Self matters: Representations and displays of emotional suffering in public culture

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Robert C. Bogdan


Cultural studies, Self-help, Emotional suffering, Public culture

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


This dissertation is a study of emotional suffering in popular culture. The work examines emotional suffering not as an objective state of mind, but as a late 20 th century social convention with a particular rhetoric. This study's focus on emotional suffering in popular culture contributes to the social and historical analysis of therapeutic practices. In this study I look at the television shows Party of Five, Once and Again and The Oprah Winfrey Show . The dissertation also involves an analysis of popular self-help books on emotional suffering. The final component of this work includes media interviews of public figures who have spoken publicly about experiences they frame as emotional suffering. This qualitative study examines the pervasiveness of therapeutic practices in North American culture and identifies the dominant ways in which top-selling self-help books, television shows and celebrities articulate, capture and reproduce common cultural notions of emotional suffering. The dissertation argues that the common practices that regulate the public articulation of emotional suffering define the self as the central subject and defining focus in society, substantiated as a crisis to be resolved through work.


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