The Social Construction of Self-Esteem

John P. Hewitt

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology

Second edition

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780195187243
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
 The Social Construction of Self-Esteem

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Self-esteem is examined here as an object of cultural discourse and as a socially constructed emotion grounded in mood. Scientific and popular conceptions of self-esteem share an emphasis on the person's acceptance by self and others, the evaluation of performance, social comparison, and the efficacy of individual action as the important roots of self-esteem. The present analysis deconstructs these elements, treating them not as psychological universals but rather as deeply rooted in the competing themes of American culture. The discourse of self-esteem translates these themes into personal terms, enabling the person's understanding of where he or she stands in relation to such contradictory emphases as individuality versus community, striving for success versus self-acceptance, or the quest for happiness as a future state versus contentment with one's present lot. The socially constructed, discursive nature of self-esteem does not preclude an examination of its underlying psychological reality, which is here conceived as mood. Self-esteem provides a way of experiencing and interpreting mood, which functions to encourage and inhibit conduct in various situations depending upon the individual's ongoing experiences. Mood is a universal response to positive and negative experiences; self-esteem is a particular construction of mood fitted to a culture and its dominant and competing themes. The analysis considers how self-esteem binds the person to particular cultural emphases and examines the limitations of the contemporary self-esteem movement.

Keywords: affect; culture; emotion; mood; self

Article.  5720 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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