The Invention of Self in a Twelve Step Group
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A scholarly exploration of the 12-step group Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) and how its participants use the group structure and process to invent and reinvent themselves. Sociologist Irvine (Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) sees the development of selfhood as “a narrative accompishment, created in the stories people tell about themselves—and this includes stories they tell to themselves.” CoDA was founded in 1986 by a couple who found that Alcoholics” Anonymous and similar groups were not meeting participants” needs for support in working on developing healthy relationships with others in their lives. CoDA differs from these other 12-step support groups in that it focuses on family systems issues, and doesn’t address substance abuse issues. CoDA does share with other groups 12-step guidelines for assessing and changing one’s life, and “Twelve Traditions,” which establish the principles and rules of the organization. Irvine’s chief focus here is how CoDA gives its participants the framework and vocabulary with which they can explain themselves and understand their lives. Irvine also has two other themes: first, to explain “what codependency is, as a cultural phenomenon.” Second, she considers how institutions, social structure, and culture contribute to development of a self. Irvine reports here on her 17 months of ethnographic research, during which time she attended over 200 CoDA meetings in New York City and on Long Island; she both participated in meetings and conducted limited interviews with other participants. Brief illustrative examples of participants” stories are included here. Irvine’s examination of these subjects is beyond the needs of the casual reader, and her use of sociological terminology and investigative framework can create rough going for those not in her field. A dense, careful sociologic examination, then, of how this particular support group serves and defines its members.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-38471-3
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999


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