note for Cuauhtmoc
Snchezs book Te desao a prosperar [I Challenge You to Prosper] found
on the authors website echoes the same message of retooling and
repositioning oneself to succeed in the modern economy:

Reading this book is worth your while. The book teaches us to

increase the value of our talents so that we can nancially earn not
what others believe we should, but what we are truly worth. Written
in a frank and direct style, the book challenges its readers to fulll
their potential and increase their wealth.

It takes courage to put the teachings of this book into practice.

Through its teachings you will be able to:

Identify the patterns of behavior which have prevented you from

achieving greater prosperity.
Learn how to overcome any type of crisis.
Discover how to assume more aggressive positions in nance and
in negotiations with others.
Re-tool and re-brand yourself according to changing market cir-

I Challenge You to Prosper is a dynamic text with plenty of rewards

awaiting those who take up the challenge of reading and applying its
teachings. (Cuauhtmoc Snchez, 2015)

Another prominent Mexican self-help author whose work defends

traditional intimate relations and religious principles in romantic rela-
tionships is Elizabeth Cant de Mrquez. Cants two bestselling books
are The Challenges for Todays Woman [Los retos de la mujer de hoy]
(2002) and The Woman as a Factor of Change [La mujer como factor
de cambio] (2008). Both books were published by the Mexican pub-
lisher Ediciones Las Amricas located in Puebla, Mexico. According
110 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

to both book covers, Cant works as editorial director for Ediciones

Las Amricas. The publishing company, according to its internet page
(, is associated with Insight for Living,
a Protestant evangelical network with missionary activities in different
parts of Latin America. Although Cants publishing company appears
to have a strong relationship with a transnational evangelical mis-
sionary organisation, her book is explicitly focused on the defence of
traditional forms of private life in Mexico.
Relying much more explicitly and directly on religious doctrine in
comparison to Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez, Elizabeth Cant criticises
the advent of feminism and female liberation. In her account, it is a
divine order of things which denes relations between men and women
according to the exclusively legitimate commandments of the Bible.
On the base of these suppositions, Cant provides a primarily negative
assessment of recent social changes, which she frames in terms of a cri-
tique of the spread of extreme feminism, sexual liberation and excessive

What the young women have to learn: Let us return to the quotation
from Titus 2: 35, the topic of our book. In it, seven things are listed
regarding the spiritual, personal, and practical realms which young
women have to learn: First, to love their husbands. Second, to love
their children. Third, to be prudent. Fourth, to be chaste. Fifth, to
take care of their homes. Sixth, to be good. Seventh, to subordinate
themselves under their husbands. (Cant, 2002: 72)
God, knowing us, committed us [women] to the home due to our
nature, which is more emotional [. . .] than that of the man. [. . .] How-
ever, the home is under constant threat by Satan, the adversary of our
souls and the enemy of God, who promotes a licentious and sinful
life, because he knows that by undermining this divine institution [of
the home] he can take control of the souls of his victims. The enemy
of the home is the secular world with its enchantments, its exag-
gerated violence, sensuality, and inversion of moral values. Other
enemies are the negative mass media, pretensions and the search of
wealth, the lack of time, and the tensions caused by the problems of
daily life. (Cant, 2002: 172174)

These two quotes illustrate her strong criticism of social change and
secularisation and their emphasis on a set of universal rules to be
acknowledged by women regarding their family life. The Challenges for
Todays Woman uses conservative interpretations of Christian doctrine
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 111

to assess the state of gender relations in contemporary Mexico and to

offer advice to readers. In this sense, Cant insists on the recognition
of womens clearly delimited role within the domestic sphere and the
importance of the Bible as the only legitimate source for managing
gender relations. Cant defends Mexican patriarchal traditions against
social change and the supposed spread of excessive liberalism.
Moreover, Cants work has to be understood in terms of social
change and foreign cultural inuence in Mexico with regard to the
growing presence of evangelical Protestantism and of US missionary
activities in Mexico. Cant does not simply defend established tra-
ditional understandings and practices of gender relations, but rather
infuses her narrative with proselytising and missionary zeal. This can
be observed in the following quote from La mujer como factor de cam-
bio: Currently there are women who ght with passion to uplift their
families and nation. These are women who believe in the one true faith,
women who have a clear idea of what is truly important in life and
thus become the change needed in a given situation (Cant, 2008: 34).
While there are afnities between historical forms of Mexican patriarchy
rooted in Catholicism and patriarchal models advocated by evangel-
ical Protestantism, it seems more appropriate to understand Cants
work as advocating a partial reinterpretation of patriarchal arrangements
based on a religious belief system which only recently has acquired
importance in Mexican culture.6
There is also a slightly different thread in Mexican self-help books on
intimate life and personal relationships which does not have religious
undertones, acknowledges the importance of more egalitarian gender
relations, yet also advocates for the value and superior morality of sta-
ble, long-term relationships which lead to lifelong marriage and family
commitments. This thread is represented by Peter Millers 7 claves de
felicidad en la pareja [7 Keys to Happiness in Couple Life] (2003), an advice
book on the management of couple relationships published by Editorial
Geminis, a medium-sized Mexican self-help book publisher based out of
Mexico City.
In his work, Peter Miller criticises what he considers to be extreme
feminism and recent trends in Mexican couple relationships:

Twenty-ve years ago, the majority of couples married for life. The
term divorce was rejected by all sectors of the population, because
it amounted to an attack against familial unity, the basis of soci-
ety. Then the hippie movement arrived with its pronouncements of
free love without prejudices, whose duration was determined by the
112 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

couple according to the feelings of both. For the rst time in history,
the woman was given the opportunity to rebel against masculine
domination, to leave the home and stop contributing to its main-
tenance, to express her opinions. [. . .] And thus the divorce epidemic
began. [. . .] Diverse factors of modern life, apart from the described
ones, threaten the union of couple relationships to the degree that
many young people today prefer to dedicate themselves to a profes-
sion, travelling, and insignicant relationships without making any
commitments, and the couples who decide to take the risk out of
love shiver in the face of social changes, which have given greater
importance to materialism than to lasting emotions between men
and women. Nevertheless, not everything is lost. People know that
the basis of society is the family, and that if this basic unit suffers a
great crisis, then we will face grave problems. Mexico, just as all Latin
American countries, is distinguished by the warmth of its residents,
and although the panorama appears desolate, in reality we are in a
very interesting transitory phase. (Miller, 2003: 7)

In this passage, Miller is critical of social changes that have threatened

the primacy of the model of the traditional, heterosexual family built
around potentially lifelong marriage. However, both Peter Miller and
Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez do recognise that recent changes in inti-
mate relations in Mexico have allowed women to lead independent
lives inside and outside their homes and to pursue professional careers.
But their appreciation for these changes fades when the changes are
seen as interfering with the formation and stability of male-led (but not
male-dominated) traditional long-term relationships which, according
to their view, make up the fundamental building block of successful
family life, and by extension, Mexican society.

Plurality, individual choice and intimate life

In juxtaposition to some of the self-help narratives which advocate

the primacy of the patriarchal relationship model based on religiously
sanctioned, potentially lifelong marriage and clear gendered divisions
of labour and power, there is also a growing concern in Mexican self-
help books about nding fullment in personal relationships through
different cultural options which depart from the patriarchal relation-
ship. For these more individualistic self-help Mexican authors, personal
fullment in a relationship is not restricted to long-term marital hetero-
sexual relationships and may also be found in transitional singlehood,
homosexual relationships, short-term relationships, open relationships,
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 113

etc. The legitimacy of a relationship for the individualistic authors

more than anything depends on the actual existence of a bond in
terms of personal afnity and love between the partners. This bond
has to be constantly monitored, and in this context, ongoing pro-
cesses of self-actualisation with regard to the relationship acquire great
A prominent author in this regard is journalist Mara Antonieta
Barragn Lomel. Her journalistic stories have included political, eco-
nomic and cultural issues in prominent Mexican newspapers and maga-
zines such as Milenio, La Jornada and El Financiero. Her most prominent
self-help book is Solteria: eleccin o circunstancia [Singlehood: Choice or Cir-
cumstance] (2003), published by Grupo Editorial Norma, which, accord-
ing to its website (, is based out of Colombia
and markets educational and self-help titles throughout Latin America
and Spain. In Singlehood: Choice or Circumstance, Barragn Lomel under-
scores the growing number and importance of single women in Latin
American society and the socio-economic challenges associated with
increased singlehood:

Latinas and singlehood. The singles, from the Ro Bravo to Patagonia.

Latin America is not marginal with regard to this new status of
singlehood. Some countries have a very high rate, while others are
just beginning to experience these changes. In all [countries] the
following pattern recurs with its local particularities: young women
delaying their entry into marriage, with singlehood as a new lifestyle,
for some of a temporary character, for some as permanent celibacy.
However, what mostly happens in the Latin American countries is
that there are women who marry and get divorced early on, most of
them with children to look after and thus contributing to this demo-
graphic boom that appears like a new destiny for our times: single
female-led households. (Barragn Lomel, 2003: 169)

However, contrary to the conservative-patriarchal self-help authors,

Barragn Lomel does not see singlehood as a social ill which must be
reversed. She further notes the changing nature of intimate relations
and advocates the acceptance of singlehood and non-traditional part-
nerships as legitimate cultural options in Mexico, and by extension,
Latin America as a whole:.

In Latin America, modern changes to family structure have come

rapidly and there has been some delay in assimilating them, in par-
ticular those changes which pose the greatest threat to the traditional
114 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

family model. And although there is some evidence that these

changes have gained acceptance among some social sectors and
groups, there remains reluctance to accept that family diversication
is already a part of Latin American households. (Barragn Lomel,
2003: 170)

Moreover, Barragn Lomel links the growing presence of non-

traditional personal relationships in Mexican urban spaces to the
nations greater involvement in transnational capitalism:

Globalization, economic capitalism, cultural globalization, unhinged

market competition, and the extreme commodication of labor have
all considerably impacted cultural understandings of family life. And
what have been the consequences? New cultural identities of inti-
mate life, a cosmopolitan society which has allowed foreign practices
to alter the realm of traditional family life. At the same time, inter-
national migration [primarily to the US] has also waned the sense of
belonging to some members of migrating households [. . .] and the
pressing needs of a constantly changing and demanding economy
and labor market have imposed more strains on family life and the
success of long term personal relationships. (Barragn Lomel, 2003:

In this passage, Barragn Lomel displays a mixed review of globali-

sation and neoliberal capitalism in terms of their impact on personal
relationships in Mexico. On the one hand, she acknowledges that cul-
tural globalisation, Mexican migration to the US, and the cosmopolitan
environment of Mexican urban centres have helped to open the door
to greater agency, diversity and individual choice in Mexican intimate
life.7 On the other hand, Barragn Lomel recognises the burdens placed
on couple relationships by the demands for labour mobility and exi-
bility in the context of a neoliberal socio-economic regime which places
all aspects of the Mexican economy in a state of transnational competi-
tion. This polarisation and conict between work and personal life, its
effect on the rise of singlehood, and the struggle to build meaningful
long-term relationships among Latinos described in Barragn Lomels
Singlehood: Choice or Circumstance is also underscored in the sociologi-
cal work of Vega (1995), Ariza and de Oliveira (2004), and Landale and
Oropesa (2007).
In addition to the plurality of legitimate personal relationships
and identities advocated by Barragn Lomel, other Mexican self-help
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 115

authors stress the individual agency and responsibility required to make

couple relationships work in modern Mexican society. For example, the
need for self-actualisation in personal relationships is strongly visible
in the magazine Nupcias (previously published under the name Esposa
Joven which translates as young wife). Published in Mexico City by
established publisher Grupo Editorial Impresiones Areas, the magazine
offers a wide range of techniques for, on the one hand, introspection
and self-reection regarding ones management of a relationship and,
on the other, the interaction with ones partner. Consider the following
example from the article Dream Together and Share Projects:

It happens that some women place all their expectations on this

very special day when nally they get married . . . and then, with their
most important objective achieved, they do not feel motivated any-
more; they are invaded by a feeling of emptiness. [. . .] Therefore, the
question arises: and what now? The answer to this question does
not appear in the plot of fairy tales; nevertheless, it is the key to
success with regard to being happy and being together forever. And
what now? Well, dream together! And this is not only about sleeping
side by side, but rather about developing and constructing common
dreams in each stage of the marriage. What kind of dreams do you
have in common? Lets take, for example, the plan of starting a busi-
ness together. Some married couples know how to separate work from
their relationship and complement each other perfectly to take a
business forward in which both work in equal parts. Nevertheless,
there are other cases in which working together ends up confus-
ing both and mixing personal and work-related problems. (Nupcias
Magazine, 2005: 51)

Another important Mexican self-help author who also underscores

the need for individual self-actualisation and continuous self-evaluation
in couple relationships is Don Miguel Ruiz. According to his website,
Don Miguel Ruiz is the international bestselling author of a series of
books including The Four Agreements over 7 years on The New York
Times bestseller list. He has dedicated his life to sharing the wisdom of
the ancient Toltec through his books, lectures, and journeys to sacred
sites around the world. Don Miguel Ruiz has been a guest in Oprah
Winfreys Super Soul Sunday segment in which he discussed achieving
spiritual self-healing by overcoming social fears and expectations and
always being impeccable with your word as proposed in his bestselling
book, The Four Agreements.
116 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

In comparison to the other bestselling self-help Mexican authors anal-

ysed here, Don Miguel Ruiz draws on his personal traumatic experiences
as well as his Toltec origins and family knowledge about pre-Columbian
culture and rituals as the source of his authorship. As he states in his
personal biography featured on his personal website:

A near fatal car accident changed the direction of Don Miguels life.
He experienced himself as pure awareness outside of the constraints
of his physical body. He realized that the Toltec wisdom of his family
contained all of the tools needed to change the human mind. Don
Miguel promptly returned to his mother to nish his training and
he became a Shaman [. . .] In the tradition of the Toltec, a Nagual
(shaman) guides an individual to personal freedom. After explor-
ing the human mind from a Toltec as well as scientic perspective,
Don Miguel has combined old wisdom with modern insights and
created a new message for all mankind, based in truth and com-
mon sense. He has dedicated his life to sharing this new message
through practical concepts that promote transformation. His message
is simple and when implemented, even incrementally, changes lives.
(Ruiz, 2013)

Don Miguel Ruizs work is extensive and deals with a range of personal
improvement topics. However, his book most directly linked to intimate
relationships in contemporary Mexico is entitled The Mastery of Love [La
maestra del amor] (2001). In this book, Ruiz places particular emphasis
on the examination of the self and ultimately nding love for oneself as
a precondition to establishing a fullling romantic relationship:

When you tell someone that you love them and they respond well,
I do not love you back, is that a powerful enough reason to suffer?
Being rejected by someone does not mean that you must reject your-
self. If someone does not love you, someone else will. There is always
someone else. And it is best to be with someone who wants to be
with you instead of someone who has to be with you. You have to
focus on the most wonderful relationship which you can have: the
relationship with yourself. It is not a matter of being egotistical, it
is about loving oneself [. . .] you need to love yourself, and when
you do, love will grow inside of you. And when you begin a rela-
tionship with someone else, you will not do so because you need to
feel loved. You will have selected this person and their love. (Ruiz,
2001: 36)
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 117

Ruiz further argues that by continuously searching for and explor-

ing inner self-love one can overcome the personal dependencies and
need for control which plague and destroy many contemporary couple

There is much misfortune when human beings believe that they do

not have any love. They become hungry for it and when they taste
a small amount of it, then feel addicted. They become needy and
obsessed with the love from someone else. And it is through this
dependency that many individuals allow their partners to tell them
what to do, what they should and should not do, what they should
wear, how they should behave, what they should and should not
believe. They are told, I love you if you behave this way, if you allow
me to control your life, if you are good for me. Otherwise, you can
forget about it. But you can only accept this situation if you have no
love for yourself. (Ruiz, 2001: 34)

Ruizs approach to the mastery of love suggests that in order to be truly

satised in a couple relationship one must search for and continuously
nd and experience enough self-love and inner peace. Once the indi-
vidual has learned to love and embrace him- or herself, a romantic
relationship may become a wonderful complement to ones life but not
an existential necessity or a morally superior way of life as suggested by
the conservative-patriarchal Mexican self-help authors. The formulation
of self-empowerment and self-progress through perpetual introspection
and self-love advocated by Ruiz is highly evocative of a similar formula-
tion in the work of popular American self-help titles such as Louise Hays
You Can Heal Your Life (1999), Kamal Ravikants Love Yourself Like Your
Life Depends on It (2012), and James Altuchers Choose Yourself! (2013).
For these authors, just as for Don Miguel Ruiz, success in romantic
relationships and other life endeavours can only occur after the indi-
vidual nds self-worth through isolated meditation and introspective
In addition to the primacy of self-love and self-evaluation, there is
a related strain in contemporary Mexican self-help which combines
self-value with a sense of adventure, exploration and risk-taking in sex-
ual and romantic relationships. This brand of self-help is arguably the
most critical of and distanced from the conservative-patriarchal model,
as various kinds of sexual experiences and relationships are viewed as
potential sources of self-fullment and thus granted value and cultural
legitimacy; these relationships and practices may include short-term,
118 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

homosexual and transgender relationships as well as the habitual prac-

tice of masturbation. In this context, sexual satisfaction, which is tied
to a process of constant self-actualisation, exploration and experimenta-
tion, is a factor which is intrinsically associated with success in personal
and romantic relationships.
This strain of sexually liberated self-help is well represented by
author and television personality Silvia Olmedo. Although she was born
in Spain, Olmedos professional career and work is centred on and
informed by the experiences of contemporary Mexican urban women.
On her personal website, Olmedo highlights her academic and pro-
fessional background as a psychologist and sexologist to qualify her
authorship on sexuality and love:

Silvia Olmedo has earned a PhD and Masters degree in Psychology.

