cover image Selfless: The Social Creation of “You”

Selfless: The Social Creation of “You”

Brian Lowery. Harper, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-062-91300-5

Stanford social psychologist Lowery dissects the foundations of the self in his incisive debut. Lowery defines the self as “a construction of relationships and interactions” that’s shaped by the human need to “exist in a coherent way” and is “in search of the feeling of freedom.” Unpacking this conception in individual, collective, and cultural contexts, Lowery touches on the misconceptions of the individual (mentioning the “absurdity... of life as a finite, isolated individual”), the importance of the collective (“You can’t have a social identity without a social group.... Who these people are... becomes part of you”), and the far-reaching effects of the cultural (“We understand our selves based on the rules provided by our culture”). Lowery discusses how humans are trained to exhibit customs of particular social groups, including the way they walk, speak, and occupy public spaces. Complications arise when mismatches occur between one’s sense of self and one’s publicly perceived identity: “When an... identity that is crucial to our sense of self is not validated,” he writes, one’s dignity—and sometimes safety—can be on the line, such as when transgender women fight for access to women’s bathrooms and immigrants protest for recognition in their adopted countries. It’s an accessible introduction to modern theories of the self for all fans of pop psych. (Mar.)