Analysis of a dozen semi-structured interviews with Dutch New Age trainers demonstrates that the modern 'ethics of authenticity' underlies contemporary society's anti-institutional mood. All institutions, be they traditional or modern, or so our respondants argue, prevent one from being true to oneself. Institutional pressure for conformity to social roles, they maintain, causes feelings of alienation, mental and physical illness, malicious types of sexuality, violence and many other problems. Although the ethics of authenticity thus produces a demonization of institutions, it simultaneously, and in quite a paradoxical way, exerts considerable institutional pressure itself. Politicians, media stars and others are today morally expected to be authentic: to be true to themselves and express their emotions in public.

Centre for Rotterdam Cultural Sociology (CROCUS)
Sociologische gids
Department of Sociology

Aupers, S., Houtman, D., & van der Tak, I. (2003). 'Gewoon worden wie je bent': Over authenticiteit en anti-institutionalisme. Sociologische gids, 50(2), 203–222. Retrieved from