Her fascination for emotions, couple relationships, and sexuality led
her to develop a specialization on sexology. Silvia has constantly
advocated the connection and interaction among sexuality, ratio-
nality and emotions. Silvia continues to research, lecture and write
on modern sexuality and is also the television host and co-producer
of Sexo Consentido, a television program broadcast by the Telehit
Channel and another television show called Amordidas broadcast by
Televisa Networks. (Olmedo, 2015)

Silvia Olmedo has written three bestselling self-help books on sexu-

ality and love, entitled Pregntale a Silvia . . . Los secretos de Eva [Ask
Silvia . . . The Secrets of Eva] (2009), Los misterios del amor y el sexo [The Mys-
teries of Sex and Love] (2010), and Mis sentimientos errneos [My Incorrect
Feelings] (2014). Ask Silvia . . . The Secrets of Eva is written in the form of
a novel in which the protagonist, Eva, faces numerous life issues related
to her love and sex life and receives advice from Silvia, her psycholo-
gist, who represents the voice of Silvia Olmedo. The other two books,
The Mysteries of Love and Sex and My Incorrect Feelings, provide inspira-
tional advice and techniques on how to value and love yourself after and
in spite of personal and romantic failures. In The Mysteries of Love and
Sex, Olmedo argues that self-actualisation through sexual exploration
is essential to nd your true self and to experience satisfaction in your
romantic relations:

There is perhaps no better human experience in this life than to dis-

cover the touches, words, thoughts, imagery, toys, fantasies, smells,
licks, role-plays, or caresses which produce the best possible orgasm
that you have ever had. For this reason we should not be restricted
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 119

by social or traditional conventions. Explore yourself, explore your

sexuality to the fullest extent. Those who say that this aspect of life
is not so important are truly fooling themselves and others who
will listen to them [. . .] After all, how can you say that you truly
know yourself if you are ignorant about the potential enjoyment and
expressions of your own sexuality. Living a life of fake or partially sat-
isfying orgasms is an absolute waste [. . .] Build relationships in which
you can establish trust with your partner(s) and openly share your
deepest sexual secrets, practice them, perfect them, and make them
become a pillar of your relationship. (Olmedo, 2010: 112)

In a similar vein to Don Miguel Ruiz, Olmedo also stresses the need
to love yourself and value your self-worth before you can build and
maintain a meaningful romantic relationship with someone else. But
Olmedo also incorporates the regular practice of masturbation as part of
that process:

First, before you love anyone else, you have to love and explore your-
self [. . .] In order to enhance the orgasm stage, women must and
should explore their genitalia on their own. This is pivotal to nd
out how they can be fully pleased (if that ever does actually occur)
by their partner. Contrary to men, who masturbate more often,
women need to execute this to ensure themselves ultimate pleasure.
(Olmedo, 2010: 89)

In many ways Olmedos account of satisfaction in intimate relation-

ships vacillates between an individualistic and a socially constructed
approach. As observed in the preceding passages, there are moments
when Olmedo, just as Don Miguel Ruiz, stresses the need for an
autonomous love, continuous self-exploration and self-satisfaction as a
precondition for personal fullment in contemporary life. At the same
time, but to a lesser extent, Olmedo also partially advocates the impor-
tance of nding and building relationships in which ones sexual desires
are openly shared, explored and practised through socially constructed
love relationships based on mutually shared bonds of trust and sexual

The self, intimate life and transnational self-help

Self-help literature in Mexico can be conceptualised as a space of

competing perspectives on the nature and future of personal and inti-
mate life. As noted in this chapter, Mexicos economic and cultural
120 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

globalisation, along with a more pronounced participation of women

in the labour force and in political life, have subsided the cultural dom-
inance of the conservative-patriarchal model of personal relationships
and granted some cultural legitimacy and agency to other intimate
practices. Mexicos self-help literature has taken an active role in this
debate in the past two decades. On the one hand, prominent authors
have defended the superior moral ground and natural order found
in Mexicos longstanding tradition of patriarchal relations, as shown
here in the works of Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez, Elizabeth Cant de
Mrquez and Peter Miller. On the other hand, other Mexican self-help
writers such as Mara Antonieta Barragn Lomel, Don Miguel Ruiz and
Silvia Olmedo, among others, have brought to the foreground the role
of individual agency and the plurality of pathways to self-fullment
in personal relations. As part of this cultural debate on intimate life
in Mexican self-help literature we noted the ways in which the narra-
tives of these national authors are intertwined with those of broader
transnational authors, particularly from the US, and the ultimate vision
and representation of the self which these authors advance.
In constructing their narratives on intimate life, the Mexican authors
discussed in this chapter draw from local examples and sources but
also connect their arguments to visible trends present in transnational
American self-help texts. In this sense, Mexican self-help authors do not
simply passively adopt themes from transnational self-help, but rather,
they employ and frame them to t and address social concerns about
intimate and personal life. For instance, the narratives of Cuauhtmoc
Snchez defend the moral superiority of the patriarchal relationships
grounded in the principles of Mexican Catholicism. But his self-help
work also links this conservative relationship trajectory to a relation-
ship model offering long-term stability which then allows the individual
to focus his or her energy on the constant retooling, rebranding and
self-development needed to succeed in a global, neoliberal economy.
This nexus between conservative social values and the support for self-
reliance and self-actualisation in advanced capitalism is a hallmark of
the inuential and internationally sold self-help literature of American
authors such as Rick Warren, T. D. Jakes and Joel Osteen. The work
of Cuauhtmoc Snchez echoes this message to Mexican and Latin
American readers by strengthening the perceived linkages between tra-
ditional forms of Mexican intimacy and economic or entrepreneurial
success. In a similar association between local cultural models and
transnational movements, Elizabeth Cant de Mrquezs work defends
the sanctity of traditional patriarchal relationships in Mexico with
Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational Narratives 121

clear proselytising narratives tied to international missionary efforts

stemming from American Evangelical Protestant organisations.
Additionally, the Mexican self-help texts analysed in this chapter
which celebrate individual choice in intimate relations and reject the
supremacy of the patriarchal model also exhibit ties to transnational
self-help trends. For instance, Don Miguel Ruiz presents himself as
a shaman who imparts local Toltec wisdom to national and interna-
tional audiences. In his work, Ruiz highlights the need for continuous
introspection, self-empowerment and self-love as a prerequisite to avoid
dependency and neediness in romantic relationships in line with what
has become a common thread in international self-help therapeutic
culture. As Eva Illouz argues:

Love becomes an emotion tailored to the particular needs and

psychological make-up of individuals, and in its afrmation of
the wellbeing, psychology defuses the ideals of sacrice and self-
abandonment. Autonomy is at the center of the model of selfhood
advocated by psychology [. . .] Romantic suffering is no longer the
sign of seless devotion or of an elevated soul [. . .] but instead it
becomes deeply suspicious in the new therapeutic culture. (Illouz,
2010: 2425)

The works of Mara Antonieta Barragn Lomel and Silvia Olmedo pre-
sented in this chapter also illustrate glocalised examples of self-help
narratives which emphasise the need for self-actualisation and self-
exploration. Both Barragn Lomel and Olmedo present Mexican urban
centres as globalised cultural locations where singlehood and sexual
exploration and experimentation have a legitimate place in the myriad
of intimate choices as the hegemony of the patriarchal model wanes.
However, just as with Don Miguel Ruiz, these authors mirror a global
self-help formulation which celebrates an inward retreat of the self char-
acterised by a continuous need for self-actualisation as a roadmap to an
elusive sense of self-fullment. In Self-Help, Inc., Micki McGee outlines
the prominence of these same patterns in American and international
self-help texts:

The literature of self-improvement denes its readers as insufcient,

as lacking some essential feature of adequacy be it beauty, health,
wealth, employment options, sexual partners, marital happiness or
technical knowledge and then offers itself as the solution. The
resulting contagion of insufciency constitutes the self-improvement
122 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

industry as both self perpetuating and self serving [. . .] one must

embrace a lifestyle, a series of regimes of time management or
meditation, of diet and spiritual exploration, of self-scrutiny and
self-afrmation. (McGee, 2005: 18)

In this context, the narratives of Ruiz, Olmedo and Barragn Lomel

provide Mexican readers with individualistic choices on personal rela-
tionships which depart from the traditional patriarchal relationship
model but also limit the input of social interaction in the construc-
tion of the self and of intimate citizenship. In this process, the work
of these authors propels their readers into a spiral of constant introspec-
tion, self-actualisation and self-afrmation which has become a dening
characteristic of transnational self-improvement literature.
The Uses of Self-Help Books
in Trinidad

Self-help narratives and their readers

This book explores the contemporary cultural signicance and under-

standings of self-help books and the narratives they contain. In the
following, we introduce a considerable shift of perspective into our argu-
ment. In earlier chapters, we have explored the transnational populari-
sation of self-help books, and we have examined self-helps narratives of
self, personal development and social relationships in various national
contexts. In contrast, here we consider how readers engage with self-
help texts. Who reads self-help books? Why and how do they read
them? What do self-help readers say about the books they read? How do
they feel about them? What do they want from them? Why do they use
them? How do self-help books inform their readers beliefs and actions
in everyday life? How do divisions of class and gender impact the con-
sumption of self-help literature? In the context of the overall objectives
of this book, these questions are signicant in so far as they draw atten-
tion to the roles which self-help narratives may come to play within the
lived realities of individuals everyday lives.
In the academic literature on therapeutic culture, there is a certain
division of analytic perspectives. On the one hand, there are studies
that portray therapeutic culture as a culture industry, focusing on large-
scale organised activities through which certain cultural objects, such as
self-help books, are produced, their consumption encouraged, and, in so
doing, discourses of self and social relationships are promoted that are
manifest in these cultural objects (e.g. McGee, 2005; Moskowitz, 2001).
On the other hand, there are studies that explore from an ethnographic
perspective how individuals engage with and appropriate therapeu-
tic narratives in their everyday lives, through their encounters with a

124 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

variety of cultural objects and products, such as self-help books (e.g.

Lichterman, 1992; Simonds, 1992). Here, we seek to bridge these per-
spectives and look into the ways in which self-help narratives, both
transnationally mobile and locally produced, may come to be signi-
cant within the particular circumstances and living arrangements of a
specic group of people.
In what follows we look at self-help and self-help readers in Trinidad
in the West Indies. Trinidad is one island in the twin-island nation state
of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the southernmost island in the Caribbean
chain and was once a British colony before achieving independence
in 1962. The islands have a population of 1.3 million. The last census
in 2011 divided the islands demographically into the following ethnic
groups: East Indian, African, Mixed (African and East Indian), Mixed
(Other), Caucasian, Chinese, Indigenous, Portuguese, Syrian/Lebanese,
Other Ethnic Group, and Not Stated (East Indian ancestry 35.4 per cent
and African ancestry 34.2 per cent are by far the largest responses). Eco-
nomically the twin-island nation is one of the wealthiest and most
developed nations in the Caribbean and has one of the highest per
capita incomes in the Caribbean and Latin America. At the time of writ-
ing it is the largest Caribbean exporter to the US and it continues to
attract considerable direct foreign investment from international busi-
nesses. In November 2011 the OECD removed Trinidad and Tobago from
its list of developing countries.
Academically, Trinidad and Tobago is considered a member of the
Global South (Connell, 2010; Reddock, 2014). As Nederveen Pieterse
notes of much work in the media and the social sciences, there is
a great discrepancy in documenting, representing and exploring the
experiences of the Global South in comparison to the Global North
(2000: 130). This division of course is not as crude as it sounds. Both
the North and South penetrate each other on a variety of explicit and
implicit levels. Some anthropologists call this reality hybridity and
describe human experiences refracted in the common light of glob-
ally travelling discourses (Sundar, 2004: 146). These discourses reorder
yet reinforce logics at the same time. For example, the middle class in
the Global South participate in the global circuits of advertising, brand-
name consumerism and high tech services, which at the other end of the
circuitry, increasingly exclude the underclass in advanced economies
(Nederveen Pieterse, 1997: 80). At the same time this notion of Global
North and Global South has been described as basic and inhospitable
to nuanced political thinking. In its place Nederveen Pieterse offers the
idea of modernities rather than modernity, and capitalisms in place of
capitalism (2000: 134).
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 125

It is within these contexts of invisibility, hybridity and multiple

modernities that Trinidad was selected as a bridge across perspectives.
Using Trinidad as a eld site, we next (1) explore local human expe-
riences of transnationally mobile and foreign-produced self-help texts;
(2) discuss the local, culturally relative re-presentations and uses of self-
help texts, and by extension their neoliberal discourses; and (3) produce
insights into how local readers of self-help texts in Trinidad are the same
but different to readers of self-help texts elsewhere.

Self-help guides in Western Trinidad

With its 100 or so stores The Falls at Westmall just outside Port of Spain,
the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, is a smaller version of its grand mall
cousins in North America. This means that mall culture (Underhill,
2005) the experience of visiting and spending time at a shopping mall
and taking part in the logic of consumption while a little less extensive,
is a regular part of weekly life for many residents of Westmoorings,
the name of the residential suburb in the northwest corner of Trinidad
where Westmall is located.
Trinidad and Tobago is an energy-rich nation and Westmoorings has
a lot of wealthy locals and expats. Westmoorings can be described as a
residential suburb for middle- to upper-class families and is well known
nationally for its upscale housing and good schools including the Inter-
national School of Port of Spain. The school includes amongst its many
sponsors the US Embassy, and of its 2014 student population of 345,
some 100 were US citizens.
Opened more than 30 years ago, Westmall caters to a more interna-
tional type of Trinidadian than those malls generally found in the rest of
the island. With its cute rather than impressive water feature and limited
parking, Westmall contains the standard plethora of stores, boutiques
and salons, peddling the international brands that link a global middle
class around the world (Stacey, 2000). Three stores at Westmall are book-
stores, suggesting that while some newspaper columnists might declare
Trinidad and Tobago nationally as not a land of intense readership there
are certainly readers who visit Westmall.

The bookstores

Hanging around outside the Pavilion bookstore, its smallness catches

your eye, alongside the limited selections, bright lighting and the rela-
tively high number of shelves for its size. The table displays are turned
over to a variety of self-help literature, from the practical to the more
126 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

overtly religious, and there is not the quantity of mysteries, romance

novels and educational books found in a larger UK or US bookstore.
Of the 18 cramped display shelves in the Pavilion, six are dedicated
to genres of self-help books and how-to literature broadly dened and
include, alongside the traditional books inspirational quotation books
and pamphlets, afrmational daily journals, audio books and miniature
self-help books that Neville has described as part of the contemporary
product diversication of the self-help genre (2012: 361).
As you enter the store the rst display shelf you encounter contains
religious self-help and inspirational quote titles like The Foundation of
Mindfulness by Bhante Glintratana, Lead with Humility by Pope Francis
and the inspirational quote book Daily Joy: 365 Days of Inspiration by
National Geographic. In dedicated displays along the three walls of the
shop additional religious and inspirational types of books can be found
alongside a blend of the more overtly religious books like Bible readings
and a number of meditation books.
In the middle of the store there is a spinning rack of self-help books
with a large sign indicating Self-Help Stand. The books on the dis-
play include How to Win Friends and Inuence People by Dale Carnegie;
With God all Things are Possible: A Handbook on Life by the Life Study
Fellowship; Mentoring 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know by John
C. Maxwell; and The Greatness Guide by Robin Sharma. The roaming
sales clerk ventures, these books selling fas and only a few copies of
them are leff [sic].
In conversation with the storeowner we ask what are some of his
bestsellers? Bibles of every kind sell the fastest, then the inspirational
ones such as The Everyday Promises for Women by Pamela Kay Tracey,
any Joel Osteen books, and also The Power of Right Believing by Joseph
Prince. He goes on to say his store is generally stocked with interna-
tional bestsellers and it really depends on what the customer wants.
He also reminds us the sales of books depend on the season since
most people give inspirational books at Christmas to colleagues and
We ask about the layout of the store and the decision-making pro-
cess behind the location of the various shelves and displays. The owner
explains the store is not that spacious as he has many shelves in a
small space. The books are placed to t he tells us. The wall shelves
are usually shelved based on the type of books that they can hold, but
the inspirational books are most times placed on the wall close to the
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 127

