The thesis that I will develop is that self-help reading should be understood as a way of dealing with risk, uncertainties and unpredictable events, an attitude which is particularly adapted to social environments where autonomy and personal responsibility have been erected as key values. Self-help books provide their readers with new ways of dealing with all kinds of problems in everyday life. Moreover, the particular translation of these problems offered by the discourse of such books, adapted to the norm of autonomy and responsibility, allows the reader to claim social benefits from his/her new attitude by being considered as a “responsible person” rather than as an “inactive victim”.
In order to sustain this argument, I will sketch a comparison between self-help reading and witchcraft practices analysed by Edward Evans-Pritchard and Jeanne Favret-Saada within other societies. I will follow Peter Winch’s plea to understand such practices as “attitudes towards contingencies”. Finally, understanding this practice as a “competence”, I will address the question of the potential social stratification it may induce.