Master of Social Work
School for Social Work
This study is an examination of the compulsion to shop or acquire commodities seen as a culturally and historically distinctive pathology of the modern self. The Greek term 'pleonexia' ('acquisitiveness') is borrowed as a covenient and more accurately descriptive term than the common 'shopaholic'. Pleonexia is seen as a complex, habitual, impulsive behavior which attempts to maintain order and continuity in the sense of self. Pleonexia represents a failure in selfcohesion, an attempt to counter feelings of emptiness created by the fragmentation and objectification of desire in our commodity culture. Such internal functions as regulation of feelings, self-esteem, as well as non-harmful techniques of self-soothing are what become pathological in the pleonexic. The question of personal freedom of action is central to the analysis. In chapter one, it is the question of possible external coercion -- that is, manufactured desire, or what is labeled 'the manipulationist thesis'. In chapter two, the issue of internal compulsion or appetitive internal forces is seen as Freud's major revolutionary contribution to a new (and much more complex) theory of action and desire. Trapped in a consumption pattern where coercion and desire correspond, the pleonexic has a frozen behavior pattern of insatiable craving.
It is argued that this heteronomy is best seen as a directed disposition to acquire; and, the analysis of character traits, therefore, plays an essential role in its understanding.
The concluding chapter utilizes the format of DSM-IIIR as a convenient framework to offer some observations on the diagnostic criteria, predisposing factors, associated features, impairments and differential diagnosis of this disorder. These findings are necessarily highly tentative based on the virtual silence in the psychiatric literature since the pioneering studies of Freud's early followers.
The thesis concludes with some observations on the implications for social work practice; borrowing from the 'life-model' and feminist treatment approaches.
© 1989 George R. Ingham
Ingham, George R., "'Pleonexia': A Modern Pathology of Self" (1989). Masters Thesis, Smith College, Northampton, MA.