In the last few decades, the self-help genre witnessed huge popularity gains and continuously topped the chart of bestsellers. People around the world breaking language barriers have engrossed themselves in self-help books chiefly stemming from Western countries.
From 'Seven Habits of Successful People' to 'Who Moved My Cheese?' self-help books have captured a significant proportion of readers' attention.
Millions of copies are published, translated and sold every year around the globe from the United States of America to India.
One of the pertinent questions to ask, therefore, what is the reason for the sudden spurt among those in the literary world to publish self-help books?
To better understand this sudden avalanche of self-help books, we need to grasp the idea of "Governmentality", proposed by eminent philosopher Michel Foucault and its present iteration "Neoliberal Governmentality".
The notion of governmentality's intrigue owes to the fact that it explains how modern power structures play out.
The idea of hierarchical power as imposed by the state on the individual was replaced by the new notion of governmentality.
Michel Foucault in his book 'The Subject and Power', remarked that "Government did not refer only to political structures or to the management of states; rather, it designated the way in which the conduct of individuals or of groups might be directed".
Therefore, to govern, in this sense, is to control the possible field of action of others. Neoliberalism is perhaps the classical example of Foucault's notion of governmentality.
Neoliberalism is a school of thought which considers the individual at the center of all activities and dispenses the active supervision of the state.
The state, in neoliberal thought, is considered an impediment to individual fulfillment and liberty.
According to neoliberal scholars, the state encroaches on the liberties of the individual by surveillance of their activities and constrains them with a slew of debilitating regulations.
Moreover, neoliberalism gives precedence to individual emancipation from the shackles of the state.
A corollary of neoliberal thought is the free market economy which emanates from the individual right of free choices.
Neoliberals argue that state intervention in the economy curtails an individual's inherent right of choice.
When the state actively intervenes in the market mechanism and governs the market, individuals are deprived of the choices that any individual is inherently endowed with.
Therefore, neoliberal economics refers to the economic model which gives precedence to the individual rather than the state as the main actor of the economy.
Neoliberalism is the flank on which today's world economy rests. It is the free market economy which is the norm, and any other economic models are an aberration.
Although recently some countries are exhibiting protectionism, the 21st century is marked by the triumph of neoliberal economics and the growing consumerism that comes with it.
Neoliberal economic models have been touted around the world as emancipatory as it frees the individual from the control of a repressive state and bestows the individual with a free rein to determine their economic fate.
Thanks to this promise, states around the world have become increasingly "neo-liberal", and provide individuals more latitude in their economic decisions and let the market operate itself without unwarranted state intervention.
One of the tenets of neoliberalism is competition and constant efforts to achieve efficiency. Neoliberalism prefers competition to inefficiency.
Neoliberalism encourages hard work and an individualistic mentality, and depoliticises the individual from state or any form of collectivity and gives more importance to 'self'.
Coming to Foucalt's 'governmentality', the notion of governmentality is manifested in the self-help books' sudden rise to prominence.
According to Foucault, power is not hierarchical, and power can be exerted through the production and dissemination of knowledge.
Knowledge can be weaponised to project power as through knowledge, the subject can be sensitised to certain world-views without active use of power.
"Self" is at the root of neoliberalism. The pursuit of constant maximisation of one's utility is at what undergirds neoliberalism, even if it comes at the expense of collective interest.
Self-help books are driving this neoliberal agenda in a very subtle way and facilitate in depoliticising the individual by making them more "self" centered.
The bulk of self-help books promote excessive individualism and encourage individuals to become more selfish at the expense of the community's well-being.
Self-help books generate a sense of individualistic attitude which is detrimental to the well-being of society.
The lessons of self-help books motivate one to take individualistic actions without recognising the adverse impacts it might have for the whole society.
Self-help books entrench a sense of maximisation of individual happiness which is destructive to social cohesion and bonds.
Why do self-help books promote a rugged individualistic ethic? This riddle can be best understood through the prism of "Neoliberal Governmentality".
The concept of "Neoliberal Governmentality" entails the governing of the individual in a way which sustains and perpetuates the neoliberalism model of economy.
Neoliberalism trivialises and often discredits the intervention of state or any collective in the life, liberty and the choice of the individual.
Neoliberalism motivates individual enterprise and encourages the individual to take actions and make the individual the architect of his life.
In this context, self-help literature serves as a vehicle to promote the neoliberal agenda. These books enable authors to disseminate knowledge, ideas, and discourses which are congruent with and promote capitalistic ethics.
Through these books, authors encourage individualistic actions and self-centric activities.
Therefore, the lens of neoliberal governmentality persuasively explains the sudden profusion and popularity of self-help books worldwide.
Moreover, beneath the feel-good solutions of self-help genres lies the ulterior project of neoliberal governmentality, and authors in this genre either deliberately or unwittingly perpetuate neoliberal agenda.
Kazi Asszad Hossan is a student at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.