History Of Psychoanalysis Research Paper

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With the centenary of the birth of psychoanalysis, historians have begun to perceive that the biography of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and the interpretation of psychoanalysis constitutes an important chapter in twentieth-century cultural and intellectual history both as a body of theory and as cultural practice. An ongoing attempt to determine the meaning of Freud and psychoanalysis has led to the publication of hundreds of volumes, and the historiography of psychoanalysis has found its own place within the history of science. Historical literature about psychoanalysis ranges from the self-representations and autobiographical works of Freud to the first official biography, from moderate revisionism and contextualized approaches to the harsh, and at times hostile, clinical, feminist, epistemological, hermeneutical, and psychobiographical critiques of today. Each culture has absorbed Freud and psychoanalysis differently; but, a general history of psychoanalysis as a single science can be catalogued in three ways: (a) as a history of the psychoanalytic theories from Freud to the present; (b) as a history of the psychoanalytic movement, its institutions and practices; (c) as a selfreflection on the historiography of psychoanalysis itself.

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1. A History Of The Psychoanalytic Theories From Freud To The Present

The development of Freud’s theory of the unconscious and his psychotherapeutic method can be understood on the basis of his professional development in the context of a process of differentiation and specialization of the sciences, in particular medicine and philosophy, in the late nineteenth century. Historical works of the kind, for example studies of the scientific and social context and the institutional structure of the discipline, have created a methodologically sophisticated and broad view of the psychoanalytic discipline, including empirical research and epistemological interpretation.

Various types of hermeneutical studies of psychoanalysis itself, that is, visions of it as a system of symbols and as a method for culture-decoding rather than as a type of natural science, have broadened the view of the history of psychoanalysis. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Baptiste Pontalis’s Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse (1967), the first conceptual dictionary of psychoanalysis, is based on the techniques of the history of philosophy and the French tradition of the epistemology of the sciences. As the basic concepts of the psychoanalytic theory have undergone changes that reflect the development of the sociopolitical climate, the authors have incorporated the later concepts of Freud and his followers as well as critics who created new schools and theories of psychoanalysis (e.g., Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan). Their attempts have stimulated a whole universe of separate hermeneutical and epistemological studies.

Freud’s psychoanalysis with its keywords subjecti ity and the scientific empirical method has been interpreted as a characteristic product of Viennese modernity, and has been seen as a parallel to phenomena like Zionism and Austromarxism. Bourgeois society and European modernity experienced significant crises in Vienna of the fin de siecle, where psychoanalysis was founded in the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. On a sociopolitical level, the multinational state tended to search for a renewal that included different forms of living. During the period between 1890 and 1910, extraordinary achievements were made in the areas of music, literature, art, and science. These were fundamentally influential for new developments in observation and thought in the twentieth century, and the psychoanalytic theory enjoyed its first heyday in the years before World War I. The following factors were generative forces behind the fin de siecle creativity: the rise of new cultural founding figures of the liberal bourgeousie, the influence of the Jewish intelligentsia, and the upward mobility of immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the resistance against the political dirigism, bureaucracy and the repression of the Church and censorship; the cultural networks established with European centers and circles abroad; the import of foreign ideas; and the intellectual exchange between the submetropoles of the countries of the monarchy (Nautz and Vahrenkamp 1993).

From 1859 until 1938, Sigmund Freud lived and worked in Vienna, and the significance of Vienna as the site of psychoanalysis’ foundation and development is evident. Socio-politico-cultural studies have dealt with Freud’s fin de siecle (see Schorske 1981, McGrath 1986), viewing psychoanalysis within Viennese culture, for example at the juncture of a specific time and place. Special interest has focused on Freud’s Jewish identity and the relationship between Judaism and psychoanalytic theory, ranging from minimalistic to maximalistic explanations.

Psychoanalytic theory and Freud’s biography were and in many ways still are intertwined in a unique way. Therefore, the historian is in the position of having to treat psychoanalytic concepts as both strictly personal documents and as data governed by the architecture of the theoretical system. In Freud’s early texts, the evolution of psychoanalytic theory is presented linearly, as though it were fundamentally the same as any other scientific field, but there are serious historiographic difficulties entailed in approaching psychoanalysis in this fashion. Freud’s self-analysis, his autobiographical writings, and self-created image of psychoanalysis as a science and various theoretical concepts of psychoanalysis (e.g., seduction theory, dream interpretation, Oedipal conflict, resistance, repression, transference, and countertransference) have become prominent in the field of psychoanalytic historiography, including Freud’s own changes of theory throughout his life, as well as post-Freudian developments (e.g., drive-psychology, ego-psychology, the development from defense to adaptation, from instinctual to motivational diversity).

2. A History Of Freud’s Biography, The Psychoanalytic Movement, And Its Institutions And Practices

In the historiography of psychoanalysis, the genre of Freud studies has been differentiated from the historical examination of the psychoanalytic movement in its local national centers and within specific cultures. Biographical studies dominate over sociohistorical works, and the focus has been on the struggle over legacy and legitimacy rather than on a social history of the profession.

