Psychoanalysis in Sociology

Psychoanalysis in Sociology

Psychoanalysis in Sociology Anthony Elliott, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia Ó 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Abstrac...

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Psychoanalysis in Sociology Anthony Elliott, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia Ó 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Abstract In what follows the appropriation of psychoanalysis in sociological theory is charted, with four key sociological traditions considered: first, several early and influential articulations of psychoanalysis and sociology developed in Europe (particularly as represented in the work of the Frankfurt school of sociology) and North America (especially in the writings of Talcott Parsons); second, structuralist and poststructuralist appropriations of psychoanalysis as refracted in sociological debate; third, feminist and postmodern social theory; and finally, more contemporary developments within European psychoanalytic traditions that have influenced the social sciences and humanities.

This article addresses the complex, and often ambivalent, relationship that psychoanalysis has had with sociology. The psychoanalytic tradition, beginning with Freud, is critically examined, primarily in terms of the impact of Freud’s theory of the unconscious for theorizing both individual and social structural aspects of the contemporary epoch in sociological research. The appropriation of psychoanalysis in sociological theory is then charted, with four key sociological traditions considered: first, several early and influential articulations of psychoanalysis and sociology developed in Europe (particularly as represented in the work of the Frankfurt school of sociology) and North America (especially in the writings of Talcott Parsons); second, structuralist and poststructuralist appropriations of psychoanalysis as refracted in sociological debate; third, feminist and postmodern social theory; and finally, more contemporary developments within European psychoanalytic traditions that have influenced the social sciences and humanities. Psychoanalysis, as developed by Sigmund Freud and his followers, has had a major impact upon sociological theory and modern sociology. Freud’s central discoveries – the unconscious, sexual repression, the Oedipus complex, and the like have been deployed by sociologists to interpret and discuss the self and human subjectivity, gender and sexuality, the family and socialization, language and ideology, as well as the formation of cultural identities and forms of political domination. Notwithstanding this impact, sociology as a discipline has long had a difficult, and indeed fraught, relationship with psychoanalysis. Sociologists have criticized psychoanalytical theory on the grounds of its methodology, epistemology, and ontology. Despite these criticisms, many contemporary sociologists remain engaged with, and some strongly committed to, the psychoanalytic tradition in order to conceptualize the relation between the individual and society, especially the complex, contradictory ways that human subjects acquire and reshape the ideas, values, symbols, beliefs, and emotional dispositions of the wider society. This has been particularly evident over recent decades, in which Freudian themes and psychoanalytic motifs have been used to analyze sexual politics, issues of identity and lifestyle, as well as the debate over modernity and postmodernism.


Freud and the Sociological Imagination Freudian psychoanalysis shares with sociology a primary preoccupation with the fate of the individual or self in the context of social relationships and the wider cultural process. While Freud’s own writings were primarily derived from his clinical work with patients, and to that degree are at variance with the core methodologies of mainstream social science, his characterization of human personality and self-identity has clear parallels with, say, Thomas Hobbes’ theory of human nature or Karl Marx’s account of the self-seeking individual in organized capitalist society. Yet whereas both Hobbes and Marx stress the impact of social forms in the constitution of the self, Freud’s methodological starting point is the individual psyche, principally the instinctual impulses and libidinal longings that shape the human imagination. The self for Freud is radically fractured or divided, split between consciousness of identity and the repressed unconscious. The biographical trajectory of the self, according to Freud, is carried on against the backdrop of this radical otherness of the unconscious, a domain of the psyche that infuses three agencies of the psyche: id, ego, and superego. The id, lying at the root of unconscious desire, is that which cannot be symbolized yet constantly strives for expression in our daily lives, manifesting itself in dreams, daydreams, slips of the tongue, and the like. It is a hidden area of the self, which knows no reality, logic, or contradiction; the unconscious is at the root, says Freud, of how people, for example, can simultaneously love and hate their parents. The superego, as internal anchoring of cultural prohibition, is founded in this id. Desire, according to Freud, infiltrates all human intentions, ideals, and imperatives. Similarly, Freud sees parts of the ego as interwoven with the force of the id, the self arising as a product of the unconscious. While Freud’s writings on human personality and the constitution of the self have proven of interest to sociologists, it is his account of the relations between self and society – primarily his late writings on civilization – that has most influenced the development of modern sociology. In his late writings, Freud comes to see human beings living under the destructive force of a terrifying death drive, as well as strict cultural prohibitions on sexual desire and enjoyment. These themes are set out in his

