Cultural Psychodynamics: The Audit, the Mirror, and the "American Dream"
Mageo, Jeannette Marie
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Based on dream and life-history data and research on American families in the US Northwest, this article argues that a contemporary US middle-class model that I call the Close Family prescribes child-rearing practices that alternate between adulation and audit. Adulation and auditing are forms of social mirroring that make what Lacan calls “the mirror phase” an enduring feature of American cultural psychology and produce feelings of porosity and dependence that compel defensive assertions of independence. Because these assertions are therefore common, they too take the form of a cultural model—the bounded person intrinsically separate from social context that Geertz and others associate with the West—yet this individualistic model is secondary, helping people deny and dissociate a more primary reaction. Models and defenses together, I argue, constitute cultural psychodynamics. The case study of a young woman I call Ruby further suggests that for aspirants to class mobility, what is a balance between adulation and audit in the middle class tips toward audit, magnifying feelings of shame and inadequacy and imposing one of the most formidable barriers such aspirants must overcome.