The second store, JAK, is larger and newer. In the window the 50
Shades of Grey series has a display, as do childrens books. Soft gospel
music lls the store and there is a cooling hum from the AC unit. It has
40 display shelves and is busier than the Pavilion with a fair number
of people pottering around and browsing the shelves. The store is well
lit and the three clerks assembled near the cashing area ask customers
if they require assistance. In large plastic sticker footprints on the shop
oor there are occasional quotes by Maya Angelou, Oscar Wilde and
other famous writers.
On entering the store, the rst lane you funnel into contains many
religious, self-help and inspirational book titles. Along this lane are a
couple of couches for sitting and browsing. The walls of the store have a
broad variety of texts, from health books and kids storybooks to inspi-
rational books and romance and ction. There is also a large display
containing biographies of Oprah Winfrey, Pastor Myles Munroe, Malala,
and other well-known gures. Overall there is a much wider and more
diverse selection of books in JAK than in the Pavilion. These include
some self-help books by local and regional authors such as New Begin-
nings by E. Lloyd Smith, printed out of Jamaica by Infotech Trainers
and Consultants Ltd, and Eighteen Lessons from Wayne: Reections on the
Teachings of Dr Wayne Dyer by Trinidadian author Ann Marie Ganness
and published by Balboa Press in the US.
The occasional customer seems to know exactly what he or she is
looking for and the spaciousness of the store allows for browsing by mul-
tiple customers at once without disruption. One woman comes in with
her child and husband; the woman sits and browses while her husband
heads straight for the Bibles and the child to the kids series.
Another young woman comes to the section dedicated to Paulo
Coelho books and is skimming through titles; we ask her what the book
The Alchemist is about. She enthusiastically explains its the best book
Ive ever read! and she got it for her birthday. She explains she never got
to read it, so after school she decided to read it and was mad she never
read it before. Now she reads a lot of Coelhos books and is in the store
today looking for one for a friend.
We ask two of the sales clerks what the bestsellers are. They say,
the inspirational books. We ask which those are. The Joel Osteen,
Robin Sharmas The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari, Joyce Meyer, Paulo
Coelhos The Alchemist. All international bestsellers are among the
stores inspirational books, they conclude.
In a display near the cash till at the front of the store is a shelf labelled
best sellers. A sales clerk advises us however that throughout the store
128 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

there are bestsellers, so they have no particular place or best sellers list.
When we ask whether they have a particular place for the inspirational
books and self-help books, another sales clerk explains, dey all over the
store it really depends on what people looking for. Where are these
bestsellers from? The copyright information shows the vast majority of
those mentioned are published in the US.
The third store, Pebbles, is also small in comparison to JAK and a closer
equivalent to Pavilion. The self-help books here including the motiva-
tional, religious, self-improvement and how-to books are set up on
display towards the front of the store. Again its the rst aisle a customer
enters and the rst books people will look at because of how they are
On the right side of the shelf there are Bibles of every size and kind,
Testaments, Bibles for kids, Bible short-stories, books about prayers for
women; books by Maya Angelou; inspiration for wives, husbands, prayer
and devotion; books about crises of faith, conquering problems, nding
destiny, being mindful, dealing with men and relationships, and loving
On the left side there are the biographies of Nelson Mandela, Sarah
Palin, Hillary Clinton, Che Guevara, Bill Clinton, Amy Winehouse,
Malala, Barak Obama and many others. Then there are books about get-
ting ahead in the business world by moguls such as Donald Trump and
other right-wing gures like Glenn Beck and Alan Greenspan. The books
of Malcolm Gladwell such as Outliers, David and Goliath, and What the
Dog Saw are also prominently placed in this row.
Other books include those carrying themes of how to be successful,
building self-condence, and a guide to building investments. These
include titles like Rich Kid, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosak, Mentoring by
John C. Maxwell, and Act like a Success by Steve Harvey.
On the more overtly religious shelves the books range from the very
religious and faith based to battles with faith, keeping faith from differ-
ent perspectives, to working on oneself. These include a host of titles by
Stormie Omartian including The Power of a Praying Husband, many titles
by Elizabeth George such as Loving God with all your Mind and A Young
Womans Guide to Prayer, and Getting to Heaven by Don Piper. In the Joel
Osteen display case there are 12 different titles he has authored.
Thinking about the content of the bookstores and their layout, a sensi-
ble observation might be that within the contemporary popular culture
of patrons of the West Mall bookstores in Trinidad, self-help prod-
ucts broadly conceived are signicant and the books themselves when
seen as commodities produced elsewhere highlight the transnational
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 129

character, consumption and phenomenon of self-help discourses to be

found in Western Trinidad.
The breadth of the titles seen on display at each of these bookstores
is not strictly separated into distinct genres. The genres and discourses
blend and mix together on the shelves. This suggests a variety of self-
help and therapeutic discourses including spiritual, health, relation-
ship, medical-scientic, psychological, do-it-yourself, how-to, religious
and inspirational travel from far and into the lives of some Trinidadian
locals, and while heterogeneous, they are not demarcated clearly. One
possible implication of this is a local acceptance and endorsement gen-
erally of the therapeutic-educational ability of self-help books (Neville,
2012: 362) for a large majority of the possible problems a contempo-
rary reader might face. This implication is reminiscent of Giddens take
on self and society in the Late Modern Age (1991: 14), where all indi-
viduals establish a portfolio of risk[s] and manage, deny or defer them
through lifestyle guides and psychological work (125130).

Where do you nd out about self-help guides?

To collect insights and information about self-help guide readers in

Trinidad, where two of the authors have worked and where one of
us is currently conducting ethnographic research, we conducted 12
semi-structured, open-ended interviews with people met randomly over
various Saturdays in the bookstores of Westmall. Participants were then
asked if they minded sharing half an hour of their time to discuss
self-help guides with us. These conversations were taped and later tran-
scribed by a research assistant. The 12 respondents were all women aged
between 24 and 40, living in the Western suburbs of Port of Spain,
all employed, all tertiary-level educated, some here, some in the US,
Canada and the UK. All were currently reading or listening to self-help
guides. Some also enjoyed self-help DVDs. They represented a similar
typical reader of self-help guides as described by Neville (2012: 365)
and Lichterman (1992: 427); and a similar intersection of production
and consumption referenced by Nederveen Pieterse (2000: 132) in his
discussion of the interpenetration between the global market produc-
tions of the Global North and the consumption of the message these
productions carry by members of the Global South.
Asking local readers about where they nd out about the self-help
guides they purchase and read revealed that in the main it wasnt
the great window and table displays of Westmalls bookstores inspiring
choices, but rather word of mouth and recommendations from those
130 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

they trust, which include Oprah and Dr Phil. As Darcie, 30-year-old

self-employed mother-of-one suggested:

Mostly, its if someone tells me they just read this great book and it
really helped me. Otherwise its Oprah, Dr Phil. Or it could be an
interview with the author that catches my eye or somewhere their
story is shown and how the book helped their life. And then Ill see
theyve written a book and I just nd it interesting so I read it.

Another reader, Hannah, 28 and a civil servant, explained how it is

friends who inuence her self-help reading. The rst self-help book that
I read was from somebody in work who gave me a book, a self-help
book for Christmas, as a present and it was really good. The second one
I bought for myself. I saw it in a bookstore and a friend was with me and
he suggested I should get it.
Alongside recommendations from friends and TV presenters, other
responses to the ways people in Trinidad choose their self-help read-
ing included browsing bookstores and libraries, listening to public radio
and TV, following friends recommendations both in real life and in
social media, reading inspirational columns in the daily newspapers,
and googling motivational quotes they might see and following the
links which sometimes connect back to self-help guides.
This process of selecting self-help literature and discourses to consume
parallels many of the points made by Lichterman (1992: 424) where he
discussed thin culture and in particular interpretive communities in
the construction and interpretation of genres. To build on Lichterman
we might suggest readers in Western Trinidad construct, understand
and choose self-help literature based on their membership of interpre-
tive communities, wherein texts acquire meaning only through the
shared interpretive conventions of specic institutions or group of read-
ers. [And] texts can indeed be constructed to mean different things in
different interpretive circles (Lichterman, 1992: 424). These institutions
of course include friends and family as well as social media.
Another element in the interpretive communities of self-help readers
in Western Trinidad is the role of self-help columns in the three main
local daily newspapers and the suggestions these authors make. Book
Club is a regular Sunday column in the local Trinidad Guardian written
by Debbie Jacob, the head librarian at the International School of Port
of Spain in Westmoorings, which reviews and suggests inspirational and
self-help texts to readers. Jacob is herself an author of uplifting stories,
having written Wishing with Wings published by Ian Randle Publishers
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 131

out of Jamaica, a non-ction account of her experience as a teacher who

brings hope to the lives of young males on remand. Her book reviews are
often astute and make a distinction between sappy self-help books that
are downright condescending and of no real value and more serious
inspirational books (Sunday Guardian, 18 January 2015).
Recent titles reviewed by Jacob at the time of writing include Your
Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life by Jane Pauley; The Late
Starters Orchestra by Ari L. Goldman; I am Malala: The Girl who Stood up
for Education and was shot by the Taliban; How to Say No Without Feeling
Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, More Joy, and What Matters Most to You by
Patti Breitman; I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher; In a Heartbeat: Sharing
the Power of Cheerful Giving by Leigh Anne Tuohy, Sean Tuohy and Sally
Jenkins, and Win Forever: Live, Work and Play Like a Champion by Pete
Describing the rst two titles Jacob wrote: Your Life Calling and The
Late Starters Orchestra will help readers to appreciate life on a whole
new level. There are words of wisdom, funny stories to entertain and
inspirational stories to make readers ponder new directions.
Ava AP Toussaint is another local columnist, who has written for
Trinidad and Tobagos bestselling daily, the Trinidad Express, for the last
15 years. Her second published book title, the motivational-sounding
Strengthened to Soar! Moving from a Challenging Then to a Purpose-Filled
Now, was realised in January 2015. She describes herself as a Moti-
vational Speaker; Author; Life/Self Esteem Coach; Mother and Grand-
mother. It is common for her inspirational columns, just like her books,
to draw from religious teachings and in comparison to Jacobs Book Club
column, APs column is more overtly religious in narrative, with Jacob
taking a more classic newspaper reviewer tone.
The third column is found in the Newsday and is a syndicated
column from the Jamaican Gleaner by Dr Glenville Ashby that covers a
variety of non-ction and ction texts including the occasional self-help
In many ways, just as the titles on display shelves in the bookstores
are heterogeneous and not one particular genre of self-help, so in the
popular culture of the daily newspapers a heterogeneous mix of self-
help texts in terms of the structure and content of their ideas about
the social world can be found. An important observation worth con-
sidering from eldwork in Western Trinidad is the variable cultural
meanings self-help books and literatures can generate. This is similar
to a point made by Lichterman (1992: 424): People confront diverse
mass-mediated productions in diverse settings and may make sense out
132 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

of those productions through groupings based largely on shared media

experiences themselves.
Transnational therapeutic and self-help discourses travel in many
shapes and sizes and appear to be consumed based on the idiosyn-
crasies, interests and background of the readers themselves. As further
evidence of therapeutic culture more generally in Trinidad along-
side self-help guides mutual-help groups were also mentioned as
popular with some self-help guide readers. As Margaret, a 30-year-old
half-American/half-Trini, pointed out:

Self-help is like you do it for yourself. Like I would go and read differ-
ent books, and try to gain knowledge on my own and try to interpret
things in different ways to develop who I am as a person. And mutual
help is more like people helping each other, from community, from
doing things with other groups. Its different to act something out in
a group atmosphere versus reading it. So, its not necessarily one is
better than the other.

This openness to mutual-help groups was a common theme amongst

those we talked to almost as though after reading a certain level of
self-help guides and learning from these towards betterment of them-
selves, self-help readers gain valuable experiences sharing with others
who had taken a similar path to self-understanding. As Margaret went
on to suggest:

Because Ive read so many self-help books Ive learnt so much about
myself. And I think a part about self-development is the fact that
you can look at someone else and know that there are similarities
between you. And by seeing them, youre able to see yourself. Youre
able to see some sort of reection of yourself and sometimes thats
more of an impact than just reading it . . . or if you look at them and
you realise I would never be like that. But then if you really listen to
their story youd be like, Wow Im just like that. And it would make a
difference, you know. Like you could see your own insecurities, your
issues, whatever it is, from listening to them.

Another point that emerged from Margaret about the mutual-help

groups she attended in Trinidad is that they were conducted by a
US practitioner who ies in and holds mutual-help retreats in a rented
house in rural Trinidad:

It was a whole day session; it started at ten oclock and ended at

probably close to ve. There were ten people participating and one
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 133

person who was basically, who was hosting it. Not hosting it, but she
was leading it. Claire [the leader/practitioner] is a psychotherapist,
she went to school for that. She also does esoteric like therapy, which
is something thats come forth like religion and that sort of stuff.
It has to do with like energy healing and, which is a really, really big
thing here in Trinidad . . . After we had nished, she offered to come
back to Trinidad again and to do a weekend session with the girls.
And everybody gave an overwhelming response of, Yes you should
do that. We needed more time with you.

From the comments of Hannah and Darcie, alongside the local

newspaper culture of motivational columnists and the importation of
mutual-help groups to Trinidad and Tobago, it is possible to recruit evi-
dence of the social relevance of therapeutic culture in the wider popular
culture of Western Trinidad. It is also worth considering how such rel-
evance is produced and reinforced through acknowledgement of local
interpretive communities that plug into a transnational network of
production, circulation and consumption.
Both Hannah and Darcie for example suggested a transnational net-
work of inuences contribute to the self-help literature they choose
to read or listen to. This transnational network involves the recom-
mendations of local friends and international friends, of being plugged
into transnational networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, consum-
ing US-based media shows, and using the international search engine
Google. The self-help literature that some in Trinidad come to read as
a result of this selection process means a wide variety of self-help and
therapeutic culture discourses arrive here and possibly take on a local
cultural relevance alongside their original purpose.


When we asked about the types of people the participants thought read
self-help guides Darcie responded: I think its a particular type of person.
I dont nd people here read self-help guides as much as my foreign
friends who tend to read them more. When we asked why, she said,
Because I nd Trinis are so busy kinda being social, I dont think they
reect as much.
Adriana also felt it wasnt that common to read self-help guides
locally: I dont nd that many of my friends read at all. I have like
three friends who are similar to me and use self-help guides. This was a
point further reinforced by Margaret, who thought in general Trinidad
does not have a culture of self-help guide readers:
134 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

No. I think they wouldnt be open-minded to it, because of the fact

that locally, you know, I would describe it as a masculine sort of cul-
ture where you dont talk about those sorts of things, or you dont
get involved in or by trying to really help yourself. Or youre looked
down upon for like helping yourself.

Yet clearly at the same time the 12 participants who spoke with us were
examples of people who read self-help guides not to mention the fact
that the bookstore owners and clerks testied such books are popular
with customers. So what might we infer by their dismissal of a larger
self-help reading culture in Trinidad? UNICEF statistics for 2013 state
the literacy rate in Trinidad and Tobago for 1524-year-olds is 99.6 per
cent, with adult literacy at 99.3 per cent, so it is safe to say Adriana,
Darcie and Margaret are not referring to illiteracy as the reason they
think locals do not read self-help guides.
Perhaps a better way to understand the point being made is to look
more closely at Margaret and Darcies suggestions that (1) Trinidad is
a masculine culture that lacks open-mindedness to think about those
sorts of things; (2) individuals dont try to help themselves out; and
(3) Trinis are so busy kinda being social, I dont think they reect as
Lichterman (1992: 428) noted his respondents mobilised similar dis-
missals as the main reason given when he asked them to imagine the
type of person who would not read self-help books. For Lichterman,
this lack suggests some people believe, and are part of, what he denes
as a/the thin culture of reading self-help books, which supposedly
involves the characteristic of being an open person:

Thin culture aptly summarises a thick description of self-help

reading. I name this culture thin because it does not support
a deep commitment from readers. Over a period of years, some
readers do dive repeatedly into self-help reading, but they dis-
cover and rediscover that it is not such a long way from surface
to bottom. The reading functions as a loosely adopted and partial
source of self-denition for even avid self-help readers. (Lichterman,
1992: 427)

For Lichterman this type of reading behaviour or thin culture is

something most applicable to educated, middle-class readers who
simultaneously trust and discount the books, all the while maintain-
ing an open-minded, experimental attitude toward new titles as they
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 135

appear (1992: 427). This reading is similar to Giddens suggestion that

self-identity is reexively organised:

In the post-traditional order of modernity, and against the backdrop

of new forms of mediated experience, self-identity becomes a reex-
ively organised endeavour. The reexive project of the self, which
consists in the sustaining of coherent, yet continuously revised, bio-
graphical narratives, takes place in the context of multiple choice as
ltered through abstract systems. (Giddens, 1991: 5)

It might be suggested here in an extension of Lichterman and Giddens

that thin culture and its class implications were supported by what
the local readers said and the basic demographic information collected
on the 12 educated, internationally connected, and fairly well-travelled
female respondents who reside or work in Westmoorings.

It was spiritual and practical at the same time

The questions we asked each participant included the following: Would

you describe self-help guides as a spiritual aid or a practical aid, and
why? And is religion a strong component to self-help guides or are they
more practical psychological advice?
Adriana, an MSc Sociology graduate, spoke to the changing world
described by Giddens in Modernity and Self-Identity (1991):

Self-help guides help you to understand your surroundings, the

things around you, how to move forward with the circumstances
that you have and how to deal with them in the best way. I really
think it is the people that you know dont go to church or dont
go to Mosque or dont go to Temple, where they dont have that
spiritual guide within an institutionalised form, I think self-help
guides are a more secular thing. I dont know if any religious peo-
ple read self-help guides unless you look at motivational things like
Joel Osteen.

Laura, 35, married and an architect, responded by suggesting the

guides help on both levels and certainly lled a spiritual gap:

It was spiritual and practical at the same time because I dont go to

church or any religious institution so I dont really have that ground-
ing in terms of something to centre me so the self-help books are
136 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

helpful in terms of giving me a kind of spiritual awareness of myself,

of my surroundings and its not caught up in all of the spiritual stuff,
doctrines and stories that you dont know if it is real or not. It was
something based on reality in terms of how you feel and stuff like

In a somewhat similar vein, Hannah told us: Yeah I think self-help

guides are a little bit cooler. Like its not cool to read the Bible. Darcie,
on the other hand, expressed the opposite sentiment: I think I read a
lot less of those self-help books because I read the Bible more now. Its
more of a connection thing, I feel as if the Bible is God speaking to me
Darcie went on to note that when she goes into a bookstore in
America, the books seem a bit more psychological, while in the local
bookstores she frequents the self-help guides seem more religious.
Another question asked was how do readers experience self-help texts?
Do they see themselves as passive or critical readers? Liz, a 40-year-old
small-business owner and divorced mother-of-two, responded:

I think I was not critical but I did analyse what I was reading beyond
just reading it and absorbing it. I tried to interpret what they were
telling me, like for example with the rock [from the Secret] that you
could get to hold, I was trying to understand symbolically what it
means and I kind of put my own umm, interpretation of what it was
to me apart from what they tell you in the book.