International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Volume 19

Psychoanalysis in Sociology

magisterial books Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930). Civilization, writes Freud, is repressive. Society imposes severe psychic demands upon individuals to achieve cultural conformity, demands that produce intense personal misery and neurotic suffering. Some sociologists have interpreted this aspect of Freud’s sociology as at one with the conservative social thought of Hobbes, likening it to the theorem that cultural reproduction demands the overcoming of chaotic passion. But it is clear that this involves a radical misunderstanding of Freud’s position. The dualisms that Freud uses to analyze modern civilization (consciousness/ unconscious, desire/repression, the pleasure principle/the reality principle, Eros/Thanatos) suggest a disjunction between self and world. According to Freud, ambivalence is at the core of the individual’s relation to the self, to others, and to society. Freud’s writings on the fate of the self in contemporary culture have strongly influenced sociological debates – from Herbert Marcuse to Michel Foucault. Too much repression, Freud says, leads to intense unconscious anguish, hostility, and rage. At such a point, the intensification of unconscious desire can release the ‘mental dams’ of sexual repression in a farreaching way. The issue of the subjective seeds of social and political transformation are thus at the heart of Freud’s theoretical contribution to sociology and social theory.

The Integration of Psychoanalysis and Sociology With regard to social analysis and sociological theory, Freudian ideas have loomed large in the sociological conceptualization of human subjectivity and interpersonal relationships, sexuality and modern culture, as well as the mix of reason and irrationality in politics and history. There have been three key sociological developments in this connection: first, there has been several early and influential articulations of psychoanalysis and sociology developed in Europe (particularly as represented in the work of the Frankfurt school of sociology) and North America (especially in the writings of Talcott Parsons); second, structuralist and poststructuralist appropriations of psychoanalysis as refracted in sociological debate; and finally, feminist and postmodern social theory has been significantly shaped by psychoanalysis.

Early Disciplinary Articulations In Europe, Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno – leading members of the Frankfurt school of critical theory – turned to Freud in order to reconceptualize the relation between self and society. The political motivation prompting this turn to Freud had its roots in Marcuse’s and Adorno’s attempts to conceptualize the rise of fascism, Nazism, and also the spread of bureaucratic capitalism. From Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, and particularly his theorem concerning the repression of infantile sexuality, Marcuse and Adorno developed the notion of ‘the authoritarian personality’. Driven by a desire for conformity and clear rules, the authoritarian personality was viewed by Marcuse and Adorno as a character type strongly prevalent in the German middle classes, a character type who hungered for strong leadership, social order, and regulation. Not only in Nazi Germany, however, was this personality type


to be found; in the advanced liberal societies of the West, tendencies toward authoritarianism and conformism are increasingly evident. Marcuse thus spoke of the emergence of ‘one-dimensional man’. Marcuse’s radical Freudianism, in particular, won a wide audience in the 1960s – not only in social science circles, but among student activists and sexual liberationists. Arguing that the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s did not seriously threaten power structures of the established social order, Marcuse sought to show how demands for freedom were routinely rechanneled for commercial interests. The core of his analysis rested upon the distinction he drew between basic and surplus repression. Basic repression he defined as the minimum level of psychological renunciation demanded by the social structure and cultural order. Repression that is surplus, by contrast, refers to the intensification of self-restraint demanded by asymmetrical relations of power. Marcuse describes the ‘monogamicpatriarchal’ family, for example, as a site of surplus repression. Interestingly, while Marcuse saw signs of surplus repression increasingly everywhere in late capitalist society, he remained remarkably optimistic about the possibilities for social and cultural change. On the other side of the Atlantic, a different approach to the integration of psychoanalysis and sociology was fashioned. The core thematic of this approach concerned social order, socialization, and the reproduction of the social system. The grand theorist of American sociology, Talcott Parsons, employed Freudian ideas to understand how basic symbols and values are internalized by human subjects throughout the socialization process. According to Parsons’s appropriation of Freud for social theory, the structure of human personality is an outcome of an internalization of desired objects, role relationships, and ethico-cultural values that make up the broader social network. In this approach, it is the linkage of personality structure, the social system, and the cultural system that is stressed. Unlike Marcuse’s and Adorno’s emphasis on the social manipulation of the unconscious, Parsons finds a kind of preestablished harmony between the individual and society.

