Kenneth Gergen is pretty well established as one of the most important postmodern thinkers in the field of psychology. His writings have often led the way into many important new conceptual frameworks in the field of psychology. The Saturated Self is possibly his most important contribution in a string of many contributions. In part, this is because it is a book of broader appeal that just academics of psychology.
Much of this book provides a descriptive account of how the social construction of the self developed and changed from the Romantic period through Modernism to Postmodernism. Gergen contrasts the views of the essential self held in the romantic and modern periods to the dissolution of the self in postmodernism. Western culture has experienced a fairly long period of time which individualism has been strongly embraced. The myth of individualism is so well engrained into the thinking of most Westerners that its hard to imagine a different perspective.
Gergen, however, feels this change may be beginning to occur. The boundaries that separate self from others seem to be increasingly challenged. The metaphor of the saturated self plays an important role in this process. As individuals continue to be exposed to pluralism, different cultures, and more diverse ideas, the self becomes more complex. Along with the many differnet roles and identities that many find themselves in, the exposure to the multiplicity of ideas challenges the view of a core or essential self. Increasingly, Westerners find themselves talking more about different roles and less about a consistent self.
For better or worse, Gergen makes a convincing case for the dissolution of the self in postmodern times. He also recognizes that there are many forces which are moving agains this trend. It is important for scholars, particularly those in mental health, to be aware of this important trend. For many, developing alternative models of the self in postmodern times may be an important part of the response to the saturated self. For others, this is to be embraced and psychology needs to move toward a new understanding of the mental health that fits better with the postmodern self.
In conclusion, Gergen's The Saturated Self is an extremely important book for postmodern psychology and psychology in general. As we continue to move into postmodern times, this book is likely become even more important. It one that should be considered as essential reading material for the next generation of therapists and counselors.