And what about the writing style of the self-help guides, for exam-
ple the metaphors, stereotypes and clichd titles that are so common?
Darcie responded:

Yeah, the titles will catch you. The reason I like self-help guides too is
they tell you, they give you an example, a man is in the car, a woman
says this, and a man says this and a woman says this, and Im like
O my God! Thats me and then they tell you this is what the man
is thinking, this is what the woman is thinking and this is what we
shouldve done.

Francesca, a 28-year-old media professional, responded to the implied

put-down of the stereotypes and metaphors: I love them, I think theyre
great, they are the best part about these books; a recent favourite is why
women cant read maps and why men dont ask for directions (the
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 137

title is actually Why Men Dont Listen and Women Cant Read Maps
by Barbara and Allan Pease).

Preparedness and the new survivalist

Thinking about Kellners (2003: 9) idea that self-help guides are a form
of cultural pedagogy, we asked questions about self-help guides as a
type of new survivalist literature and whether that was a factor in why
people read them. For Darcie this seemed to resonate but not in the way
we had intended:

Hmmm. The rst one I read . . . I was 17 . . . Ok Ill be very honest.

I think it was being a teenager and feeling all depressed and lame
and whatever. I think I was like that and the rst guide was some-
thing like how to manage depression. Something my parents might
have given me. And then kinda coming out of that people who went
through like the absolute worst life in the world. I used to nd that
stuff really interesting. It was the sort of stuff you grab as a teenager
cus you want to know there is something better.

For Darcie the guides helped a particular teenaged mind-set, which she
described as in need of knowing that things get better, a sort of cultural
pedagogy for growing up and overcoming common growing experiences
like stress and depression. This is similar to a point made by Furedi
(2002: 16), who suggested that the complex emotional tensions that
are an integral part of the process of growing up are now often dened
as stressful events with which children cannot be expected to cope. For
Darcie self-help guides perhaps entered as a pedagogical niche in her
life, informing her how to overcome feeling all depressed and lame and
Furthermore, in offering their daughter a self-help book to overcome
her depression, it would seem Darcies parents displayed some elements
of the precariousness of everyday family life caused by modernity and
the breakdown of parenthood as discussed by Lasch in relation to
American parents:

The invasion of the family by industry, the mass media, and the
agencies of socialized parenthood has subtly altered the quality of
the parentchild connection. It has created an ideal of perfect par-
enthood while destroying parents condence in their ability to per-
form the most elementary functions of childrearing. The American
138 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

mother, according to Geoffrey Gorer, depends so heavily on experts

that she can never have the easy, almost unconscious, self-assurance
of the mother of more patterned societies, who is following ways she
knows unquestionably to be right. (Lasch, 1991: 169170)

For Lisa, a 32-year-old teacher, nding ways to be more motivated

about her life was an important factor in why she read the books:

I really enjoy motivational talks. Im obsessed with motivational

speaking and that kind of thing so I used to kinda, that ended up
drawing me into the books . . . I read Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway in
2007 and I went skydiving that day and I went on my rst motorcy-
cle ride the next day, with my mum. I have a picture of me reading it
on the way to the skydiving lesson.

For Margaret we see something common in a number of self-help

guide studies, namely overcoming personal difculties (Neville, 2012):

Yeah, for me its like tools you are using, tools for life. A lot of people
say people who read self-help books are depressed or have issues and
cant deal with life on their own and I do agree that I use less of them
as I get older but I think its learning, its all knowledge and maybe
there are different forms of knowledge but its up to you to decide
what information you are going to take or not.

For each respondent, overcoming some sort of obstacle in life youth,

personal difculties, or a lack of motivation is suggested as a reason
they were attracted to self-help guides. In this sense these readers are
mobilising a narrative of personal survival. Perhaps we might describe
this narrative and for example Margarets sentiment that there are dif-
ferent forms of knowledge but its up to you to decide as indicating a
particular conception of self is recruited by some self-help readers. This
self has many elements to it and is of course heterogeneous across expe-
riences, but we can tie it to the privatisation of self as discussed in the
literature on self-help by authors like Furedi (2002) and Rimke (2000):

In many accounts the growth of therapeutic culture is associated

with the process of individuation, which is reected in a rise towards
individualism and a shift of focus towards a preoccupation with the
self. As a description of a broad pattern, this interpretation serves
to underline an important cultural trend, which is the privatization
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 139

of identity. However, terms such as individualism and the self are

much too general to illuminate the question of just what kind of an
individual and just what kind of a self is under discussion. (Furedi,
2002: 23)


For Darcie too, the level of interest in self-help books had declined with
age; this was to do with having less free time. However, even as her inter-
est declined she had found new ways to consume them that allowed her
to multitask:

As Ive got older I probably use self-help guides less, most probably
because I dont have time. I use more audio books recently but Im
more busy generally. Youve also gured out a lot so you dont need
as much [from self-help guides] but then something will come up
thats really interesting and you get really into it. Its not like before
when I used to be obsessed with it when I had time, more teenage to
like 26.

Lisa also said she actively used audio books and Tony Robbins DVDs
instead of the hard copy itself. She said this was because she was a lit-
tle dyslexic and it takes her longer to read a book than watch/listen to
it, and the length of time required to read a whole book could frus-
trate her. This was because she could only read a page or two at night
and she didnt feel she was absorbing as much as when listening to the
audio book.
For Darcie there was more of a synergy between the two:

I like self-help books both on audio and in book. Ill try to read the
book then listen to the audio. I like it to sink in, so I read the pages
over and over, four or ve times so it sinks in because information
comes to me. It takes me a long time to kinda process it, like what
does that mean and how it relates to my life. I wont just read it.
Audio books are amazing in situations where you wanna zone out
like if youre cleaning, washing dishes or youre driving long dis-
tances. I am really obsessed with time wasting so standing in line
at a bank pisses me off so I use to always say if Im listening to this
Im doing something productive. So its just about feeling productive
and feeling productive in times when you have shit to do and you
cant use your mind.
140 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Thinking about mall culture and the class implications of living in

Westmoorings we asked participants if self-help guides implied a cer-
tain type of class membership. Absolutely, replied Hannah. Absolutely
unfortunately, but I would say upper middle to upper, because they have
more time and they reect more, they more educated in a sense to talk
about yourself and your feelings unlike other people I guess low income,
who more think about survival.
We followed up by pointing out that if that were true, it might suggest
people from a certain economic class group are sharing and talking to
each other through these books around the world, in a sense, to which
Hannah responded:

Yeah thats for sure, Facebook as well. I nd social media theres a lot
of sharing now in the modern way but I guess any network. So people
on Facebook theyll say like hey I read this great book and youll be
like ok, sure. Or they have clips of authors being interviewed. I mean
thats what my girlfriends do; theyll say do you like so and so? Check
her out. So theres this nexus between the TV host, the book, the
Internet, your Facebook network and they all kinda link up.

A culture of self-help in Western Trinidad

From these short open-ended interviews conducted within the mall

culture of Westmall, with people from the surrounding upper-middle
class suburb of Westmoorings and the thick descriptions that accom-
panied them, it is possible to offer some suggestive insights into the
phenomenon and culture of self-help guides locally in Western Trinidad.
According to the visual and interview data collected from the
Westmall bookstores, the opinions of interviewees, and the broader
contextualisation of local popular culture, the self-help genre is well
established in Western Trinidad. For example, the genre is not conned
to books and extends into audio books, mutual-help workshops and
DVDs. This breadth, alongside evidence of further product diversica-
tion, suggests the existence of a consumerist therapeutic culture more
generally in Trinidad. This culture connects transnationally through
a variety of institutions including family, social media and the main-
stream media to various discourses carried and captured by therapeutic
culture such as positive psychology.
According to our interviewees, however, this transnational therapeu-
tic culture may not be inclusive across the nation because it seems
most profound in particular groupings marked by class, international
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 141

exposure and geographic location, such as Westmoorings in Western

Trinidad. Based on the work of Lichterman (1992) and Giddens (1991)
this insight was not wholly unexpected as it provides additional support
to arguments made elsewhere about the Westernisation of therapeu-
tic culture and the implication that the self-help genre, to a certain
degree, is comparable to a Trojan horse of atomistic ideas and neoliberal
discourses of the individual (Binkley, 2011; Illouz, 2008).
That said, amongst those who use, read and practise the insights of
self-help books in Trinidad, they do so in personal and varied ways.
Many of these ways overlap amongst the readers we spoke to, such as
self-help books being consumed as educative and helpful, or being read
passively, such as when doing a re-read; many suggested they return
to self-help books they have read before. At the same time readers
suggested they can also consume self-help guides in critical ways, and
were all self-consciously aware when they were reading passively versus
critically. This might be interpreted to mean the same book can have dif-
ferent functions at different times, depending on context and the mood
or state of mind of the reader.
The bookstores themselves offered hard evidence of the existence of a
wide variety of transnational therapeutic culture to be found and con-
sumed in Trinidad. However, from what the sales clerks told us, and also
in the observed failure to demarcate the different genres of therapeutic
culture/discourse on bookstore shelves, it can be suggested that the dis-
play, understanding and conception of transnational therapeutic culture
is not identical in Trinidad to its display, understanding and conception
elsewhere. For example, the bookstore owners, sales assistants and news-
paper columnists all provided evidence of the popularity of inspirational
and religious self-help books over all other genres. It might be suggested
this reality of similar but different is evidence in support of Nederveen
Pieterses argument about the interaction of modernities and the pro-
duction of difference (2000). This is because multiple modernities and
capitalisms are each conditioned and articulated by historic and geo-
graphical circumstances and take on a different character on account of
different modes of fusion and articulation (Nederveen Pieterse, 2000:
In terms of actual book selection, it became clear from the interviews
that a globalised and transnational online network of TV programming
and Facebook/social media suggestions often directs local readers to the
internationally popular self-help guides. This is supplemented by the
opinions of friends and family plugged into the same network. In addi-
tion there is a local newspaper culture which regularly recommends
142 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

titles. A salient point to note in relation to these interconnected inter-

pretive communities is that in the main they push non-local texts,
which makes sense considering the relative size of the regional versus
the Western culture industries. However, at the same time evidence did
emerge of a small inventory of regional self-help authors and books not
as popular as the better-known international offerings.
Overall, it became clear that reading self-help guides in Western
Trinidad is seen as positive across different stages of life. From the experi-
ences of being a teenager, to a young adult, to a parent, there was a place
for consuming self-help guides. Sometimes this involves switching the
method of consumption from reading to listening, or from self-help to
mutual-help discourses. At the same time there did seem to be a gen-
eral trend of self-help literature being something many grow out of to a
degree, and become more critical of with time.

Transnational self-help in Trinidad

On our visits to Westmall we found very few books available in the

local bookstores that were published regionally. The vast majority were
published in North America, and particularly the US. Understanding
self-help books as vessels that carry discourses of the self and personal
life, such as the narcissistic (Lasch, 1991) and do-it-yourself type (Rimke,
2000), and as artefacts that shape our contemporary understanding of
selfhood, personal identity and worldview (Neville, 2012: 362), it is
possible to suggest ways in which such discourses like positive psychol-
ogy (Binkley, 2011) have spread locally beyond the books themselves,
much like the way Lasch (1991), Furedi (2002), Binkley (2011) and
Rimke (2000) suggest self-help discourses have taken over political and
cultural life in Euro-America:

Although identity is now recast on an intensely individualised foun-

dation, which inherently contradicts wider notions of community,
the political class has found a new role for itself as managers of
peoples emotional anxieties. The colonisation of the private world
by public authority is the inexorable logic of the institutionalisa-
tion of therapeutic politics. The lack of open debate or concern
about this development indicates that it has become embedded in
contemporary culture. (Furedi, 2002: 23)

Yet of course this is not as simplistic as it sounds. In local Trinidad

and Tobago culture, discourses of self-help have a long socio-cultural
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 143

history and do not necessarily mean the same thing nationally as they
do abroad. The local cultural institution of sou sou (Winer, 2009: 864),
for example a type of cooperative savings scheme generally found
amongst low-income groups has always been described as a positive
self-help scheme but not in the way Euro-American therapeutic cul-
ture and psychological discourses use the term self-help (Winer, 2009).
For example in 1987 the Trinidad and Tobago government established
a National Commission for Self Help Ltd (NCSHL), whose role was to
ensure the thriving spirit of self-reliance among communities is pro-
moted. They did this by providing some nancial grants for and to an
individual or family. The logic according to the NCSHLs glossy blurb
is, the idea of self-help was to encourage communities to rely on the
resources available and take charge of themselves. It was in this capacity
that the National Commission for Self Help Limited came into being, to
educate communities on the values of self-help and self-reliance.
As such, while a link to the institutionalisation of Laschs culture of
narcissism might seem possible in Trinidad and Tobago it should come
with a dose of cultural relativism. As an analysis of the rst ve years of
the NCSHL programme noted, the primarily state funded organization
attempts to use an indigenous system of self-help to provide services
(Sobers, 1998: 375). These indigenous systems are a reference to his-
toric cultures of sou sou (community savings), gayap (informal housing)
and lend hand, which are documented as longstanding forms of self-
help in Trinidad and Tobago (Winer, 2009: 824, 377, 524). Self-help has
a long history and importance locally as a practical solution for many
low-income families in the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago.
It was a solution to the needs of certain populations rather than waiting
for nascent or absent state organisations to assist. And while this notion
of self-help is not the same denition of self-help travelling in the thera-
peutic discourses arriving from the Global North, the two do share some
elements, including a vision of independence, self-determination and
self-respect. Furthermore, the traditional local understanding of self-
help and the more contemporary transnational denition do meet here
and elsewhere in the region.
In this sense, alongside the transnational discourses of self-help that
arrived with the explosion of the literature on self-help and therapeu-
tic culture more generally since the 1980s in North America, there had
already been an initial institutionalisation of local forms of self-help
and self-reliance in Trinidad and Tobago, which do not simply trans-
late Laschs culture of narcissism from the Global North into local
Trinidadian forms.
144 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

Another piece of contextualisation to better understand the blend of

transnational and national discourses of self-help and the institution-
alisation of a culture of narcissism locally might be suggested from
data from the University of the West Indies (UWI), the largest uni-
versity in Trinidad and Tobago, where one of the authors is currently
employed. The Psychology Unit at the UWI, St. Augustine Campus, has
existed for the past 18 years under the Department of Behavioural Sci-
ences (DBS). Substantial disciplinary development has been recorded
over that period. Student numbers have been consistently growing, as
have the course offerings of the Psychology Unit. Since its inception in
1996, the Psychology Unit has expanded to offer courses in the Evening
University, alongside full-time offerings. Courses are also offered at the
UWI South Campus. Additionally, the Psychology undergraduate offer-
ings have together recorded the highest total and average enrolment
growth in the DBS. Within the DBS, the undergraduate programmes in
psychology are also the only ones to record positive growth, on average,
over the years. In the 1995/1996 academic year, student enrolment was
at 12. This number has swollen to a remarkable 345 in the 2013/2014
cycle. Further, at the inception of the Unit, the only degree on offer
was the BSc Psychology Major. The Unit now boasts a collection of ve
degrees, since the addition of the BSc Psychology (Special), the MSc
Applied Psychology, the MPhil Psychology and the PhD in Psychol-
ogy. Further, a new psychology degree is in development, an MSc in
Educational/Counselling Psychology. On the basis of this growth the
UWI has agreed the Psychology Unit will become its own department in
August 2016.
At the annual academic advising where new rst years meet faculty
to chat about their course selections, we asked rst year undergrads why
they had chosen to do psychology over another degree. Many simply
shrugged their shoulders and offered a limited it sounds/ed interest-
ing. The slightly more insightful responses we received from incoming
undergrads suggest 18- and 19-year-olds are at an age where they are
trying to gure themselves out and who they are, and psychology seems
like the perfect way to do it. Perhaps in these latter sorts of responses
an echo of Lichtermans thin culture is to be found?
Alongside the increase in psychology admissions, sociology admis-
sions at the UWI have plummeted. We suggest this might be connected
to arguments made by Furedi (2002) and Illouz (2008) that play on the
epistemological distinctions between a science of society and its struc-
turally patterned social arrangements (sociology) versus a science of the
mind and its atomistic individualism (psychology):
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 145

[W]hile psychology supposedly addresses and helps resolve our

increasing difculty in entering or remaining in social relations, it
actually encourages us to put our needs and preferences above our
commitment to others. Under the aegis of the therapeutic discourse,
social relations are dissolved by a pernicious utilitarianism that con-
dones a lack of commitment to social institutions and legitimizes a
narcissistic and shallow identity. (Illouz, 2008: 2)

This call for people to seek the answers to the issues, risks and problems
in their lives from within themselves has, according to many authors
(e.g. Davies, 2015), dissolved the role of communities and other net-
works of social relations in everyday lives. This has wider implications
for larger debates about citizenship, social change and the public sphere.
The danger may have become that such therapeutic discourses are a
political technology of the self and while local readers in Western
Trinidad describe and experience self-help texts as cooler than the
Bible, interesting, about self-development and that they learn so
much about themselves, the impact of therapeutic discourses locally
and elsewhere might be described far more nefariously.
For Rimke (2000), self-help literature has appropriated democratic
liberalisms and neo-liberalisms ways of seeing the individual and the
social world and as such self-help promotes the idea that a good citizen
cares for herself or himself best by evading or denying social relations.
This reality in Trinidad, we might suggest, is not the whole story. Yes,
clearly self-help books as material objects whose production, circulation
and consumption are shaped by a variety of socio-economic and cul-
tural interests at local, regional and transnational levels are found and
enjoyed in Trinidad. And yes, understood in terms of a global assem-
blage (Collier and Ong, 2005) these texts contain discourses which
shape and dene particular moral and material notions of the self.
However, the variety and heterogeneity of discourses available from
mainstream psychotherapeutic to religious-conservative self-help avail-
able in Trinidad and how they mix with already established discourses of
self-help, mutual help and self-reliance do not t neatly into the tradi-
tional academic denitions of individualistic (Giddens, 1991), narcis-
sistic (Lasch, 1991), fearful (Furedi, 2002; Goodman, 2011), or cold
self-formation (Illouz, 2008). This ill-t again might be related to the
interactions of modernities and capitalisms as discussed by Nederveen
Pieterse (2000).
For starters the therapeutic discourses of self-help literature are not
read and consumed uniformly across the island. In Westmoorings it
146 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

was possible to nd and identify a community of readers of such texts.