Structuralist and Poststructuralist Psychoanalytic Sociology For many years, the integration of psychoanalysis and social analysis developed by the Frankfurt school was commonly regarded as the most sophisticated and important work in this subfield of modern sociology. From the late 1960s onward, however, the impact of French theory, particularly structuralist and poststructuralist philosophy, became increasingly influential in terms of theorizing the social dimensions of psychoanalysis. The key figure in this connection was Freud’s French interpreter, Jacques Lacan. Seeking to rework the core concepts of psychoanalysis in the light of modern linguistics, Lacan argued that the unconscious exemplifies key features of language; as Lacan famously argues, “the unconscious is structured like a language”. The subject or ‘I’, according to Lacan, is not selftransparent, but is rather located in a system of signification from which identity is fashioned. For Lacan, intersubjectivity is at the center of psychological functioning and its disturbances; distortions or pathologies at the level of the self are, says Lacan, located in ‘the discourse of the other’.


Psychoanalysis in Sociology

It is perhaps Lacan’s essay “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I” (1949) that has come to exert most influence on contemporary sociological theory. In the essay, Lacan conceptualizes the small infant’s initial recognition of itself in a mirror or reflecting surface, and of how this generates a sense of identity. Through the mirror, says Lacan, the infant makes an imaginary identification with its reflected image, an identification that the infant reacts to with a sense of jubilation and exhilaration. But the mirror image of the self for Lacan is, in fact, a distortion; the mirror lies. The mirror stage is radically ‘imaginary’, in Lacan’s theorization, since the consolingly unified image of selfhood that it generates is diametrically opposed to the bodily fragmentation and lack of coordination of the child. These imaginary traps and distortions are a universal and timeless feature of self-organization, and Lacan sees such illusions as directly feeding into and shaping pathologies of the self in contemporary culture. Lacan was not especially interested in the social applications of psychoanalysis; it was one of his followers, the French Marxist political philosopher Louis Althusser, who brought Lacanian theory into the center of key debates in sociology. In his important essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1984[1971]), Althusser analyzed ideology in terms of the process by which individuals come to understand and relate to themselves in a manner, which supports dominant class relations. According to Althusser, ideology provides an imaginary identity, an imagined map for locating oneself in the wider social network. Echoing Lacan, Althusser uses the notion of the mirror stage to deconstruct ideology. There is a duplicate mirror structure at the heart of ideology says Althusser, a structure that grants to the self an ideological mirror in which it can recognize itself and other people. Althusser calls this process ‘interpellation’ – the capturing of the individual within the net of received social meanings. The Lacanian/Althusserian account of the decentering of the subject has been highly influential in recent sociological theory, and has impacted upon debates concerning agency, structure, class, social fragmentation, and cultural order. The socialtheoretical work of Paul Hirst, Barry Hindess, Stuart Hall, Etienne Bailbar, Pierre Machery, Fredric Jameson, and Slavoj Zizek is, in differing ways, indebted to the Lacanian/Althusserian theory of the subject and its ideological subjection.

Feminism, Postmodernism, and Psychoanalytic Sociology It is not only in studying politics and social change that psychoanalysis has become an important theoretical tool for sociology, but also in debates concerning gender and sexual politics Freudian ideas have been incorporated into social theory. In the sociology of sexuality, the sociology of the family, and especially the social theory of gender transformation, Freudian psychoanalysis has played a vital role in expanding sociologists’ understanding of the subjective and affective components of human social relationships. The psychoanalytic perspective made a forceful entry into contemporary feminist sociological theory in Juliet Mitchell’s pioneering book, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974). Mitchell deployed Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic ideas as a means of connecting a discussion of gender power with an Althusserian/Marxist theory of late capitalist society. Against

this theoretical backdrop, she asserted that definitions of masculinity and femininity are framed through linguistic and historical structures – with man as a self-determining, autonomous agent, and woman as a lacking other. Such gender dualism, according to Mitchell, is highly conducive to capitalist social regulation – the split between private and public, the pathologies of the familial life, and the like. Mitchell’s ideas, while criticized in some feminist sociological circles, had a lasting impact on psychoanalytically oriented feminist sociology. Especially in terms of Lacanian feminist approaches, the writings of authors such as Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Jacequline Rose, and Judith Butler have significantly influenced sociological debate in recent years. In the United States, the feminist theories of Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, and Jane Flax have been influential in contemporary sociology. These feminist authors draw from the psychoanalytic perspective, but rather than turn to Lacan and French psychoanalysis their work selectively incorporates the insights of Freudian and post-Freudian (especially objectrelational) theory. In Chodorow’s work, it is part of an attempt to understand the psychic components of female and male socialization, especially in terms of the unconscious forces that shape gender roles. In Benjamin’s work, psychoanalysis is deployed to rethink the dynamics of domination and submission within the wider frame of gender, society, and history. In Flax’s discussion of psychoanalysis, feminism, and postmodernism, it is primarily a set of philosophical observations about the development of gender relations and the sociology of sexuality and intimacy. Related to the intertwining of psychoanalysis and feminism, postmodernist appropriations of psychoanalysis have also been influential in recent sociological interventions. This has been especially true for the contested modernity/postmodernity debate, in which sociologists as diverse as Anthony Giddens, Alaine Touraine, and Zygmunt Bauman have drawn from Freud to analyze anew the self and self-identity. In the writings of Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Jacques Derrida, which have also had a strong influence on sociological theory, there has been much debate about the fate of the individual or ‘death of the subject’ in postmodernist culture. In all of these discussions, psychoanalysis has provided sociology with conceptual tools for questioning and deconstructing the enlightenment and rationality of progress.

