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Alain Ehrenberg

The Despondent Society

Alain Ehrenberg is the author of the immensely successful La Fatigue d’être soi (with sales of over 70,000 copies). He heads the research centre “Psychotropic Drugs, Mental Health and Society” at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).


As a result of recent upheavals in management and of the widespread crisis in social welfare systems, autonomy has increasingly become synonymous with distress. Individuals are said to suffer from “pathologies of ideals”, or from shattered self-esteem caused by a failure to live up to society’s ideals.
This book is the outcome of a series of enquires into the spread of autonomy’s norms and values and of its two facets — that of the victorious individual and that of the suffering victim.
The author describes how narcissism achieved its present status and how it nourishes our deepest beliefs in individualism.

• “Social suffering”, a subject that dominates much public discussion, is fully analysed here and its many implications studied.

• Ten years after La Fatigue d’être soi, Alain Ehrenberg continues his study of how the history of psychiatry interlocks with the history of changing lifestyles, in this examination of the “pathologies of ideals”, seen as a reflection of triumphant individualism.