Figures strut and fret on sociological stage (1 of 2)

July 26, 2012

How refreshing to read Jonathan Steinberg's article on the relevance of biographical study ("Cult of personalities", 19 July). While there is undoubtedly a place for the Bennite argument against the fetishisation of personalities in politics, it is very difficult to deny that biography and character matter in human affairs (which, of course, includes the study of history).

Steinberg could have expanded his argument to include consideration of the usefulness of a psychoanalytic perspective on biography (the great anthropologist George Devereux, for example, was emphatic about this); the provocative work of Jungian James Hillman on destiny and the "daimon"; and Rudolf Steiner's indications for Waldorf education on the educational and developmental importance of adolescents studying the biographies of famous people.

That there is "no 'truth of the matter' about historical narrative" certainly rings true from post-structuralist perspectives - although Steinberg's depiction of biographical history as "a systematic, institutionally regulated form of thinking" might well raise alarm bells for those concerned about stultifying "regimes of truth" and how they can limit our imaginations about the past.

Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, University of Roehampton

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