Ideologies of Experience: Trauma, Failure, Deprivation, and the Abandonment of the Self, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Ideologies of Experience

Trauma, Failure, Deprivation, and the Abandonment of the Self, 1st Edition

By Matthew H. Bowker


172 pages

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Matthew H. Bowker offers a novel analysis of "experience": the vast and influential concept that has shaped Western social theory and political practice for the past half-millennium.

While it is difficult to find a branch of modern thought, science, industry, or art that has not relied in some way on the notion of "experience" in defining its assumptions or aims, no study has yet applied a politically-conscious and psychologically-sensitive critique to the construct of experience. Doing so reveals that most of the qualities that have been attributed to experience over the centuries — particularly its unthinkability, its correspondence with suffering, and its occlusion of the self — are part of unlikely fantasies or ideologies. By analyzing a series of related cases, including the experiential education movement, the ascendency of trauma theory, the philosophy of the social contract, and the psychological study of social isolation, the book builds a convincing case that ideologies of experience are invoked not to keep us close to lived realities and ‘things-in-themselves,’ but, rather, to distort and destroy true knowledge of ourselves and others.

In spite of enduring admiration for those who may be called champions of experience, such as Michel de Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others treated throughout the work, the ideologies of experience ultimately discourage individuals and groups from creating, resisting, and changing our experience, urging us instead to embrace trauma, failure, deprivation, and self-abandonment.


'In Ideologies of Experience, Matthew H. Bowker is onto an idea of profound significance. His concept of an ideology of experience may very well hold a key insight into the contemporary psychological processes behind our politics of fantasy over reality, and false attributions and assertions over valid information. Once we as individual selves are taught to mistrust our own capacity for reality testing and knowing good from bad, stripped of critical thinking we forfeit the essence of citizenship in a democratic society.' - Michael A. Diamond, Professor and Director, Center of the Study of Organizational Change, Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri

'A critical and provocative interdisciplinary inquiry into experience, and the ways it might be manipulated, Matthew H. Bowker challenges us to question basic assumptions we make about our society and our lives. Ideologies of Experience is a work from which all of us can profit.' - Stephen Eric Bronner, Board of Governors Professor of Political Science, Rutgers University, USA

'Bowker explores a fascinating array of ideas dealing with the self and the impact of what he calls ‘ideologies of experience’ on the self. This is a fascinating and stimulating excursion through philosophy and psychoanalytic theory that enriches our understanding of how the self relates to itself, to others, to the community and to the often difficult and traumatic ways experience attacks and engages the very foundations of our being.' - James M. Glass, Distinguished Scholar/Teacher and Professor, University of Maryland, College Park, USA

'In the aftermath of radical changes to traditional assumptions about subjectivity, and selfhood, this book offers a useful and original re-interpretation of key contested concepts—experience, ideology, trauma, solitude' - Marshall Alcorn, George Washington University, USA, author of Changing the Subject in English Class

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Experience, Failure, and Thinking 3. The Incorporation and Transmission of Traumatic Experience 4. Misunderstood and Repeated Experience in Le Malentendu 5. Experience and Control in Higher Education 6. Aloneness and its Opposites 7. Hikikomori: Deprived, Isolated, and Disfigured Selves 8. ‘Natural’ Experience and the State of Nature

About the Author

Matthew H. Bowker is Visiting Assistant Professor of Liberal Arts at Medaille College in Buffalo, NY. His work applies psychoanalytic and literary-critical approaches to topics in political philosophy.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / General