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Stuart Devenish
Martin Dowson
Towards an Integrated and Integrating Model of the Self: Psychological and Phenomenological Perspectives


The question of “who” or “what” is the Self is the great unanswered question of psychology. Moreover, despite the centrality of the Self to psychology, much of psychology conveniently ignores the Self, focusing instead on mental representations of the Self, affective feelings about the Self, processes deemed to be regulated by the Self, or psychological conditions attributed to health or otherwise of the Self. This strategy is ‘convenient’ both because it allows the Self to be implicated (as it must be) in psychological phenomena of all kinds, whilst at the same time it avoids the hard work of actually defining and describing the Self, often leaving this work to other disciplines.

As a result of the planned ignorance described above, there exists in psychology no agreed definition of the Self and no agreed organizing model(s) of the Self. One key consequence of this lack of agreement is that psychology has become a fragmented discipline, spawning various schools of psychology each with its own sub-fields of research nested within separate, non-articulated philosophical, theoretical, conceptual and empirical frameworks. Moreover, with each successive generation of scholars, these frameworks become more complex, sometimes more convoluted, and typically more inaccessible to scholars working with and within other frameworks.

In contrast to previous approaches, in this paper we propose a specific definition and model of the Self –and one that transcends classical psychological conceptions of the Self. This transcendence occurs by adopting a transdisciplinary psychophenomenological approach, which incorporates first-person perspectives from philosophical inquiry, and combines these perspectives with a model-based approach that is common in psychology and which forms the basis of psychometric modeling and empirical investigation. Specifically, the model combines key psychological constructs such as self-consciousness and self-concept, with key phenomenological entities such as the Knowing I and the Reflective Self, showing how these constructs and entities interact and interrelate within the self-system to form the substance of experience, perception and cognition.

The model represents a theory-driven account of the Self that is congruent with, corresponds to, complements, and extends existent plain language and scientific accounts of the Self in an insightful, integrated and thoughtfully structured manner. In so doing, the model seeks to develop an integrated and integrating understanding of the I-Self that may be utilized across the fragmented field of psychology and in other disciplines as well. In particular, we suggest that the model may be utilized in a variety or research settings and contexts where systematic, parsimonious and insightful descriptions and analyses of the Self form the focus, or the basis, of investigations.

Dr. Stuart Devenish is Director (Program and Products) at the Australasian Centre for Studies in Spirituality, and Director of Teaching and Learning at Australian College of Ministries.  He obtained his PhD, which investigated the phenomenology of religious conversion, from Edith Cowan University (Western Australia) in 2001.  Devenish’s current research interests lie in the phenomenology of religious experience.  He has recently completed his first book, which investigates spirituality from phenomenological and theological perspectives.

Professor Martin Dowson is currently Director of Systems and Higher Education at the Australian College of Ministries. Professor Dowson also holds adjunct/visiting professorships at several highly ranked international universities including the Australian National University, the Universities of Sydney and Michigan, and the Free University of Berlin.

Professor Dowson’s research encompasses several key areas in the field of psychology including educational psychology, psychological measurement, and the psychology of religion. Professor Dowson is author of over 140 peer refereed publications including articles appearing in Review of Educational Research, Journal of Educational Psychology, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Educational and Psychological Measurement, Review of Religious Research, and the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. In addition to his other research work, Professor Dowson is currently editing Volume 6 of International Advances in Education: Religion and Spirituality.

Professor Dowson has won numerous research grants (totaling more than 1.5 million dollars), and has received academic awards from institutions including the American Educational Research Association, the Australian Association of Special Education, Macquarie University, and the Universities of Texas and Western Sydney.


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