Individualisation is ‘compulsory’ rather than being about genuine personal freedom, and is an integral part of self-hood in the neoliberal (dis) order.
As Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim (2001/2002) have argued, individuals are compelled now to make agonistic choices throughout their life-course – there may be no guidance – and they are required to take sole responsibility for the consequences of choices made or, indeed, not made.
Individualisation is a contradictory phenomenon, both exhilarating and terrifying. It really does feel like freedom, especially for women liberated from patriarchal control. But, when things go wrong there is no excuse for anyone. The individual is penalised harshly not only for personal failure but also for sheer bad luck in a highly competitive and relentlessly harsh social environment. Although the Becks deny it, such a self – condemned to freedom and lonely responsibility – is exactly the kind of self cultivated by neoliberalism, combining freewheeling consumer sovereignty with enterprising business acumen.
The Neoliberal Self by Jim McGuigan
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The German sociologist Ulrich Beck has raised anew a topic that has been central to social theory since its very beginnings: What role does the individual play in the social world? Beck (1992 ) has done this by putting forth what has come to be known as the “individualization thesis,” or the theory that the individual is becoming the central unit of social life. As Layte and Whelan (2001 : 213) describe it, Beck “hypothesized that individual behavior was becoming less bound by traditional norms and values and sources of collective identity such as social class.” Instead, Beck argues that one's life is increasingly a reflexive or self-steered phenomenon, something that one must accomplish oneself. Thus, in contrast to traditional times where social norms and regulations emanated from the collectivity, “[t]he decisive feature of … modern regulations or guidelines is that, far more than earlier, individuals must, in part, supply them for themselves, import them into their biographies through their own actions” ( Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002 : 2). In some respects, Beck is raising the same issues that are found in the works of the founders of sociology (e.g., Durkheim's early concern over the wave of individualization brought by the industrial revolution and the social problems such as egoistic suicide and anomie that resulted from this, and his later praise of this development for