In many ways they seemed to t the typical reader of self-help guides as
described by Neville (2012: 365) and Lichterman (1992: 427). They were
all open-minded to psychology, all internationally travelled, all tertiary
educated and all employed. This is not to slip into the simplistic think-
ing identied by Lasch of claiming self-help guides and their literatures
are therapies only for the rich and well to do (1991: 26). Rather, while
the data collected for this chapter cannot strictly speak to that, it did
seem that in the blend of genres and lack of demarcation on the shelves
there was something for people of all social classes. Some books do seem
more psychological and scientic but others also recruited the more reli-
gious and familiar. For us as ethnographers on the ground, this seemed
to be a central nding readers are open to the psychological types of
therapeutic culture, but inspirational forms of therapeutic culture, and
in particular those with a religious component, seemed most popular on
the whole.
As such, given the clear internal heterogeneity of the self-help genre
identied in Western Trinidad, it might be suggested that theories of
self-help literature generated in the Global North cannot adequately
understand the local situation because not all the discursive elements
of the self-help universe are to be found here in identical ways.


Perhaps a more useful way to understand how self-help is used and

thought about in Trinidad is by recruiting some common discursive
effects of self-help books. These include the encouragement of an ideal-
typical thin self1 and positive psychology (Binkley, 2011). Both are
characterised by the demand for constant reexive self-examination in
relation to normative frameworks whose coherent realisation in practice
must necessarily remain incomplete in the hyper exible, mobile social
environments that give rise to the demand and desire for self-help in the
rst place (cf. Holstein and Gubrium, 2000). Other effects include the
sense in which happiness and self-esteem have today emerged [in self-
help literature] as objects of analytical clarity, measurable and actionable
as never before (Binkley, 2011: 371). It is also important to mention
how emotional wellbeing of the sort promised by self-help literature and
therapeutic culture are being rethought along the lines of economis-
ing principles, valued in terms of costs, benets and enterprises, and
made subject to a distinct set of economising techniques (Binkley,
2011: 373).
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 147

Since the 1970s, neoliberal policies have been implemented the world
over. According to Scott (2013: 9), neoliberalism is a term describing
political positions loosely based on a collection of neoclassical eco-
nomic theories, favouring privatisation and deregulated global markets.
These political positions and their policies produce an economic system
designed towards short-term prot maximisation in place of long-term
societal and environmental balance (2013: 26). These specic policies
slip into our cultures, worldviews and institutions. One central exam-
ple of this can be seen in how identity has been transformed into an
intensely individualised process or culture of narcissism, and how the
importance of community has dissolved (Lasch, 1991: 4).
This occurs because the necessarily unachievable character of self-help
recipes leads to a privatisation and depoliticisation of personal concerns,
which are constructed as matters of psychotherapeutic, medical, spiri-
tual or religious signicance that can no longer be framed as problems
of collective action. This privatisation of personal concerns in turn can
be understood as a central aspect of the process of re-formation and
disciplining of the self in the context of the rise of neoliberal gov-
ernmentalities rst as neoliberal globalisation, latterly as neoliberal
empire throughout the world from the 1970s onwards (Nederveen
Pieterse, 2004).
As mentioned, according to Rimke (2000), this call for people to seek
the answers to the issues, risks and problems in their lives from within
themselves has dissolved the role of communities and other networks of
social relations in everyday lives. This has wide implications, not least in
relation to the importance of social bonds and relations. Essentially, the
importance of community, of the social bonds and relations we share
with others, has been diminished to make way for ideas about the world
based on the importance of the individual above the group.

Drawing together elements from humanistic and cognitive behavioural

psychologies, positive psychologists have proposed a scientically
grounded view of the individual that is basically optimistic: the
potential for happiness is something possessed by all, it is a thing
that can be objectied, mapped, manipulated and measured (largely
through the use of questionnaires and self-surveys), and people can
learn to do this manipulation in their own time with a minimum of
expert supervision. (Binkley, 2011: 384)

It has also been argued that the discipline of positive psychology which
has developed out of Western psychology since the mid-1990s and
148 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

which feeds the arguments of a large number of recent self-help titles is

a natural bedfellow of neoliberalism and its dispositions (Binkley, 2011:
371). This is because self-help literature and therapeutic culture today
focuses on how individuals govern themselves and whether or not indi-
viduals can perceive their situations in a positive or negative manner
as the solution to their personal woes. Therapeutic culture has become
detached from social relations and has shifted over to the individuals
themselves, who are now trained to manipulate their own emotions and
wish away any negative thoughts in order to be happy or grow. At the
centre of these efforts is the belief that happiness results from the cogni-
tive outlooks of individuals: to the extent that people can be brought to
assess their situations and themselves in a favourable light, the resulting
emotional ush will move them to perform on such a superior level
(Binkley, 2011: 374).
A good local example of the connection between the positive psychol-
ogy of therapeutic culture and the competitive ethos of neoliberalism
from our eld site can be seen in the IFHappiness advertising cam-
paign run in Trinidad and Tobago in 2014 and 2015. IFHappiness is
run by Ross Advertising, one of the regions most successful advertising
companies and current Public Relations advisers to the 20102015 Gov-
ernment of Kamla Persad Bissessar. The campaign was commissioned by
the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NGC) and as such
is funded by the state. According to one ad executive behind the cam-
paign, it was designed to create an emotional connection to the NGC
brand with the general public because if you create that sort of con-
nection then people will be more positive emotionally about the brand
Through print and media adverts as well as social media, the cam-
paign regularly asks the public questions. These include who is the
happiest family, the happiest school, the happiest couple, the hap-
piest team, or the happiest ofce, and the campaign demands the
public to Show Us! The public do this by sending in photos as
evidence of their happiness. These photos are then judged by the
ad agency and a winner selected for a prize of a happy moment.
In an explicit sense the campaign turns happiness into a compe-
tition where happiness is no longer shared by all but becomes a
league table where people are ranked based on who can project an
image or branding of their own happiness most successfully to oth-
ers. Rather than connect happiness to the development of empathy,
compassion, social connections and the social good, the IFHappiness
campaign encourages members of the public to strategically develop
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 149

themselves and their sense of happiness in competitive terms. According

to Binkley:

No longer an instrument for the strengthening of the state, today,

happiness is more than ever tied to economic freedom and the
inclination to act in ones own self interest. The logics imposed
through contemporary technologies of happiness and practiced by
individuals in their own self-government are specically centred
on the production or, more accurately, through the inducement
to self-production of a distinct form of enterprise. Neoliberal
governmentality, therefore, involves the process by which individ-
uals are induced to cultivate within themselves the entrepreneurial,
autonomous dispositions mandated by a wider economic rational-
ity a project that expands to incorporate wide and varied aspects of
conduct, personality and everyday life far beyond economic practice
in the narrow sense. (Binkley, 2011: 384)

On the implicit level this marriage between the self-production of hap-

piness and neoliberal dispositions transforms the everyday and our
basic understandings of affect. Atomistic individualism with its stress
and desire for personal choice and responsibility, self-resilience, suc-
cess, money-making, getting the upper hand at work and much more
remake happiness from a social matter into an emotionally individu-
alist moment. As Binkley goes on to note, the affecting of neoliberal
subjects, or subjectication, in other words, disposes individuals to act
strategically to develop themselves and their qualities as human capital
within a eld of competitive actors.
This shift can be described as a privatisation of happiness because
the expectation of positive psychology is that happiness is a personal
enterprise and as simple as thinking away the negative a concern
of the self. As such there is supposedly no longer a need to reect
and accept the facts of history or the structural realities of sociology.
Social and economic inequality under neoliberalism becomes a failure
of personhood and has nothing to do with the obstacles one might face
due to ones membership of various intersecting social groups in terms
of race, ethnicity, class or gender, for example.
Writing in 1979 about what he called a culture of narcissism grow-
ing ever more pervasive in North America, Christopher Lasch suggested
that to live for the moment is the prevailing passion to live for your-
self, not for your predecessors or posterity (Lasch, 1991: 4). He went on
to describe the consequences he saw in such a culture, which included,
150 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

amongst many, a break with the social bonds, lives, and history of those
who came before us; the replacement of religion for some with the tri-
umph of the therapeutic (1991: 13); and, as people increasingly live for
the moment, an erosion of connections to group and personal relations
because people no longer make large investments in love and friendship
in order to avoid excessive dependence on others (Lasch, 1991: 27).
The cultural and political signicance of the narratives provided by
the open-ended interviews in this chapter suggest some of the descrip-
tions Lasch provided in relation to North America in the late 1970s and
early 1990s can also be found here in Trinidad albeit in similar but also
distinct ways in the second decade of the 21st century. For the moment
such discourses are mostly found and spoken of in particular pock-
ets of the country where transnational links and class implications are
most pronounced places like Westmoorings. As such, we might con-
clude that the local consumption of discourses of therapeutic culture in
Trinidad and Tobago which originate in the Global North have territori-
alised themselves here. Yet they do not remain unchanged. They blend
and merge with local socio-cultural and economic realities, impacting
in important ways on how such texts and culture are chosen, sold, read,
consumed, understood, shared, remembered and ultimately used.
In methodological terms, this chapter explored how some individu-
als in Western Trinidad engage with therapeutic products and narratives
in everyday life. It did this by investigating the relationship between
self-help reading and self-help narratives from a bottom-up perspective.
This perspective was collected via open-ended, semi-structured inter-
views. These interviews were contextualised through thick descriptions
and connection to a variety of academic authors, local cultural realities,
secondary sources and discursive effects of self-help literature. A draft
of the chapter was also offered to some of the interviewees in a form
of member checks to enhance the trustworthiness and validity of its
This bottom-up reading of the phenomenon of self-help narratives
and how they are used in Trinidad has been offered as a complemen-
tary perspective to the focus on the production of therapeutic discourses
and their large-scale socio-cultural and political signicance in earlier
chapters. Furthermore, from an anthropological point of view, and in
support of Nederveen Pieterses notion of multiple modernities and
capitalisms (Nederveen Pieterse, 2000), by listening to and trying to
understand the subjective experiences of those consuming self-help dis-
courses in Trinidad, we gained an insiders view of the phenomenon
and the particular circumstances and living arrangements of a specic
The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad 151

group of people who use self-help products. As such, this chapter offered
outsiders looking in, information on what insiders in Trinidad suggest
is most important to them about self-help texts and their accompany-
ing discourses. This local, bottom-up evidence suggested some of the
foreign-produced discourses are often reworked and reorganised by local
sellers, buyers and readers to t local contexts, histories and realities.
This is not to say local readers in Trinidad are socially autonomous and
detached from the top-down structures and pressures of neoliberalism
and neoliberal governmentality. Rather, it is to observe some of the con-
cepts, ideas and neoliberal discourses of therapeutic culture found in
Trinidad and produced elsewhere are remade and reinforced on a sub-
jective and personal level within the context of the global interactions
of modernities.
The Politics of Self-Help

Self-help matters

In this book, we have offered two new insights into self-help and, by
extension, therapeutic culture that to date have been signicant omis-
sions in the research literature. These are, rst, the transnationalisation
of self-help culture, and by implication its glocal hybridisation; and,
second, the tension between self-helps discursive heterogeneity and
its relative political-ideological (neoliberal) homogeneity. In develop-
ing these insights across the various chapters we have illustrated how
self-help operates as a multidirectional transnational network with a
dominant nodal centre in the US and UK whose reach extends far
beyond the Global Northwest.
In line with research that has pointed to the globalisation of psy-
chotherapy and psychiatry as forms of medical practice (Damousi and
Plotkin, 2009; Mills, 2014; Roland, 2001), our analysis suggests that ther-
apeutic narratives of self and social relationships now reach deeply into
popular cultures, rationalities and modernities around the globe with
all the cultural and political implications this process entails. The few
authors who have acknowledged this development so far have described
it as a process of cultural standardisation (Binkley, 2011; Illouz, 2008;
Watters, 2010). Thus, in his aptly titled Crazy Like Us: The Globalization
of the American Psyche, Ethan Watters (2010: Introduction) nds himself
unnerved by the way American culture pervades the world and argues
that Americanisation is attening the landscape of the human psyche
itself. We have argued that this cultural essentialism is problematic,
as it diverts attention from the hybrid, simultaneously transnational
and local character of therapeutic narratives, as documented in our case
studies of the UK, the US, China, Mexico and Trinidad.

The Politics of Self-Help 153

Both as transnationally mobile translations and as locally written

and produced articulations of a transnational therapeutic ethos, self-
help texts are hybrid texts (Burke, 2009: 17). They blend foundational
assumptions of psychotherapy and positive psychology with locally spe-
cic, often historically deeply rooted cultural meanings of self, agency
and social relationships. Within this syncretic genre, we have docu-
mented and suggested that Anglo-American self-help does play a nodal
role, in terms of its history (see Chapter 2) and the contemporary
pervasiveness of its narratives (see Chapters 3 and 4). However, Anglo-
American self-help is best understood as a central source of inspiration,
not the only source that self-help writers and readers elsewhere draw
on in diverse ways, as illustrated in the chapters on China, Mexico and
Trinidad. As such, we submit there is little to suggest a transnational
standardisation of the genre, and that such a conception does a disser-
vice to the processes of hybridisation, syncretism and glocalisation our
research has documented.
These insights into the transnational and perhaps global character
of self-help have implications beyond academic debates about a spe-
cic form of popular literature. The socio-economic crisis that began
in 2008 has entailed far-reaching public debates about the future of
neoliberalism as a globally dominant system of social, political, cultural
and economic organisation. Over the last seven years, neoliberalism has
been systematically challenged through popular protests and new polit-
ical movements (Castells et al., 2012). At the same time neoliberalism
which emerged in the 1970s has turned out to be extraordinarily durable
by evolving and solving many of its contradictions, while also regu-
larly offering new justications to entice willing participation (Aschoff,
2015). This durability can be explained in political and economic terms
(Crouch, 2011; Mirowski, 2013). At the same time, neoliberalism has
restructured and produced a distinctive hegemonic form of common
sense (Couldry, 2010; Gill, 2008; Rose, 1996; Roy et al., 2007).

Neo-liberalism denes a certain existential norm in western societies

and, far beyond them, in all those societies that follow them on the
path of modernity. This norm enjoins everyone to live in a world
of generalized competition; it calls upon wage-earning classes and
populations to engage in economic struggle against one another; it
aligns social relations with the model of the market; it promotes the
justication of ever greater inequalities; it even transforms the indi-
vidual, now called on to conceive and conduct him- or herself as an
enterprise. (Dardot and Laval, 2013: 3)
154 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

In order to understand how neoliberalism has come to survive and

perhaps thrive in a time of profound crisis and social upheaval, it is
necessary to understand how it has contributed to meanings of self, soci-
ety and social relationships that are pervasive in everyday life among
diverse societies around the world. In other words, it is important to
understand how neoliberalism, in the Gramscian sense of a scholastic
programme, is legitimised and given voice through the hold it has over
common sense (Gramsci, 1971: 104). Self-help books express this com-
mon sense as norms, values, emotional sensibilities, and behavioural
logics to be learned and adopted. At the same time, as a genre that is
widely read at the international level, self-help literature also contributes
to the production of this common sense. The ways in which it does this
are a concern of this chapter.
The chapter rst addresses the transnational, hybrid character of self-
help and unpacks the ways in which ostensibly idiosyncratic self-help
narratives in different societies are nonetheless rooted in a seemingly
general neoliberal understanding of the self and social relationships
not outright standardisation, as in Illouz (2008), but a multidirectional
ow of discourses and cultural objects that has the Global Northwest
(and perhaps more specically the Anglosphere of Britain and the US)
at its centre. Second, we look at the implications of this multidirec-
tional ow of discourses and how they transform the self into what
we have termed the thin self of neoliberalism. We explore and doc-
ument this new self as a form of self-reprogramming and ask, on the
one hand, whether self-help has the capacity to do what it promises,
and on the other, what the wider political implications of such transfor-
mations of the self might be. Third, we explore the political implications
of a depoliticised and desocialised thin self for collective action in the
21st century. We ask what dangers we must be cognisant of, and what
opportunities for social change there might be considering that collec-
tive political action appears to be one of the major causalities of the
self-help turn.