Current Trends in European Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Sociology Let us now turn to consider, finally, some current trends in European psychoanalysis, trends that have impacted in various ways upon the development and deepening of psychoanalytic sociology.

Cornelius Castoriadis: Radical and Social Imaginaries The late European psychoanalyst and social theorist Cornelius Castoriadis has articulated a theory of imagination – at once psychic and social – that has powerfully impacted upon some versions of sociology and social theory. Castoriadis’s reflections on the imaginary principally concern the complex ways in which a world (at once emotional and social) somehow or

Psychoanalysis in Sociology

other comes to be ordered and organized from groundlessness or chaos. In The Imaginary Institution of Society (1987), Castoriadis argues that fantasy is a site of multiple, fractured and contradictory positionings of the individual in relation to self, to other people and to society and history. He claims that the psyche is continually elaborating representations and fantasies; as the flow of representations are produced, so new positionings of self and other are defined, which in turn leads to newer forms of fantasy, identification and cultural association. There is for Castoriadis a delicious indeterminacy at the heart of the Freudian unconscious, such that the regulative hierarchies of self, sexuality, gender, and power are constantly rearranged and sometimes transformed, at least partially as a consequence of this ceaseless psychic flux. At its simplest Castoriadis’s emphasis on the creative nature of the imagination underscores the permutation of fantasies and identifications that selves produce endlessly in relation to society and history. We insert ourselves, through the psychic flux of imagination, at one and the same moment as both creator and created, self and other, identity and difference; we draw on existing social institutions and cultural conventions to produce new images of self and society, which in turn feeds back into the cycle of representations. In all this, Castoriadis’s central theme is creativity – of the individual self and the broader society. Underlining creativity, Castoriadis’s theoretical position is a far cry from the insipid, commercially constructed notion of the ‘ever-new’ in popular culture. What distinguishes Castoriadis’s position from popular understandings of creativity is his stress on the open ended and ambivalent nature of psychic representation and cultural production, and it is this stress, which necessarily involves reflecting on the more distressing aspects of violence, aggression, and destruction in contemporary culture. “Creation”, writes Castoriadis, “does not necessarily – nor even generally – signify ‘good’ creation or the creation of ‘positive values’. Auschwitz and the Gulag are creations just as much as the Parthenon and the Principia Mathematica” (Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991: pp. 3–4). It is hard – says Castoriadis – to grasp, and harder to understand, that sociopolitical paths or fields of imagination stretch all the way from progressive politics to fanaticism and fascism. But the search for alternative futures and the search for autonomy and justice are among the creations in Western history that people value highly and judge positively; the practice of critique, of putting things into question, forms a common starting point for a radical challenge to received social and political meanings. Castoriadis (1989), following Freud, contends that originary fantasy and representation underlies the capacity of the subject for critical self-reflection and autonomy. As he says of psychoanalysis itself: ’the possibility of representing oneself as representational activity and of putting oneself in question as such is not just a philosophical subtlety; it corresponds to the minimum we require of every patient when we try to lead him or her to discover that X is not Y but that it is very much so for his or her own representational activity and that there may be reasons for this’ (1989: p. 27). Representation, unconscious flux, and originary fantasmatization: these are, says Castoriadis, necessary conditions for the possibility of reflectiveness in the individual human subject.


