International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation (IJCAM)
Vo. 2, pp. 60-81 (2021). Published November 10, 2021.
Reinventing the Self: NXIVM’s Promises, Secrets, and Lies
In this article, I examine the multilevel cultic organization NXIVM, using Susie Scott’s (2011) reinventive institution thesis—an update of Erving Goffman’s (1961) work on total institutions. Scott’s (2011) work addresses some of the broader sociocultural shifts that have fostered a turn inward toward self-improvement in the quest for new, transformative identities. Such shifts have created a proliferation of movements, organisations, and groups— including NXIVM—that offer ideologies and practices that promise to fulfill these reinventive goals. Offering opportunities for macrolevel and microlevel analyses, I employ Scott’s model not only to situate NXIVM within this cultural milieu, but also to examine some of the specifics of its structure, the nature of interpersonal relationships, and the promises that the movement and its founder, Keith Raniere, made. Moreover, as Scott’s (2011) work reveals, attractive as they may be, reinventive institutions incorporate structures of power thatrender them far from benign. Hence, by drawing on Scott’s postulations, I examine features of NXIVM that illustrate both the promises and problems of reinventive institutions. Moreover, I discuss those aspects of NXIVM that have more in common with total institutions than reinventive ones, demonstrating that, at least in this case, the two types of institution may operate within one organisation. To explore both reinventive and totalistic characteristics, I discuss some of the key features of the following NXIVM organisations: Executive Success Programs (ESP), Jness, the Society of Protectors (SOP), and Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS).
Keywords: NXIVM, Keith Raniere, reinventive institutions, self-actualization, identity