2.1 Freud Biographies

Three groups of historical literature about Freud have been described: (a) publications of primary sources, for example Freud’s correspondences; (b) publications of historical materials concerning case studies and theoretical works of Freud; and (c) critical-academic studies about psychoanalysis. The history of Freud biography and the psychoanalytic movement began with Freud’s autobiographical works On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914) and An Autobiographical Study (1925), and in his own historical papers, Freud—in his one-sided but coherent story —suggests that the history of psychoanalysis is basically the history of refusals, resistances, and the necessary regroupings of the orthodoxies (ideas, institutions and people practitioners themselves). His story of psychoanalysis appears to be synonymous with the history of its splits, schisms, and dissidents. But, just as the proliferation of schools and the consequent battles among and splittings within psychoanalytic institutes stimulated abundant polemics, these upheavals also stimulated reworkings of almost every important item in the history of Freud biography.

Dreams from The Interpretation of Dreams, patients from The Studies on Hysteria and later case studies have been analyzed and reanalyzed from new perspectives; all the schisms and quarrels in the history of psychoanalysis were rediagnosed by the latter-day schismatics and schism-haters. Based on newly accessed archival material and historical information, early speculations and widely differing interpretations have been reconsidered. Freud biographies have addressed almost every aspect of Freud’s life (profession, social status, political views, culture, religion, affectionemotion), sometimes in a general fashion, sometimes in a very specific manner, and reflecting the time and the standpoint of their authors. To forestall future falsifications in popular biographies and early attempts at studying Freud’s biography by his pupils and followers, Freud’s daughter Anna Freud felt prompted to authorize Ernest Jones to write a first full-scale biography (Young-Bruehl 1998). Freud studies proper began with the pioneering research of Siegfried Bernfeld; his scholarship was invaluable to Ernest Jones when putting together/his trilogy The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1953–57), yet, at least some of Bernfeld’s findings were suppressed in Jones’. As a member of the first generation of loyal followers, Jones’ monumental work became the precipitant for a third type of historical accounts: critiques of Jones’s biography, or what might be called secondorder biographies.

For a long time, Freud’s prominence nurtured the illusion of an isolated, ahistoric development of psychoanalysis. A cultural-historical approach to Freud became more intense as the 1960s unfolded, as biography was in general too role-model-oriented. With Henri Ellenberger’s The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), a mode of Freud biography contextualizing Freud began to flourish, taking the precursors of Freud’s ideas more into account than Jones did.

2.2 The Psychoanalytic Movement

Interest in supporters, students, and contributors of Freud has long been marginal or limited to only the most well-known representatives. With the publication of The Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Nunberg and Federn 1962–75), a new focus was put on the institutional framework, the form in which these individuals cooperated scientifically, and how they organized their exchanges with other social structures. Works on Freud’s friendships and professional relationships include the dynamical and sociological aspects of the formation of groups, the production of scientific knowledge, the structure of mastery and slavery (often basic to the formation of psychoanalytic institutions), as well as more contextually embedded accounts of specific psychoanalytic cultures. Further, Freud and his Followers (Roazen 1975) stimulated studies of the family networks and subnetworks; as a consequence, biographies of early pupils and later analysts have emerged. Their adherent or schismatic relations to Freud figured largely in these accounts. A special body of historical literature has focused on the role and influence of female patients and analysts. The founding of new psychoanalytic schools has created a new intellectual-historical approach, including the professionalization and institutionalization of the discipline in different cultures and at different times. From the early days of psychoanalysis, the internationalization of psychoanalysis had its own motor and effect on theory and practice (e.g., Kutter 1992, 1995). Taking geographical and temporal particularities into account, a Western (European and North American) perspective has been criticized.

Economic and political circumstances, as well as cultural and sociohistorical connections, have all influenced the theoretical, practical, and organizational developments of psychoanalysis as a discipline and are part of the production of psychoanalysis as a corpus of knowledge. Fenichel (1998) has observed the impacts of outside reality on the production of theory and practice during the years when Central European Jewish psychoanalysts, candidates in training and their families were forced to flee National Socialist Germany and Austria and the occupied countries in Europe. The production of scientific findings and the transformation and transfer of knowledge as social processes in which internal and external factors are in a constant exchange does not minimize the role of the founder of the science of the unconscious in its beginning, but it destroys the illusion of a single isolated discovery. The shifts in the history of psychoanalysis can be seen and interpreted as a complex, dialogical, multi-author enterprise and depend on the studies of the special scientific tradition and the study of psychoanalytic microcultures (see Hale 1995, Lockot 1985, Roudinesco 1982).