Julia Kristeva: Imagination Reassessed Julia Kristeva, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Paris VII, did her psychoanalytic training with Lacan. Already in her earliest theoretical work, however, she indicated a determination to move beyond the conceptual terrain of Lacanianism narrowly defined. For example, her doctoral dissertation, which was subsequently published as her first book Revolution in Poetic Language, blends linguistics and psychoanalytical theory to advance a novel account of how preverbal experience – infantile, maternal, and poetic – enters into, shapes, distorts, and disrupts language through processes of art, literature, and psychoanalysis. In her more recent work, Kristeva has turned away from Lacan and back to classical Freudianism, and especially toward Kleinian psychoanalysis. According to Kristeva, the psychic work of representation is a universal feature ‘present in all psychic activities and behaviors’, and is by no means restricted to the therapeutic relationship, nor to particular aspects of mental functioning, such as the standard psychoanalytic menu of daydreaming or erotic imaginings. Rather, it is our ordinary experiences – from sporting activities to the practicalities of learning and education – that are saturated with this originary imagination. All psychic activity, says Kristeva, is ‘impregnated with fantasies’. What is clear in Kristeva’s account of fantasy, is that this imaginary domain is inextricably interwoven with the motions of pleasure and unpleasure, the most primitive impulses of desire and aggressiveness which bring a world of subjectivity into being in the first place. Freud astutely captured the theatrical dynamics of sensational life in terms of the logics of dreaming; and it is these affective processes (the dream work), which for Kristeva dominate the mental apparatus from start to finish. Yet what might Kristeva be gaining by drawing attention to the imaginary resilience – the creative representational refashioning of the senses – of everyday life? And what, we might ask, is gained by thinking of what happens to our wishes (inseparable from figure and fantasy) in categories that emphasize the prolinguistic: fantasy life is “expressed in and dealt with by mental processes far removed from words and conscious relational thinking”. Kristeva conceptualizes what she refers to as the ‘protofantasy’ as a kind of oscillation of the imagination, with the human subject internally divided, split between infantile narcissism and the other’s lack. Strictly speaking, if representation is an ‘active presence of fantasy scenes’, this is because desire, for Kristeva as for Lacan, is the desire of the Other. To desire the Other is a kind of fashioning, an imagining of what the other dreams, an imitating, an identification with the other’s desire. Notwithstanding that it is the inescapability of imaginary misrecognition that leaves the human subject to impute an imaginary fullness to the other’s desire which, in fact, pertains only to the representation (i.e., the imaginary plenitude that the subject itself desires), the point is there would be no meaning, not to say anything of the possibility for self-knowledge, without these imaginative fashionings. Kristeva has written in great depth about the length people will go to in creating obstacles to pleasure; in doing so, she has reformulated Freud’s account of Oedipal desire as a general theory of the constitution of the subject and its Baroque imaginings. What is significant to sociology here is that


Psychoanalysis in Sociology

Kristeva’s reflections on the unconscious or preconscious fantasy captures something important about the imaginary making and taking of pleasure in daily life. In Kristeva’s reckoning, the psychoanalytic theory of fantasy is about the human subject’s imaginings that inform, say, perceptions of the body, imaginings about how one sounds and speaks, imaginings about one’s sporting prowess, imaginings about pop stars and celebrities, imaginings about educational advancement and intellectual recognition, and imaginings about where one is headed or what may be wrong with one’s life. More than any other psychoanalyst, perhaps more than Freud’s foundational insights, Kristeva captures the complex ways people use their imagination to make life meaningful. For Kristeva, individuals are captured by, and in thrall to, their unconscious fantasies – these radically strange, foreign social dreams. Such fantasies, in addition to constituting intercourse between unconscious dreams and practical life, are the very imaginings of imagination.

Jean Laplanche: Imaginary Seductions Jean Laplanche trained with Lacan, and his early writings indicate a strong conceptual debt to his former analyst. Indeed, the book for which Laplanche is perhaps best known in the Anglo-American world is The Language of Psychoanalysis (1973), coauthored with J.B. Pontalis – an encyclopedic coverage of core psychoanalytic concepts through the lens of French Freudianism. Further works of psychoanalytic exposition and critique followed, including the influential tract Life and Death in Psychoanalysis (1976), in which Laplanche struggled to remain faithful to the Lacanian modifications to psychoanalysis, principally through expressing his general suspicion of structural theory. It seems likely, however, that Laplanche’s lasting contribution to psychoanalysis derives from his reflections on otherness in the formation of human subjectivity, as developed in his ‘general theory of seduction’, set out in the five-volume Problématiques (1980–87). Laplanche was one of the first post-Lacanians to write of the strange transformations – the condensations, displacements, and reversals – of unconscious repression, which results in the formation of an internal foreign other, of what Freud called a thing-presentation, or the depths of imagination itself. He has been one of the few major psychoanalytic thinkers, period, to focus on the irreducible creativity of unconscious work, by which he means specifically the field of symbolizing activity. His psychoanalytic work, to a considerable degree, represents a series of reflections on the ontology of determinism within Freudianism. Laplanche’s account of the internal otherness – an unconscious of strange, foreign bodies – is foregrounded as at the core of psychic life. As he writes:

Laplanche, like Kristeva, rejects the linguistic imperialism of Lacanian doctrine: “the message can just as easily be nonverbal as verbal”. So too, like Kristeva, Laplanche distances himself from a concern with ‘transhistorical structures’ (phylogenesis, language) in favor of the essential uniqueness and individuality of human imagination. In shifting away from Lacan and back to Freud – returning to prelinguistic psychical representatives or fantasmatic constructions made of images and split from words – Laplanche will emphasize that in the act of psychic translation the singular individual creates in the strongest sense of the term. It could be said that Laplanche is out to provide a social theory of our struggle for representation in the field of symbolizing activity – which, in a sense, has been the subject of all psychoanalytic theories since Freud unearthed the unconscious logics of the dream. For in his preoccupation with the problem of translation – by which is meant the psychic force field of representations, resemblances, contiguities, condensations, and reversals – Laplanche’s work plays ingeniously on a subtle, but definite, relation between human subjects in the context of symbolic and social formations. For Laplanche, it is essential to grasp that the infant is, from the beginning of life, presented with what he calls ‘messages’ (both verbal and nonverbal) by parents, messages which the infant is ill-equipped to adequately deal with or understand on an emotional plane. It makes perhaps less difference what the soft caresses of a mother actually signify as regards the self-understandings of the adult, though part of Laplanche’s interest turns on the way parents always convey far more than they consciously intend. What matters in Laplanche’s scheme is that the infant has been addressed or called with a message, a message that is at once exciting and mystifying. The striking feature of Laplanche’s theorization of the message as enigmatic is its sheer open-endedness. His account of the psychosexual development of the individual subject in terms of the ongoing emotional work of translation a retranslation would make no sense were it not for the recognition that, because of the small infant’s initially limited ways of trying to emotionally process proffered messages, psychic life is always, necessarily, imaginative, creative, and inventive. Unlike the iron determinism of the early Lacan’s emphasis on the Symbolic subjection of the subject, it is the mystifying element of the message that for Laplanche sparks imaginative associations in the child. What is inescapable for the infant – and then subsequently for the adult – is that such mystifying messages demand continual psychic work are in need of continual translation. Indeed, Laplanche himself has acknowledged that he came up with the concept of ‘message’, with all this implies of the need for translation, in order to overcome the rigid determinism of psychoanalysis in France since Lacan.

Concluding Remarks What guarantees the alien-ness of the other? Can one affirm here, with Lacan, the priority of language? If for my part, I speak rather of a “message”, this is for at least two well-defined reasons: firstly, the message can just as easily be non-verbal as verbal; and for the baby it is principally non-verbal. Secondly, emphasising “language” effaces the alterity and individuality of the other in favour of transhistorical structures. (Laplanche, 1997: p. 660)

Castoriadis, Kristeva, and Laplanche are not alone among those theorists of the contemporary age who have wrestled with the question of imagination as well as individual and social transformations affecting imaginary life. Fortunately, for academic social science but also for the demands of sociology, there have been a growing number of voices raising pressing

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political issues about the conditions and consequences of our imaginative interpersonal relations in a postmodern world of fragmentation and fracture. Such authoritative voices today include, to mention only a few: Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, Slavoj Zizek, Homi Bhabha, Christopher Bollas, Lynne Segal, Fredric Jameson, Charles Lemert, Luce Irigaray, Elizabeth Grosz, Nancy Chodorow, Jane Flax, Charles Spezzano, Thomas Ogden, and Jessica Benjamin. Each has drawn from psychoanalysis to develop a particular angle on the changing relations between self and society in the contemporary epoch. Each has focused on specific problematics of current social conditions – from feminism to postmodernism, from psychotherapy to literature – in rethinking the terms of both individual and collective imaginaries. Psychoanalysis, it transpires, continues to provide vital food for thought to sociology in the early years of the twenty-first century.

See also: Critical Theory: Contemporary; Frankfurt School: Institute for Social Research; Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939); Gellner, Ernest (1925–95); Parsons, Talcott (1902–79); Postmodernism in Sociology; Psychoanalysis, History of; Unconscious: History of the Concept.


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