Transnational self-help

We arrived at the term transnationalisation, rather than globalisation,

despite our sample including nations from four continents, the worlds
two most important countries economically (the US and China), and
the worlds three most widely spoken languages (Mandarin, Spanish and
English). For some readers, this might indicate that what we describe is
a global phenomenon. However, interpreting globalisation in the strict
The Politics of Self-Help 155

sense of the concept, our case studies do not allow us to make any claims
about self-help as a global phenomenon. It is for this reason that we
describe self-help as a transnational, rather than global, phenomenon.
Whether self-help is indeed global will have to be discovered in future
In terms of conception, authorship and production, Chapter 3 doc-
uments the way in which the discursive centre for self-help can be
most accurately described as emanating from the Anglosphere, i.e. the
universal and cultural industries of Anglo-American self-help that are
widely consistent in terms of the authors and narratives. Within this
Anglosphere, self-help texts ow in both directions; it is not just about
American self-help coming to the UK. Rather self-help culture is a mul-
tidirectional transnational network, within which US self-help plays a
nodal role. In Chapters 3 and 5 we documented some of the ways in
which the US and the UK have been key locations for research about
therapeutic culture and contemporary transformations of self-identity, a
point also supported by Binkley (2011) and Davies (2015). In this sense,
the US and the UK can be suggested as the historical cradle of the self-
help genre and also engines of its ongoing transformation and discursive
shifts in response to the 2008 nancial crisis. But what is the implica-
tion of this nodal centre in the context of how its products are received,
consumed and digested?
In particular, our research suggests the transnationalisation of these
Anglosphere products is not a simple process of hegemonic standard-
isation and unidirectionality. It is not a simple pseudo form of neo-
colonialism or cultural imperialism wherein self-help texts and products
arrive from the Anglosphere much like a Trojan horse full of for-
eign discourses ready to leap out and transform everyday life. Rather,
from our observations and analysis, the transnationalisation of self-
help is more correctly a transcultural process (Ortiz, 2003) and usefully
understood as a multidirectional hybrid formation with specic dis-
cursives and a nodal centre, as illustrated here by the case studies of
China, Mexico and Trinidad. For example, the China case illustrated,
amongst other insights, the transnationalisation of the phenomenon
of self-help entrepreneurs, i.e. the cultural producers, alongside publish-
ers and media institutions providing self-help products. Many might
assume that American-style self-help entrepreneurism with its strate-
gic self-promotion, self-branding, the creation of narrative authority
through self-branding, and the pursuit of brand-based commercial suc-
cess would not travel and territorialise in China due to its supposed
status as the Great Eastern Other. Yet Chapter 4 revealed that self-help
156 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

entrepreneurs are to be found there and are strikingly prominent in the

Chinese media and book market. The chapter also suggested self-help
does nd a place in Chinas cultural industries, yet it has undergone
glocalisation processes to become similar but different to contemporary
self-help as narrowly tied to Anglosphere culture.
Transculturation is an improvement on the anthropological stal-
wart acculturation, and its one-sided connotation of cultural change
which in many ways concentrates on primarily top-down processes of
change, rather than the inuence of bottom-up processes (Ortiz, 2003).
Transculturation implies far more give and take than acculturation
it is a concept of development and change, implying that when dif-
ferent bodies of knowledge, discourse and experience meet, over time
they build, whether consciously or not, new and syncretic forms of
culture. The point to acknowledge here is that transculturation is a pro-
cess of mixture with the onus placed on a varied dialogical process.
For Ortiz, transculturation was not about acquiring another culture,
adapting and assimilating certain ways, but rather about mixture and
everything changing, perhaps very slowly, under such interaction (Ortiz,
2003: 98). Transculturation is one fruitful way to describe the hybridity
and multidirectionality of Latin American self-help authors such as
Carlos Cuauhtmoc Snchez, Elizabeth Cant de Mrquez and Don
Miguel Ruiz who we saw have become popular both in the transnational
Spanish domain and in Anglophone countries such as the UK and
the US, in particular by responding in their self-help products and
entrepreneurism to the problems of self-development in Latin America.
Transculturation is also reective of what we documented in the
Trinidadian context, where local readers consume self-help in similar yet
different ways to how the books are packaged, marketed and sold in the
US, such as blurring the established genres of the Anglosphere model.
That readers in a relatively small nation like Trinidad and Tobago rein-
terpret and appropriate foreign self-help products is further evidence
to support our reading of the transnationalisation of self-help culture
and its glocal hybridisation by local readers. In Chapter 7, it was argued
that the self-help market of the US and its products do not simply
arrive in Trinidad and Tobago and remake passive readers in its image,
although there is some element of this; rather both self-help readers
and sellers in Trinidad creatively rather than passively (re)interpret and
appropriate Anglo-American self-help imports themselves. One such
example described from Trinidad is where Laschs (1979) culture of
narcissism was documented to have arrived but had taken on partic-
ularly local forms, such as meeting a local culture of self-reliance and
The Politics of Self-Help 157

self-help that had been institutionalised by the local government since

the 1980s based on local notions of self-help and empowerment that
were similar but not identical to the self-help ideologies originating in
the Anglosphere.
In certain ways, this argument about transnationalisation and glocal
hybridisation builds on and develops the speculation of Illouz (2008)
in Saving the Modern Soul, concerning the globalisation of a therapeu-
tic habitus. However, in a departure from Illouz, who falls back on
ideas of cultural standardisation (2008: 6, 217), we suggest that self-
help is a hybrid transnational phenomenon. As demonstrated across our
chapters, self-help texts are produced, circulated and consumed within a
multidirectional transnational network a network of overdetermined
connections, which includes but is not limited to writers, producers,
sellers, marketers, purchasers, entrepreneurs and readers and this sug-
gests there is enough internal unity to speculate a general pattern of the
worldwide transnationalisation of self-help. While this pattern is heavily
inuenced by American self-help and didactical objectives, its primary
mode of transnationalisation is marked by hybridity and glocalisation,
not uniform Americanisation. The China and Mexico case studies are
also quite revealing in this sense. In the former we saw how China
has embraced self-help in glocal ways that blend US-oriented ideas with
Chinas own brand of hypercompetitive capitalism that supersedes the
deep-seated cultural and historical differences between China and the
US. In the Mexican case we saw how local self-help writers and produc-
ers had embraced the entrepreneurism of the Anglosphere self-help eld
in local, culturally specic ways.
Transnational self-help then, to repeat, is hybrid self-help, in terms
of the normative sources of its narratives (Chapters 5 and 6), the prac-
tices of its entrepreneurs (Chapters 3 and 4), and the ways in which
it is consumed (Chapters 4 and 7). That the self-help narratives our
chapters analyse point to a consistent mainstream of self-help narra-
tives, beyond which there are niches or sub-genres that differ in terms of
their normative origins, style and the subcultures to which they pertain,
also suggests transculturation and hybridity. Nonetheless, underneath
the complex and hybrid forms of self-help narratives, there is, as oth-
ers have noted (e.g. Wright, 2008), a core set of beliefs about the self,
agency, and social relationships that corresponds to the classical liberal
model rst articulated by early self-help authors outlined in Chapter 1
and 2 (Samuel Smiles, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent
Peale) and then extended in contemporary Anglo-American neoliberal
self-help. In this sense, Anglo-American neoliberal self-help seems to
158 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

constitute a nodal pole in contemporary self-help writing in which nar-

ratives revert to the classical liberal model of autonomous, voluntaristic
self-making. Still, this does not imply a standardisation or American-
isation of self-help and therapeutic culture (Illouz, 2008); rather in
our reading of self-help it reects both discursive heterogeneity and a
relative political-ideological (neoliberal) homogeneity.

Thin selves

For the guidance offered by self-help texts to count, it needs on some

level to reprogram readers minds. Self-help needs to earn readers con-
sent that the assumptions it offers about the social world are true, in
order for these assumptions to become the relevant behavioural logics
and rationalities people accept as common sense (Gramsci, 1971). One
way in which self-help books do this is through the construction and
propagation of the thin self we rst acknowledged in the introduction
to this book. By this, we refer to the desocialised, depoliticised and atom-
ised self, who through self-help narratives and ideologies is produced to
be most concerned with purely personal challenges and accomplishing
purely individual objectives. In political terms, the thin self is not a
simple content feature of self-help narratives. Rather, as ideology it is a
descriptive vocabulary of day-to-day existence, through which people
make rough sense of the social reality that they live and create from
day-to-day under the present international neoliberal regime that fur-
thers the precarisation and anxiety of social life (Fields, 1990: 110). This
precarisation of social life involves the growing instability of basic insti-
tutional arrangements of work, personal life and so forth, as well as a
growing public awareness of, and attention to, this instability.
Self-help texts are clustered around a common set of assumptions
about the self and social relationships. It is useful to synthesise these
assumptions and consider their political implications for those who
both knowingly and unwittingly consent to this reprogramming of self.
A dening feature of self-help texts is that they propose a careful and
systematic self-examination of certain aspects of readers conduct in
everyday life. Other assumptions and claims include (1) through the
power of positive thought, negative emotions can be overcome; and
(2) success, happiness and empowerment result from the cognitive ori-
entation of individuals, they are nothing to do with history, biography
or the social, and anyone can get or achieve them, as long as they
believe in their ability to achieve their goals. In self-help, there is thus
the promotion of an atomistic and emotional individualism, which
The Politics of Self-Help 159

stresses a desire for personal choice and responsibility, self-resilience,

success, money-making, getting the upper hand at work and much
more (Aschoff, 2015; Davies, 2015; Illouz, 2008; Peck, 2008). Each of
these assumptions helps to co-create and program the thin self by
recognising the realities of everyday stress, anxieties and precarisation
while suggesting solutions. Yet these solutions never offer to examine
the political, social and economic reasons for these feelings. Instead the
thin self looks inward to seek ways to make itself adaptable and mal-
leable to the pressures and strains of the neoliberal moment, rather than
looking outward towards social change and economic justice (Aschoff,
2015: 91).
Binkley suggests that the atomistic individualism of self-help and pos-
itive psychology should be understood along economic lines, because
the emotional wellbeing promised by self-help literature is articulated
through discourses of competition and economic value, in terms of
an entrepreneurial costbenet rationale (Binkley, 2011: 373). Self-help
taps into various ideologies and discourses in order to lead its readers
towards self-fullment in an increasingly insecure world, by setting their
individuality free, empowering them to develop themselves strategically
in competitive terms, and turning happiness from a social matter into an
emotionally individualist moment. This might all be phrased as social
reprogramming and self-reinvention, where wider political mobilisation
and social change on a larger community level become secondary to
improving ones own self and personal brand. This is the message con-
tained in the discourse circulating around and produced by the Oprah
Winfrey industry, one part of the multidirectional, transnational and
layered interpretive communities the Trinidad case study pointed to.
As sociologist Nicole Aschoff notes in The New Prophets of Capitalism

By emphasising individual strategies for success, Oprah and other

prophets of the empowered self downplay the real structures of power
and inequality in our society. They place the burden of success on
the individual, in the process disguising societal shortcomings as per-
sonal failures and blinding us to collective visions of change that
challenge alienation and inequality.

In Self-Help, Inc., Micki McGee (2005: 16ff.) links self-help to the emer-
gence of a belabored self in American society. In her narrative, she
frames this as a personality type that emerges as a result of US soci-
etys therapeutic turn, economic insecurity, a precarious labour market,
160 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

the end of social welfare and more. McGee explains how the promise
of self-help can lead workers into a new sort of enslavement (McGee,
2005: 12). For McGee this means that people have to constantly and
continually work on themselves in efforts to remain employable and
reemployable and that self-improvement is suggested as the only reli-
able insurance against economic insecurity (McGee, 2005: 13, 16). One
way to frame this constant push for self-improvement is that individuals
in the quest for an unattainable reality fall into a cycle where the self is
not improved but endlessly belabored (McGee, 2005: 12).
This argument about re-employability and reliable insurance against
economic insecurity can be linked to Binkleys (2011) and Daviess
(2015) much broader argument that, at the end of the 20th century,
private industry, academics and governments in the Global Northwest
came together to measure, manipulate and promote happiness, due
to increasing evidence that workers on a large scale were increasingly
staying away from work or quitting altogether, citing mental illness
and depression as reasons. In a globalised world where employment
is increasingly precarious and where a vast number of the jobs avail-
able can be described as dead-end or bullshit jobs (Graeber, 2013),
solutions were needed to make work less depressing and workers less
depressed. This included crafting people to be more likely to stick it out
in their dead-end jobs. As such, the self-help industry, the happiness
industry and the antidepressant industry can all be seen as tools in this
endeavour (Binkley, 2011; Davies, 2015). Low self-esteem and unhappi-
ness in the workplace are after all bad for prots because they impact
productivity levels. Our case study of China in many ways eshed out
a similar, yet culturally localised, reality to what Davies and Binkley
describe. For example, the struggles people in the West experience due
to austerity (Dorling, 2014) can be linked to everyday experiences of
hypercapitalism in China. Likewise, the immense popularity of self-help
in China might be seen as part of governmental efforts at population
control. The sending warmth campaign, for example, can be viewed as
a reprogramming of the self, so that the government can avoid political
conict (Yang, 2012).
Our thin self, while similar in some ways, differs from McGees
(2005) belabored self in so far as the thin self focuses on the construc-
tion of self and agency within self-help narratives themselves. Wright
observes that this therapeutic turn in the neoliberal moment is not sim-
ply about social reprogramming and decline; it also provides agency
by drawing attention to how psychological knowledge and therapeu-
tic understandings of the self have given legitimacy to, and furnished
The Politics of Self-Help 161

a language with which to articulate, experiences of suffering formerly

conned to private life (Wright, 2008: 321). Wrights argument suggests
that therapeutic culture may play a role in contemporary shifts in the
gender order, by making suffering more visible in the private domain
through the promotion of the self-help technique of confessionalism:
[S]peaking out about personal problems has opened up new discur-
sive space in which it is not only the powerful that can have a public
voice (Wright, 2008: 328). A similar insight was produced from our data
on self-help readers and consumption in Trinidad. All respondents in
Trinidad were university-educated professional women, and each cited
the genre of self-help as positive, educative and helpful across different
stages of their lives, from the experiences of being a teenager, to a young
adult, to a parent.
Another form of agency can result from the critical reading of self-
help books by consumers. This was again illustrated in the case study on
Trinidad, where there was a contrast between some participants who,
with age and experience, had come to read self-help books more crit-
ically and others who read them less critically. Those consumers who
engage self-help books critically may be able to puncture a small hole in
the ideological edice of the genre and its many awed claims. We sug-
gest that this agency and the critical thinking it implies should itself be
viewed as containing seeds of social change. Perhaps the more readers
are left unsatised by the solutions offered by self-help, the more likely
it is that the veil of self-help might be lifted.
At the same time our thin self coincides with McGees belabored
self, in that it recognises self-helps turn from mutual aid (2005: 18f.) to
individual self-making, and in that it recognises self-helps emphasis on
a mutable self that needs to constantly update, revise and actualise itself.
The need for constant self-actualisation constructs the self as an always
unnished, by denition open-ended project without xed properties.
This mutable self comes to be instrumentalised and commodied in the
pursuit of material goals (career, relationships, money, happiness, etc.)
that potentially constitute self-fullment. This can be described as a kind
of consumerist understanding of the self, and is another element of the
thinning of the self. It brings us back to the entrepreneurial self so
effortlessly highlighted in the story of Bear Grylls (see Chapter 1) and
perhaps internalised by many self-help readers in places far away from
the UK and the US. We are no longer simply belaboured, we are now
also all brand managers and entrepreneurs of the self. As such, we are
good neoliberal citizens with agency, but not always with the freedom
in terms of which many might traditionally imagine agency. Instead of
162 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

asking whether there is another game in town other than (neoliberal)

capitalism, the thin self often uses its agency to ask how we can adjust
our moods and emotions to better suit capital accumulation.
Moreover, as Rimke (2000) has noted, self-help narratives tend to
take to extremes the implications of the Cartesian self and positive

Self-help is the logical extension of a psychologistically oriented cul-

ture in which psychology enjoys cultural authority as a form of expert
knowledge. As a result, the Western world is understood and orga-
nized according to the psy complex. Convinced that we should
understand our selves in terms of psychological adjustment, fulll-
ment, good relationships, self-actualization, personal growth and so
on, we have voluntarily tied ourselves to the knowledge which
psy experts profess and to their promises to assist us in quests for
self-change that we freely undertake. (Rimke, 2000: 63)

Self-helps typical self possesses inherent traits (emotions, beliefs, atti-

tudes, values) that can be known through systematic introspection
and opened up to conscious modication; this is the core of self-
improvement. This creates a kind of cognitive and emotional solipsism,
which McGee (2005: 15) calls the masterful self. This model does not
account for the ways in which the self (self-image, emotions, beliefs,
etc.) might be bound up with social process and constituted through
ones relationships with others, within specic institutional frameworks.
This kind of solipsism amounts to a thin self, in the sense that it con-
structs an a-social self. Or as Rimke phrases it, self-help negates the
inherent sociality of being (2000: 62). Self-help writing of the sort we
have described in this book, in other words, runs directly counter to
what Charles Horton Cooley (1902/1983) described as the looking-glass
self. There is no sense within the thin self of the construction of the
self in and through social relationships.
We suggest that the thin self is a metaphor for the ways in which
neoliberalism has sought to reprogram and remake individuals into
depoliticised and a-social individuals. At the same time, we acknowledge
that self-helps thin self may possess some agency. This is clearly seen in
the narratives of reader-consumers in Trinidad. Our participants in the
main suggested that self-help had a positive effect on them across differ-
ent stages of life, but they were at the same time unable to identify that
human lives and opportunities are determined by the economic, histor-
ical and political structures of society. Aschoff makes a similar point in
The Politics of Self-Help 163

reference to millennials in the US: A recent study found that young peo-
ple believe that adulthood should be a journey toward happiness and
fullment, meaning and purpose, [and] self-actualisation, one marked
by conscious development, discovery and growth (Aschoff, 2015: 92).
This sounds much like the language used in the Trinidad case study by
Margaret Yeah, for me its like tools you are using, tools for life
and by Darcie, who saw self-help as helping her to know there is some-
thing better across life stages. Neither seemed able to account for the
signicance of biography and structure in inuencing ones life chances.
Instead, both seemed to believe the self-help mantra: demand change of
yourself, rather than demanding change from the system. It was almost
as though self-help narratives allowed them to understand through a
process of cultural pedagogy why certain opportunities were beyond
them. At the same time, both also offered us glimpses of the agency
they possess, either to discredit and be critical of the self-help texts they
read, or to do things for their own growth and happiness.