3. A Self-Reflection On The Historiography Of Psychoanalysis Itself, And The Problems Of Methodology

The history of psychoanalysis over the past generation has been a rapidly growing, controversy-ridden, and attention-attracting area. Over the past 30 years, each of the historical visions has inspired and/or provoked a revision, and each revision a counter-revision. The history of psychoanalysis has to take into account the peculiar, complex, and powerful interplay among psychoanalysis, historiography, and social, cultural, and political ideology; because this has not been recognized, many widely disparate accounts of psychoanalytic history have been proferred. Neighboring fields, such as the history of medicine, philosophy, psychology and science, women’s studies, the history of law, crime, and deviance, the history of professions, the history of sexuality, the history of the body, and cultural studies, literature, queer gay gender studies, have had their impacts on the historiography of psychoanalysis as well.

Studies in the area of Freud biography and the pre-and early history of psychoanalysis have received more attention. Because connections with later periods seem less powerful and convincing, the fixation on Freud himself and, even more particularly, on the originary decade of Freud’s discoveries have meant that later developments during and especially since Freud’s lifetime are receding in prominence.

The various schools of psychoanalysis have fashioned for themselves idealized genealogies, lines of intellectual filiation between the great minds of the past and contemporary practitioners, tracing a suitable line of evolution, and have been selective of their usable past. They may also assist in sharpening contested interdisciplinary or intradisciplinary boundaries in which ‘positive’ episodes are memorialized, taken as characteristic of the essence, while ‘negative’ ones are omitted, serving to legitimate particular theories and methodologies and delegitimizing others. Historical accounts of psychoanalytic theory and practice have to include thoughts and speculations about the special acquisition and transmission of psychoanalytic knowledge.

A ‘coherent’ picture of Freud and the psychoanalytic movement has undergone a profound change. In the historiography of psychoanalysis, at least two different schools of thought have been described: the ‘official’ history of Freud, which has been largely though not exclusively produced and consumed by practicing psychoanalysts, and a ‘revisionist’ approach that has emerged in the last three decades and has been mainly produced by people working outside of institutional psychoanalysis (e.g. historians, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, political scientists). For a long time, the two groups have debated separately— with a trend to specialization and fragmentation thereby repeating the fragmentation of the object they are analyzing—and have tried to avoid other findings. But lately, a dialogue between historians and clinicians—both interested in history—concerning the history of psychoanalysis has arisen, and there have been attempts to overcome prejudices. One outcome of this dialogue has been the formation of local and international organizations and discussion groups and the establishment of special journals and periodicals. Still, the issues of language, including the problems of translation and the questions concerning authorship and audience remain central, as in other scientific disciplines. Language questions have been correlated with speculative histories on Freud and the psychoanalytic movement.

After the historical optimism of the mid-century period, the height of the professional prestige of psychoanalysis, when there was remarkably little criticism from historians of psychiatry, a revisionist historiography of psychoanalysis was stimulated; traditional biography and the general longitudinal narrative were followed by the study of institutions introducing the ideal of objective, systematic, and quantitative analysis, having in mind methodologically sophisticated, empirically substantial, and sociologically-oriented scholarship. On the other hand, as scholars have argued, the demystifications of hagiographical idealizations have often only generated ‘heroic’ neo-marxist and Foucauldian remystifications. Revisionist and hagiographical literature have been diagnosed by contemporary scholars as both reductionistic and lacking self-reflection.

Psychoanalysis as a theory and a profession emphasizes the value and virtue of self-awareness and in it’s the rapeutical practices often employs a developmental mode of inquiry; nevertheless, with a few exceptions, it has remained resolutely unintrospective about the methodological and ideological conditions under which it writes the narrative of its own past. That is all the more peculiar in light of the past decade’s extensive and sophisticated discussion concerning different conceptual, methodological, and epistemological strategies for writing the history of science generally. Two approaches have been observed, the internalist approach, stressing cognitive development, and the externalist approach, focusing on the social, economic, political, and professional determinants of scientific theory and practice. All history writing has been diagnosed perspectivally as the expression of a particular historical environment, culture, background, and self-consciousness among cultural-critics. LaCapra (1988) emphasizes the Freudian point that any historian’s relationship with the past, and through that with the present, is a transference relationship, and that, in this transference, repetition and denial come more easily than working through and mourning (Smith and Morris 1992).

Jones’ idealization of Freud has been rejected, and, particularly in the medium of psychobiography, a much more contextualized, conflicted, and complicated founder of psychoanalysis has emerged in the historical literature. Jones did not interpret blanks in his documentation as secrets or resistances, but nowadays psychologically informed biographers consider the fact that many of the most important things in people’s lives are never recorded.

Contrary to the sophisticated histories of Freud’s unfolding discoveries, historians have lamented the difficulties of psychobiography, and some of the key methodological problems concerning childhood experiences, the workings of the mind, and the character of thought, have been widely recognized—although such recognition has not yet informed a major historiographical work on psychoanalytic biography and history writing.

Despite the progressive de-Freudianization of psychiatry and psychology in general, Freud’s place as one of the supreme minds of the twentieth century remains secure for most historians. Psychoanalysts have altered psychoanalytic theory over the course of time, their theoretical and methodological findings depending on their analysands, their social context, and the historico-political changes in general. Historiography has altered accordingly, considering and tolerating the complexity instead of simplistic and popular versions of psychoanalysis.


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