Relational Being

Beyond Self and Community

by Kenneth J. Gergen

This book builds on two current developments in psychology scholarship and practice. The first centers on broad discontent with the individualist tradition in which the rational agent, or autonomous self, is considered the fundamental atom of social life. Critique of individualism spring not only from psychologists working in the academy, but also from communities of therapy and counseling. The second, and related development from which this work builds, is the search for alternatives to individualist understanding. Thus, therapists such as Steve Mitchell, along with feminists at the Stone Center, expand the psychoanalytic tradition to include a relational orientation to therapy.The present volume will give voice to the critique of individualism, but its major thrust is to develop and illustrate a far more radical and potentially exciting landscape of relational thought and practice that now exists. Most existing attempts to build a relational foundation remain committed to a residual form of individualist psychology. The present work carves out a space of understanding in which relational process stands prior to the very concept of the individual. More broadly, the book attempts to develop a thoroughgoing relational account of human activity. In doing so, Gergen reconstitutes 'the mind' as a manifestation of relationships and bears out these ideas in a range of everyday professional practices, including family therapy, collaborative classrooms, and organizational psychology.

  • Oxford University Press; July 2009
  • ISBN: 9780199719402
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
  • Title: Relational Being
  • Author: Kenneth J. Gergen
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

Winner of the Media Ecology Association's 2010 Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Social Interaction!
Winner of the 2009 PROSE award in Psychology!More than 40 PROSE Awards, including the top prize, the R.R. Hawkins Award, were presented on February 4, 2010, at a special Awards Luncheon during the PSP Annual Conference at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. A complete list of all winners can be found on the PROSE Awards website at: since 1976, the 2009 PROSE Awards received a record-breaking 441 entries--more than ever before in its 34-year history-- from more than 60 professional and scholarly publishers across the country.
"A marvelously likeable book, Relational Being faces us with an urgent and profound challenge. Jettisoning individualism entirely, Gergen demonstrates the sense and virtue of understanding all aspects of human reality through the lens of relationship. This argument for a new Enlightenment is a brave and passionate tour de force from one of our finest social scientists."--Benjamin Bradley, Chair, Psychology and Director, CSU Degree Initiative, Charles Sturt University
"Relational Being is a milestone on the road toward the Next Enlightenment-- an enlightenment that re-constructs "the bounded self" with an understanding of the primacy of relational being. There is not a "sounding" in this towering manifesto that leaves things as they are. Once we acknowledge that we are interwoven threads in the intricate tapestry of relational process-- in which our destiny is among us as opposed to within-- everything changes. If human connection can become as real to us as the traditional sense of individual separation, then our globally intimate future has a chance-- there is that much at stake in this forward-looking, pragmatic and inspirational Kenneth Gergen classic!"--David Cooperrider, Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
"This is a powerful, richly nuanced, evocative work; a stunning and brilliantly innovative pedagogical intervention. It provides ground zero-- the starting place for the next generation of theorists. Relational Being is a stunning accomplishment by one of America's major social theorists, and a visionary work." --Norman K. Denzin, Professor of Sociology, Cinema Studies, and Interpretive Theory, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
"A must-read for scholars, practitioners and the general public, this book gives promise and hope to our planet and our future well-being." --Harlene Anderson, Houston Galveston Institute
"Ken Gergen, the most original and insightful social psychologist of my generation, offers a hopeful and fresh framework for scholars and practitioners seeking a meaningful, useful, and creative approach to the cultural, political, personal, and professional struggles of our time. Professor Gergen writes with grace, compassion, and clarity and the story he tells is extraordinarily important and profound." --Arthur P. Bochner, Distinguinshed University Professor of Communication, University of South Florida
"...Relational Being promises to be a significant and useful contribution to psychological literature."--PsycCRITIQUES
"Simply put, Gergen asks: If this is the sense of self that is afforded, then what does this mean for the lives we live, and the lives we might aspire to live? Relational Being responds to this (impossible) question. The book presents a contemporary and inspiring response to questions about being, spirituality, and the practices and relations of everyday life. Gergen's approach avoids moralistic undertones and dense theorizing to provide a simple philosophy for everyday, postmodern life." -- International Journal of Communication