The political implications of self-help

We suggest that self-helps overwhelming political-ideological homo-

geneity can be described as a neoliberal recipe for atomised, individual
survival in the rat race of the early 21st century. Self-help in this
sense forms part of a set of managerial techniques and political ratio-
nalities that encourage the emergence of human beings as the actors
of their existence (Dardot and Laval, 2013: 269). Under the top-
down pressures of neoliberalism, self-help transforms everyday life and
behavioural logics. For example, individualistic notions of empower-
ment and autonomy in self-help are common. Yet, they are based on
neoliberal ideas of rationality, individuality and self-interest that repro-
gram individuals themselves to believe that logic, individualism and
selshness should guide all actions (Harvey, 2007a). Yet the implica-
tions of such a thin and a-social self are that such things as the public
good and community are relegated from political and social concerns
completely. This leads down the slippery slope of negating history, struc-
ture and the uneven playing eld of life, and instead blaming failures
in life, such as unemployment, inequality and poverty, on individuals
What might be some of the political and social implications of this
transnational self-help turn? One implication is that self-help concerns
the legitimation of contemporary capitalism through ideology, with self-
help being a concrete manifestation of the latter. As long as self-help
164 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

texts, quite counterfactually, convince their readers that making it is a

matter of personal effort and choice, avenues for the collective construc-
tion of socio-political change will remain very limited. This has been the
foundational argument of critical theories of media and popular culture
for a long time (Chomsky and Herman, 1988; Marcuse, 1964/1991), and
it arguably remains important today. Another implication of the societal
smokescreen created by self-help is that, by turning away from commu-
nity and taking the individual as the element to be worked on, we may
be producing many more people to be expelled from the system (Sassen,
Neoliberalism is a collection of ideas whose roots were planted by
classical political economy theory in the 19th century. These ideas,
made famous by Adam Smith, were in favour of markets, and thus
people, being liberated from governmental interference. According to
The Heretics Guide to Global Finance, neoliberalism is a term describing
political arrangements loosely based on an assemblage of neoclassical
economic theories, favouring privatisation and deregulated global mar-
kets (Scott, 2013). These political positions and their policies produce
an economic system geared towards short-term prot maximisation in
place of long-term societal and environmental balance (Scott, 2013: 26).
These ideas and policies fuse into our cultures, worldviews and institu-
tions. Aschoff notes this has happened before, during the period from
1870 to 1900 in the US:

[T]herapeutic/religious movements popular then, variously called

mind cure, New Thought, etc., drew on the teachings of psychol-
ogy to link societal problems with individual behaviour, seeing both
societys problems and their solutions as originating in individuals . . .
Practitioners argued that anyone could achieve self-actualisation and
success if they liberated their true, beautiful, inner selves and realised
that the material conditions of the world dont control individual
lives. (Aschoff, 2015: 86)

Cheng also emphasises the continuities in self-help from classic liberal-

ism to neoliberal self-help, noting that as early as the 1700s Puritans
were reading guides on how to live piously and do good, and that the
traditional American values of individualism, self-improvement, and
hard work have supported the publication and popularity of self-help
books since our countrys [the USs] inception (Cheng, 2008: 1). Red-
den equally makes connections to the past: [S]elf-help has been a
bestselling genre since the 1930s. Its origins go back to 19th-century
The Politics of Self-Help 165

Christian inspirational literature which emphasised subjective experi-

ence, this-worldly self-mastery and the power of positive thinking more
than surrender to the will of God (Redden, 2002: 36). Thus, we
might say that the thin self embodies and embraces neoliberal polit-
ical discourses emphasising individual choice and responsibility, as well
as political, social and economic processes of privatisation rst laid
down during times of great social turmoil in the 18th and 19th cen-
tury. This genealogy suggests that we can propose connections and
continuities between contemporary discourses of self-help and the ideas
behind the original enclosure of the commons and other 19th-century
forms of primitive accumulation, in so far as, at its heart, neoliberalism,
like classical liberalism, is still a class project constructed around accu-
mulation (Harvey, 2007a). For Rimke, self-help remade democratic
liberalisms and neo-liberalisms ways of seeing the individual and the
social world. As such, self-help promotes the idea that a good cit-
izen cares for herself or himself best by evading or denying social
relations. Yet a hyper-responsible self, the result of self-help practice,
is intrinsically linked to the governmental management of popula-
tions, and so to less individual autonomy rather than more (Rimke,
2000: 2).
This call for people to seek the answers to personal troubles from
within themselves has emptied out the role of communities and other
networks of social relations in everyday life. This has wide political
and social implications, such as justifying and legitimising the cur-
rent neoliberal crisis of economic and social inequality as a failure of
individuals themselves and not of the system they live in.
When society reprograms the importance of social bonds, relations
and community, and the individual becomes more important than the
group, who benets the most? When the possibility of empowerment
and autonomy as an outcome of collective action and a feature of social
groups is rendered invisible, what then of politicisation? Binkley (2011:
371374) suggests that self-helps supposed empowerment of the indi-
vidual hides the contradiction that what self-help promises enhanced
personal autonomy is actually, in practice, neoliberal governmentality
and less personal autonomy. As such, self-help is actually remaking
citizens to be less autonomous than before and less able to collec-
tively mobilise for change. This can also be phrased as a privatisation
of personal concerns, and it can be understood as a central aspect of
the process of reprogramming and disciplining of the political self in
the context of the rise of neoliberal governmentalities throughout the
Western world since the 1970s:
166 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

The locus of attention in neoliberalism became the self: we are all

independent, autonomous actors meeting in the marketplace, mak-
ing our destinies and in the process making society. The power
of structural forces like capitalism to create inequality and limit
life choices is downplayed or ignored, particularly among younger
people. (Aschoff, 2015: 87)

In this sense, self-help may be interpreted as part of the broader mobil-

isation of psychological knowledge and practice in the production of
entrepreneurial, thin selves (Dardot and Laval, 2013: 268ff.). Self-helps
construction of thin selves can be usefully understood against the back-
drop of the history and foundational assumptions of psychology (Rose,
1998). Ron Roberts characterises psychologys deep-seated individualism
as follows:

The socially, culturally, psychologically, economically and histori-

cally de-contextualised human being who emerges from the centre
of reductionist psychological theorising has serious consequences for
how we think about the social and psychological ills which befall us.
Left utterly alone it is the individual man or woman who must be
held solely accountable for their own fate. (Roberts, 2015: 40f.)

In this sense, there is a profound afnity between psychological

accounts of the world and assumptions about self, agency and social
relationships that are foundational to the neoliberal enterprise. Ilana
Gershon argues that a key distinction between classical liberal and
neoliberal understandings of the self is a move from the liberal vision of
people owning themselves as though they were property to a neoliberal
vision of people owning themselves as though they were a business
(Gershon, 2011: 539). In this sense, the self comes to be understood
as a collection of potentially useful traits that can be mobilised in
competition or cooperation with other individuals and is limited by
the rationality of the market (Gershon, 2011: 540). Self-management
involves the skilful enhancement of those traits that are most benecial
to this enterprising self (Brckling, 2007; Gershon, 2011). Nick Couldry
(2010) has pointed to the deeply disempowering consequences of the
neoliberalisms vision of the self. According to Couldry (2010), the pur-
suit of this vision through several decades of neoliberal politics in the
UK has entailed a radical privatisation of social life. Couldry describes
this privatisation as a loss of voice, understood as individuals abil-
ity to reexively construct narratives of a socially situated self, and the
The Politics of Self-Help 167

possibility of such narratives on the part of communities and social

groups. There is a strong afnity between Couldrys analysis of a col-
lective loss of voice under neoliberalism and Richard Sennetts (1998)
account of the corrosion of character under neoliberal capitalism in
the US. Sennett argues that contemporary capitalisms emphasis on
exibility, short-term mobility and the entrepreneurial pursuit of new
opportunities has a disabling effect on individuals abilities to form deep
and lasting social bonds and formulate narratives of self in terms of
those bonds. The parallels between this account of the neoliberal model
of the self, Roberts characterisation of the psychological self, and the
self in self-help books are obvious and striking.
In this book, we have shown that there is a much greater diversity of
self-help narratives than acknowledged in extant research. We have also
begun to show how these narratives respond simultaneously to locally
specic socio-cultural dynamics and global political, cultural and eco-
nomic trends. Against this backdrop of self-helps glocal, hybrid consti-
tution, we have raised the question of to what extent self-help books live
up to their promise of individual empowerment. We do not and cannot
argue, however, that self-help books universally articulate the neoliberal
vision of the self that we have portrayed in this chapter, or that self-help
books are generally understood in this sense by their readers. Previous
research has already shown that this is likely not the case, and that
self-help books and associated therapeutic practices may involve path-
ways to empowerment, both individual and collective (Wright, 2008,
2009, 2010). However, our portrait of the production, circulation and
consumption of self-help books in ve societies does show how deep
self-helps afnity with neoliberalisms idiom of radical individualisa-
tion and privatisation runs. Self-help books, viewed in transnational
perspective, embody a diversity of beliefs, values, norms and spiritual
and religious inclinations. However, underneath this diversity, there
is a profound congruence between self-helps foundational promise of
empowerment on individual terms and techniques of self-improvement
that emphasise self-reliance, entrepreneurial agency which, have pro-
found disempowering consequences. From this perspective, self-help
books form part of the neoliberal programme of government and social

Final thoughts

Might we conclude here by saying transnational self-help is a polit-

ical rationality itself (Rose, 1998: 19, 166)? A political rationality of
168 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

anti-politics? A rationality that makes political mobilisation less likely

and undermines the social will to collective action because it is well
suited to the identity politics constructed by the self-help industry?
Perhaps. The evidence and insights presented in this book do suggest
that self-help books have an in-built bias towards the liberal model
of self and agency. They speak to individuals, and because they speak
to individuals, they cannot help but promise individualistic strate-
gies of self-improvement. This suggests that, as self-help travels and
becomes transnational, its neoliberal ethos may impact the possibilities
for democracy and the potential of politics.
On another level, our evidence also suggests that there is a much
broader variety of self-help narratives and agency than has been docu-
mented so far. These narratives are simultaneously responsive to locally
specic personal troubles (e.g. in Mexico, in China, in the US, etc.) and
to much broader, glocal socio-cultural conditions, such as, specically,
the conditions of an internationalising neoliberal regime.
In the context of future research into self-help around the world, and
in answer to the calls by McGee (2005) and Neville (2012) for a new
agenda for research into self-help, what nal thoughts might our work
offer other researchers to consider and perhaps build upon? We offer
four points for consideration:

1. Frame. Connells Southern Theory (2010) and similar arguments

by Reddock (2014), Bhambra (2007) and Magubane (2013) sug-
gest that the discipline of sociology has marginalised, missed or
excluded a good deal from mainstream sociological thought due to
its Eurocentrism and biased focus on the Global North. A global
turn within self-help research might allow studies in the eld to
more accurately reect the transnational multidirectionality of self-
help and the implications of self-helps glocal, hybrid nature. This
includes moving away from seeing contemporary mainstream soci-
ology as a global discipline, to acknowledging that it is heavily
reective of knowledge in, of and from the Global North (Reddock,
2014: 494).
2. Networks help holism. While preparing this book, we were fortu-
nate to collaborate as researchers working in various geographic and
institutional locations (Trinidad and Tobago, China, the UK, the US).
This helped us to produce scholarship which is international and
interdisciplinary by nature. Moreover, we felt that it also let us see the
phenomenon of self-help in a more holistic fashion. In particular, we
were able to bring into view the top-down processes of the self-help
The Politics of Self-Help 169

industry, from ideas to production to marketing, while also concep-

tualising self-help from the bottom up and seeing how readers, sellers
and consumers understood the same products, discourses and ideas.
We felt that, as a result of our transnational collaborative network,
we were able to capture self-help as transnational phenomenon,
multidirectional process and hybrid object even though its inter-
nal (neoliberal) logic reects uniformity across nations and cultures.
This, we believe, is a more accurate reection of self-help than some
earlier investigations, which focused on cultural standardisation and
cultural imperialism.
3. The neoliberal turn. Self-help, of course, is not the only eld remade
under neoliberalism. The neoliberal or corporate turn in academia
is another salient development that is prone to have a profound
impact on the ways in which sociological knowledge is produced and
consumed. Today, in universities around the world, considerations
regarding nance and marketing mean that academic labour is far
removed from the values articulated, for instance, in the University
of Chicagos 1967 Kalven Committees Report on the Universitys
Role in Political and Social Action. The reports suggestions included
fostering the development of social and political values in a society
and acting as the sponsor of critics. Today, many administrators
and academics treat the university as a corporate entity rst and
foremost. Within corporate academia, it is arguably more impor-
tant than ever for sociological labour and sociological knowledge to
remain politically committed and critically engaged. In corporate,
depoliticised academic spaces, how can sociologists still consider
Howard Beckers question, Whose side are we on? (1967)? In a
neoliberal context of depoliticisation and public narratives that, as
we have shown, promote thin selves, Beckers question becomes
ever more important, as does its implication that it is impossible to
do social research that is uncontaminated by personal and polit-
ical sympathies (Becker, 1967: 239). Beckers question read today
can be interpreted as speaking to social change and the role of the
academy under neoliberalism. In this sense, we understand this book
as a critically engaged enquiry into public narratives and institutional
practices in neoliberal societies.
4. Critical pedagogy and the importance of the sociological imag-
ination. At various points in this project, we were asked whether
self-help books may be useful at all and what alternative pathways
to personal development there might be. We suggested what oth-
ers might also suggest: ask more questions about the information
170 Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry

you receive from self-help books. Think about the messages con-
tained in that information. What are the beliefs and norms such
messages carry? Think about alternative ways of doing things, rather
than following the loudest and most widely accepted voices. In this
sense, our research seeks to assert the importance of critical reason-
ing, and encourage a mode of thought connecting the larger social,
economic and cultural forces in the world to the individual and
their lives. By examining self-help books we sought to read these
forces critically. We sought to challenge cultural trends that replace
critically committed and politically aware thinking with psycholog-
ically driven, individualistic, uncritical reasoning. In other words,
we sought to re-assert the signicance of the sociological imagina-
tion in the face of widespread and inuential discourses that are
fundamentally inimical to it.

1 Self-Help Worlds
1. In this sense, in this book we make a clear distinction between therapeutic
culture, understood in terms of the roles which therapeutic narratives play
in popular culture, and medical knowledge and practices in psychotherapy,
psychiatry and so forth. While the former is characterised by its wide diffusion
among diverse audiences, the latter is mostly restricted to specic audiences,
such as medical practitioners, academics, etc.

2 Self-Help and Society

1. Napoleon Hill (1939/2010: 11) explicitly addresses both male and female
readers, while Carnegie and Smiles generally do not. All three authors share
a highly gendered language, and all three use male gures as examples
of authority and success. This exclusion of women as subjects of self-
improvement may be understood against the backdrop of their exclusion from
wider public life throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century and is
in direct contrast to the vast increase in female readership in the late 20th
and early 21st century our research encountered, not to mention what the
self-made men archetype has become to contemporary self-help, and its new
female readership.
2. In this context, also see Woodfolk (2003).

3 Self-Helps Transnationalisation
1. For a general discussion of attendant issues, see Pitici (2005).
2. The major annual report on the publishing industry in Latin America, El espa-
cio iberoamricano del libro [The Latin American World of Books] unfortunately
does not identify self-help books as a separate genre. For the most recent
edition of the report, see Mojica Gmez (2012).

4 Self-Help Entrepreneurs in China

1. For a historical analysis of discourses of self-identity in Chinese society, see
Bollas (2013).
2. Alongside the political conditions that shape psychiatric practice, cultural
differences in understandings of mental health and treatments of perceived
mental health issues also play an important role in the context of the issues
we discuss here. There is now a substantial literature on this subject matter.

172 Notes

For a starting point into discussions about society, culture and mental life in
China, see Kleinman et al. (2011) and Gerlach et al. (2013).
3. The question to what extent Chinas contemporary socio-economic structures
and policies may be described as neoliberal continues to provoke considerable
debate. In this context, see Keith et al. (2014) and Nonini (2008).

5 Self-Help in Crisis
1. According to the 2011 census, Christianity is the largest religion in the UK
59.3 per cent of the population of England and Wales identied themselves
as Christians. Approximately a quarter of the population did not profess
any religion (Ofce for National Statistics, 2011). According to the results
of the Win/Gallup End of Year Survey 2014, the UK is one of the least
religious countries worldwide, with less than a third of the population describ-
ing themselves as religious (Press Association, 2015). In contrast, The Pew
Research Centers Religious Landscape Survey found that more than three-
quarters of the American population identify themselves as Christian, while
only 4 per cent claimed to be atheist or agnostic (The Pew Research Center,
2. See Hendriks (2012) for a case study on a distinctive self-help community.

