February 06, 2006

Conceptual Self vs. Existential Self

Conceptual self (Neisser, 1997) is the “rational actor” in social situations, who is driven mainly by normative orientation (Gone, et al, 1999). It corresponds to the role and image ascribed to the individual (by oneself and influenced by others). This self is in constant interaction with others belonging to various social groups. The consistency in roles and images brings stability to social situations. Give and take are expected of, developed and completed, based upon the conceptual self. Excessive preoccupation with only the conceptual self brings about an excessive preoccupation with judgment, evaluation, playing the “politically correct”, playing the martyr, playing the victimised, playing the contrarian etc.
As opposed to this, the existential self (Kotarba et al, 1987) is a bundle of subjective experience of the person concerned. In the individual, the rational and the non-rational mix lending subjective meanings to situations the individual faces. The world out there may be anything, but it is the experience of the individual persons that bring authenticity to the experience. In other words, the essence of the collective reality is nothing but the subjective experience of the individuals. The American Indian poet sought the understanding of the existential self through the following
"It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for dreams, for the adventure of being alive.…."
(The Invitation, inspired by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Native American Elder, May 1994;
Quoted from SQ: Spiritual Intelligence the Ultimate Intelligence by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall)
Both the conceptual and existential selves have to co-exist in harmony so that a healthy mix of what is and what ought to be are present in communication and social exchanges. These two apparently opposing realities (or indeed, selves) require nourishment and encouragement in education. It appears the latter is forgotten in most of our educational endeavours. posted by Sankaran at 3:58 PM This paper challenges eight “givens” that seem to form the dominant pedagogical worldview.

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