Why ethos?

I argue that life hacking is a type of self-help reflective the present moment. How should I refer to this mindset and moment? I have a number of terms available to me. Foucault famously spoke of episteme, the conditions of discourse by which knowledge claims are considered acceptable. His “archeology” of the classic, renaissance, and modern ages sought to uncover these conditions.1 Other cultural theorists sometimes speak of periodization.2 Life hacking no doubt exemplifies some of the of the contemporary episteme, especially the focus on efficiency and quantification, but it is otherwise too broad. Life hacking is a subculture, albeit one growing in influence. More commonplace words include zeitgeist and milieu. Zeitgeist refers to the spirit of a period, and it is too broad as well. Milieu means a “person’s social environment,” but life hacking touches on a person’s character too. Hence, I use the word ethos, which Oxford defines as “The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.” It also traces its origins to the Greek ēthos, meaning “nature” and “disposition.”3 Hence ethos captures the more local, community, aspect of life hacking, its aspirations, and the often geeky disposition of its practitioners.


  1. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (London: Routledge, 2002); Michel Foucault, “Archaeology of Knowledge,” in The Archaeology of Knowledge (Pantheon, 1982), http://www.artsci.lsu.edu/fai/Faculty/Professors/Protevi/Foucault/AK_outline.html

  2. Lawrence Besserman, The Challenge of Periodization: Old Paradigms a New Perspectives, ed. Lawrence Besserman, The Challenge of Periodization: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives (New York: Garland, 1996), 4–11. 

  3. Oxford, Ethos,” Oxford Dictionaries, February 25, 2016, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/ethos

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