6 Cultural Struggles, Intimate Life and Transnational

1. Publication statistics for self-help are not easy to compare across countries
as some books can be placed in more than one category such as self-help
and philosophy or self-help and psychology and the data collected from
one country may classify particular texts as self-help books while another
country may not. The publication data presented here reects the classi-
cation of each nations printing and publishing chamber of commerce or
government-sponsored reports.
2. An overview of the bestseller lists for Mexican bookstores such as Gandhi and
Amazons Mexican portal reveals that the majority of self-help books deal with
these aforementioned themes. The review of these lists was conducted during
March 2015.
3. The only author included in the analysis who was not born in Mexico is Silvia
Olmedo. Although Olmedo was born in Spain, her professional life is based
in Mexico and the illustrations included in her work are based on trends
from Mexican urban centres. Silvia Olmedo currently lives part of the year
in Mexico City and the other part in Los Angeles, California.
4. Plummer (2005) argues that intimate citizenship may be understood as refer-
ring to the socio-cultural legitimacy, rights and obligations associated with
different practices of intimate life.
5. The quotes taken from Spanish-language texts presented throughout this
chapter were all translated by the author.
6. See Bowen (1996) and Martin (1990, 2002) on global networks of Evangelical
Protestantism and its spread in Latin America and Mexico.
Notes 173

7. In particular, Hector Carrillo (2014) has discussed the ways in which Mexican
migration ows to urban centres in the United States have shaped and inu-
enced homosexual practices, acceptance, and social activism in Mexican cities
where returning Mexican gay immigrants have settled.

7 The Uses of Self-Help Books in Trinidad

1. This is an original concept developed for the purposes of our study.

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Note: Page references in italics denote a table.

academia Bowen, Will 61

and neoliberal turn 169 A Complaint Free World 60, 73
acculturation 156 brand/branding 5, 11, 824
Altucher, James Brown, L.B. 55
Choose Yourself! 117 Buddhism 64, 87
Amazon 46 Byrne, Rhonda 59, 61
American Dream 201 The Secret 60, 73
Anglo-American self-help 13, 14, 15,
24, 27, 35, 63, 73, 75100, 153,
Caneld, Jack
155, 1578
Chicken Soup for the Soul 101
Argentina 39
Cant de Mrquez, Elizabeth
Aschoff, Nicole
10911, 1201, 156
The New Prophets of Capitalism 159,
The Challenges for Todays Woman
1623, 164, 166
Ashby, Dr Glenville 131
The Woman as a Factor of Change
atomistic individualism 144, 149,
10910, 111
capitalism 12, 19, 245, 26
authentic self/authenticity 1011,
78, 87 Chinese transition to neoliberal
authors 55, 567, 62
strategies for transnational success careers advice books 83
523 Carnegie, Dale 12, 21, 43, 53, 78
How to Win Friends and Inuence
Bai Yansong 67 People 234, 43, 101
Are You Happy? 67 Cartesian self 99, 162
Baidu 65, 67 Cheng, M. 164
Barragn Lomel, Maria Antonieta China 8, 13, 5474, 155, 157, 160
11314, 121 commercialisation 63
Singlehood: Choice or Circumstance and emotional intelligence (EI)
11314 6970
Beals, Jeff 83, 84 extension of self-help into media
Becker, Howard 169 eld 66, 678
Being mode 88 glocalised self-help eld 5865, 73,
belabored self 15960, 161 156
Bell, Daniel A. 71 and individualisation 578
Ben-Shahar, Tai 59 inuence of US self-help tradition
Happier 70 and style 601, 623, 65
bestsellers, self-help 4, 8, 23, 24, 32, Jewish culture and tradition in
35, 36, 41, 425, 43, 445, 44, 52 self-help of 645
Bi Shumin 612, 66, 68, 69 Lecture Room 66
Binkley, S. 149, 155, 159, 160, 165 life teachers 6971

192 Index

China continued critical reading of self-help books

mental life and social change in 161
society 558 Cuauhtmoc Snchez, Carlos 14, 34,
native self-help 612, 64 45, 4653, 73, 1069, 112, 120,
origin of top-ten self-help bestsellers 156
59, 59 Champions Blood 51
party-state support for self-help I Challenge You to Prosper 109
71, 72 themes of books 107
positive psychology 6970 Youth in Sexual Ecstasy 4951,
prevalence of depression and 1078
neurasthenia in 55, 56 cultural pedagogy
and psychiatry 56 self-help guides as form of 137,
rise of self-help in 5474 163
self-help in culture and public life cultural standardisation 12, 28, 32,
6572 152, 157, 169
size and scale of self-help market Cuys y Armengol, Arturo
37, 54 There Needs to be a Boy 21
and song wennuan (sending
warmth) campaign 58, 160 Dardot, Pierre 256
Taiwanese self-help entrepreneurs in Davies, W. 155, 160
5960 sepression
transition to state-managed in China 55, 56
capitalism and impact of 55, dreams 23
567, 62 Dutton, Kevin 80
transnational self-help in
Dutton, Kevin and McNab, Andy
contemporary 724
The Good Psychopaths Guide to
Chinese medicine 701
Success 801
Chinese philosophy 71
dystopias, self-help 8591
Chinese self-help entrepreneurs
612, 6572, 73, 1556
Chopra, Deepak 101 Ediciones Las Amricas 10910
Christian self-help books 918, 98 Editorial Diamente 46, 106
Cijo, Mark Ehrenreich, Barbara 30
You Branding 823 El Economista (newspaper) 36
Colombia 39 emotional intelligence (EI) 84
community(ies) and China 6970
diminishing of role of 147, 164, empowerment 12, 25, 26, 163, 165,
165 167
interpretive 130, 133, 142, 159 entrepreneurial self 256, 802, 161
confessionalism 161 entrepreneurs, self-help see self-help
Confucius/Confucianism 8, 634, 71 entrepreneurs
Connell, R. evangelicalism 14, 957, 98
Southern Theory 168
Cooley, Charles Horton 162 Faith Words 95
Couldry, Nick 1667 Fernando, Suman 28
Covey, Stephen 44 nancial advice books 81
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective nancial crisis (2008) 4, 92, 155
People 43, 43, 101 Franklin, Benjamin 20
critical pedagogy 16970 Furedi, F. 137, 1389
Index 193

Ganness, Ann Marie 127 Indian authors 52

Gauntlett, D. 102 individualisation 578, 148
German Publishers and Booksellers individualism 12, 223, 164
Association 35, 38 atomistic 144, 149, 1589
Germany 8, 21 Insight for Living 110
self-help entrepreneurs 68 interpretive communities 130, 133,
size and scale of self-help market 142, 159
38 Israel
Gershon, Ilana 166 therapeutic culture 32
Giberson, K.W. 97
Giddens, A. 129, 135, 141 Jacob, Debbie 1301
Modernity and Self-Identity 135 Wishing with Wings 1301
globalisation 15, 19, 31, 32, 1545 JAK bookstore (Trinidad) 1278
of Western models of mental health Jakes, T.D. 91, 95, 98, 108, 109,
19, 28 120
glocal hybridisation 152, 156, 157, Reposition Yourself 914, 96, 97
168 Jeffers, Susan 1719, 44
glocalisation 13, 33 Feel the Fear.....and Do it Anyway
Goleman, Daniel 32, 61, 69 1718, 26
Groskop, Viv 36 Jewish culture
Grupo Editorial Impresiones Areas and Chinese self-help 645
115 Johnson, Spencer 44
Grylls, Bear 15, 45, 52, 53, 90, 161 Who Moved My Cheese? 60, 61,
A Survival Guide for Life 1, 24, 5 73

Hamrick, Julia Rogers Kellner, D. 137

Choosing Easy World 87, 90 Knigge, Adolph Freiherr
Harvey, D. 57 On Human Relations 21
Hay, Louise
You Can Heal Your Life 117 Lapin, Daniel
Hazleden, Rebecca 27 Thou Shall Prosper 645
Hendriks, Eric 9, 68 Lasch, Christopher 31, 143,
Hill, Napoleon 12, 21, 24, 53, 78, 82 14950
bestseller rankings 423 Latin America 14, 156
How to Sell Your Way Through Life self-help in 1013
23 singlehood 113
Outwitting the Devil 43 see also Mexico
Think and Grow Rich 23, 42, 43 Laval, Christian 256
Hochschild, Arlie Russell 856, 102 leadership 84
holism Lecture Room (television programme)
and networks 1689 66, 69
hybridisation 13, 15, 28, 33, 35, 98, Lee, Sing 55, 56
153 Li Kaifu 59, 60, 67
Li Yanhong 67
Illouz, Eva 9, 45, 121, 154 Lichterman, Paul 96, 130, 131, 134,
Saving the Modern Soul 312, 147, 141, 146
157 life teachers (China) 6971
India Liu Xiaobo 64
sales of self-help books 37, 41, 42 Liu Yong 59
194 Index

Lloyd Smith, E. 127 and sexual relationships 11718,

love 121
and Mexican self-help books size and scale of self-help market
11617, 121 367
social changes in 102
Ma Yueling 69, 701 and transnational self-help 11922
Ma Yun 67 see also Cuauhtmoc Snchez,
Ma Yuns Comments on Starting a Carlos
Business 67 Meyer, Joyce 95
McGee, Micki 20, 24, 30, 31, 99, 102, Miller, Peter
162 7 Keys to Happiness in Couple Life
Self-Help, Inc. 1212, 15960 11112
McGraw, Dr Phil 94 mindfulness literature 878
Machiavelli, Niccol 6 modernisation 12, 19, 24
McKenna, Paul 758, 100 moralism 23, 34, 52
Change Your Life in 7 Days 768 Morris, R.J. 22, 24
sales of self-help books 76, 78 Moskowitz, Eva 30
McNab, Andy 80 Mur Efng, Merc 201
Maddox, M. 97 mutable self 83, 84, 99, 161
manners, books of 21 mutual-help groups (Trinidad) 1323
self in the 259
Naish, John
truth in the 918
masterful self 162 Enough 867
Mather, Cotton 20 narcissism, culture of 1434, 147,
Maxwell, John C. 91 14950, 1567
meditation 88 National Chamber of the Publishing
megachurches (US) 94, 956, 978 Industry of Mexico 35, 37
mental health 12 National Commission for Self Help
and China 558 Ltd (NCSHL) (Trinidad) 143
globalisation of Western models of National Gas Company of Trinidad
19, 28 and Tobago (NGC) 148
Mexican publishing industry 46 National Union of Parents (Mexico)
Mexico 13, 14, 34, 1023, 157 105
conservative-patriarchal Nehring, Daniel 9
relationship model 105, neoliberal turn
10612, 1201 and academia 169
cultural narratives and relationship neoliberalism 5, 12, 147, 149, 162,
models 1045 163, 164, 1657
drug-related violence 1034 corrosion of character under 167
economy 103, 114 disempowering consequences of
individual choice in intimate vision of self 1667
relations 11219, 120, 121 and positive psychology 148
narrative structure of self-help and self-help 25, 27, 99, 167, 168
books 102 survival of in time of crisis 79,
production of self-help books 38, 1534
39 and thin self 10, 162, 163, 1645
sales of self-help books 38, 39, 101 networks
self-help and intimate life in 1036 and holism 1689
Index 195

neurasthenia privatisation
in China 556 of personal concerns 16, 26, 147,
Neville, Patricia 31, 126, 146 149, 165
New Age self-help 26 of political concerns 12
Newsday 131 of self 1389
Nielsen BookScan 35, 37, 40 of social life 1667
North/South divide 124 Protestant work ethic 93
Nupcias (magazine) 115 psychiatry 12, 19, 31, 152
and China 56
Psychologies (magazine) 61
Olmedo, Silvia 11819, 121 psychology 15, 162, 166
The Mysteries of Love and Sex individualism of 166
psychopath 80
The Secrets of Eva 118 psychotherapeutic narratives 8, 9,
online booksellers 46 30, 32, 61
Open Books 37 psychotherapy 12, 19, 31, 152, 153
Orman, Suze 81, 84, 100 publishing industry 456
The Road to Wealth 81 crisis of 41
Suze Ormans 2009 Action Plan publishing statistics 3445
812 growth trends and composition
Ortiz, F. 156 3845
Osteen, Joel 91, 95, 97, 98, 100, 108, size and scale 348
120 sources 35
Become a Better You 67
Every Day a Friday 945, 96, 97
rationalisation of social life 12
Ravikant, Kamal
Papalini, Vanina 389 Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends
Parkin, John 4, 8991, 100 on It 117
F K it Therapy 8990 Redden, Guy 267
Parkin, John C. 8990 relationships
patriarchal relationships and Mexican self-help books
in Mexican self-help books 105, 10619
10612, 1201 Rimke, Heidi 27, 28, 99100, 145,
Pavilion bookstore (Trinidad) 1256 147, 162, 165
Peale, Norman Vincent Roberts, Ron 166
The Power of Positive Thinking 3, 4 Robertson, Ronald 33
Pebbles bookstore (Trinidad) 128 Ross Advertising 148
personal branding literature 824 Ruiz, Don Miguel 14, 45, 11517,
personal concerns 121, 156
privatisation of 16, 26, 147, 149, The Four Agreements 115
165 The Mastery of Love 11617
Pieterse, Nederveen 124, 141, 150
politics of self-help 8, 15270 salesmanship 23
positive psychology 146, 1478, 149 Salmenniemi, Suvi 9
China 6970 Scott, B. 147
and neoliberalism 148 Secord, Anne 24
positive thinking 3, 7, 61, 84, 165 Secret, The 8
196 Index

self sexual relationships

authentic 1011, 78, 87 and Mexican self-help books
belabored 15960, 161 11718, 121
Cartesian 99, 162 Silent Scream, The (lm) 502
entrepreneurial 256, 802, Smiles, Samuel 12, 20, 24, 78
161 Self-Help 20, 223, 24
in the marketplace 259 Smith, Adam 164
masterful 162 social control
privatisation of 1389 self-help as tool of neoliberal 26,
self-help books and construction 27, 28, 29
of 1011 socio-economic crisis 14, 51, 789,
self-actualisation 7, 1011, 161 153
self-branding 5, 11 sociological enquiry, self-help as
self-control 7, 10 signicant topic of 19
self-evaluation 115, 117 sociological imagination 16970
self-fullment 87, 99, 159 sociology 149, 168
self-help South Africa
origins 1645 sales of self-help books 37, 41,
reasons for importance of 1720
Spain 39
self-help books
spiritual aid
denition and characteristics of
and self-help guides in Trinidad
68, 11, 158
purpose of 5
Stephens, R.J. 97
self-help entrepreneurs 13, 155
Strauss, John 4
Chinese 612, 6572, 73,
stress reduction 878
Sun Zi 6
transnational 4553
survivalist self-help books 15, 14,
self-help market 8591
size and scale of 358
self-identity 9, 19, 20, 24, 55, 102, Taiwan 59
155 Taiwanese self-help entrepreneurs
individualisation of 578 in China 5960
as reexively organised 135 Talmud 64
self-improvement 10, 11, 18, 234, therapeutic culture 8, 12, 1234,
778, 7980, 121, 160, 162 148, 161
and Christian self-help books 91, detachment from social relations
95, 98 148
and survivalist self-help books 86, towards a transnational perspective
87, 88 on 304
self-love 117, 119, 121 Trinidad 132, 133, 1401, 150
self-made men 205, 26 therapeutic turn 278, 160
self-making 14, 202, 267, 74, 84, thin culture 96, 130, 1345
99100, 158, 161 thin self/selves 16, 146, 154, 15863,
self-management 27, 100, 166 166, 169
self-mastery 23, 28, 165 conception of 10
self-scrutiny 7, 122 and neoliberalism 10, 162, 163,
self-transformation 1718 1645
Sennett, Richard 856, 167 Thompson, John B. 41, 456
Index 197

Toussaint, Ava AP 131 United Kingdom (UK) 1314

Strengthened to Soar! 131 sales of self-help books 401,
transculturation 156, 157 40
transnational self-help entrepreneurs size and scale of self-help market
4553 37
transnationalism, denition 30 United States 8, 1314
transnationalisation of self-help 9, Christian self-help books 912
25, 3053, 73, 152, 1548 dominance of self-help 13, 45
Trinidad 13, 1415, 12351, 156, evangelical community and
161, 162, 163 megachurches 94, 956,
bookstores and books sold 1259 968
class and reading of self-help guides inuence of self-help tradition/style
140 on China 601, 623, 65
and culture of narcissism 1434, international popularity of US
147, 14950, 1567 authors 414, 43, 44, 46
culture of self-help in Western millennials in 163
1402 percentage of US titles among top
economy 124 self-help bestsellers 44
nding out and choosing self-help religious landscape 97
guides 12933 sales of self-help books 401,
growth in psychology admissions at 40
UWI 1445 self-helps origins in 201
IFHappiness advertising campaign size and scale of self-help market
1489 356
literacy rate 134 therapeutic culture 32
mutual-help groups 1323 University of Chicago 169
National Commission for Self Help University of the West Indies (UWI),
Ltd (NCSHL) 143 Psychology Unit 144
overcoming difculties and self-help
guides 1379 values 83
overview 124 Victorian Britain 20, 26
readership of self-help guides Vorona, Mariya 9
self-help columns in newspapers Wade, M. 978
1301 Wang Fang 65, 67
self-help guides as a spiritual and Im Loves Advocate 67
practical aid 1357 Warren, Rick 95, 97, 108, 120
sou sou 143 Watters, Ethan 28
therapeutic culture 132, 133, Crazy Like Us 152
1401, 150 Weber, Max 93
transnational network of inuences The Protestant Ethic 24
to self-help 133 Westmall (Trinidad) 125, 12930,
transnational self-help in 1426 140, 142
Westmall (Weestmoorings) bookstores 1259
12530, 140, 142 Williams, Mark and Penman, Danny
Trinidad Express 131 Mindfulness 889
Trinidad Guardian 130 Winfrey, Oprah 8, 159
truth Winston, Stephanie
in the marketplace 918 Getting Out from Under 856
198 Index

Wolfe, Tom, A Man in Full 6 Yu Dan 8, 66, 69, 71, 73

workplace, unhappiness in the 160 Confucius from the Heart 634, 71
Wright, Kate 278, 28, 1601
Zeng Guoping 6970, 71
Yan Yunxiang 58 Zeng Shiqiang 59, 60, 66
Yang, Jie 58 The Book of Changes 60