Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere
July 1 1999
Dear conference member
We write to you in our capacity as the organising committee which convened after the 1997 Conference. We want to bring you up to date on the position of the conference and to invite your views.
We have decided that we cannot, as a committee, continue to organise the annual conference but, fully realising that the conference belongs to a wider constituency, believe that we should be communicating this decision to you, and inviting your response.
As a committee, we are a group representing many phases of membership: we are a mixture of old stagers and recent new contributors. We think it important to let you know how we came to the difficult decision to end the PPS committee as it presently stands.
Our decision, made after considerable discussion in the committee, was hard in many ways, both personally and professionally. We feel strongly that the conference has never been just a stand-alone event but a way of bringing together a complex web of people and organisations many of whom would continue their conversations between and not just during the conferences. We know this view is shared by many of those who have attended and been involved in the conference over the years, and feel responsible to you as a network.
It has also proved to be a difficult decision because of its timing. Coming as it does two years into a Labour government, it may seem as if the PPS 'movement' was more comfortable in a state of critical opposition - to the many years of Conservative administrations which coincided with all the conferences but one. However, although the political climate is in many important ways different, the jury on Blair and Co. is still out for many of us. There is no sense in which we feel that the distinctive contribution of the PPS style of thinking is now redundant - in fact quite the opposite, since it is just as interesting and bewildering to be 'on the winning side' but to feel ambivalent about whether one can fully identify with the 'winners'. It is necessary to question, understand and challenge the new order.
There is one outstanding reason for winding up the organising committee, and it is quite simply practical. There are not enough of us who are able to give adequate time to putting on a full-scale, professional conference on an annual basis. We are fortunate to rely upon a network of supporters for these occasions and no conference would ever have come off without them. But in the end, there is the administrative work that any conference involves, from the intellectual legwork right through to the organisational arrangements and publicity, etc., to which, given our other commitments, we cannot any longer do justice. Our resources are at a low ebb, and we have had to acknowledge our limits.
Our last conference, in 1997, 'Where are the People?' was a great success, because of its excellent intellectual engagement rather than the numbers attending, which although adequate, were not high. However, as an organising group we floundered somewhat with the interim experimental one-day conference 'Work, Welfare, Wellbeing' we aimed to put on last January. As a consequence of a number of administrative problems, and apparent lack of appeal to enough of the PPS mailing list, we were, with very great regret, forced to cancel.
We have recognised that for the last 5 years or so, the numbers attending our conferences have been falling steadily. Due to financial constraints, which are severe as the conference has to be self-financing, we have had to rely on people's goodwill to manage publicity, which has thus been limited. We do not have the resources as a committee to try to turn this trend around.
Nevertheless we feel that the conferences of recent years have remained of high quality - both in terms of speakers and debate. We do wonder whether the conference has not become a victim of its own success. It seems that the ideas and sensibilities collectively generated by the conferences have picked up their own momentum. Since the first PPS conferences, a lonely voice in a not very interdisciplinary wilderness, there has emerged a plethora of other groupings in this rapidly growing psycho-social area, including degree courses, psychoanalytically-based social intervention organisations, training programmes, conferences and of course the whole "therapeutic culture".
Whatever the distinctive nature of these enterprises, they share in many ways similar concerns to those of PPS. PPS isn't now seen, in the way in which it once perhaps was, as the sole forum for a unique way of thinking.
Our extensive discussions about the decision we should make on the future of PPS inevitably brought us face to face with what the conference had done for us. As well as contemplating a rich, nourishing, stimulating and often highly entertaining history, we discussed a conference which had relentlessly, since its inception, confronted the depleting effects - on us as people and on our creativity, professional identities, tasks and institutions - of a government dedicated to freeing up economic markets wherever it could. A government which undermined the ethos of public service provision based on a dignified caring for those in need, and which pushed people to adopt survivalist strategies in a world where they felt little power or autonomy. We recognised the role of the conference in providing, as one of the conference titles expressed it, a space to think 'under fire'.
The sometimes desperate need for some kind of integration and containment, the need to relate thought and action creatively against the defences of paranoia and splitting; and the difficulties of achieving the complex realism of something like a depressive position - all these have come to the fore as themes of the conference. For many of us, the conference has provided a special kind of free association, of holding, of working through and of creativity.
Finally, it is very important to make clear that although this particular organising committee is coming to its end, the distinctive ideas and psychosocial style of thinking of the PPS network do not. This organising committee doesn't own the conference, or its name. This means that a conference, or another kind of event, might be planned in the future under the heading of PPS if enough people want it and are prepared to put in the effort. We have communicated this view to our sponsor organisations, The University of East London and Free Associations.
We very much want to hear your views. Please write, by 5th
With best wishes
This conference has been postponed until a date later in 1999.
PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE
12th Annual Conference 1999
Our society is largely organised around work and anxieties about work or the lack of it. Mental health and wider welfare policy increasingly hinges on an assumption that to work is good for us. At the same time, more people are increasingly employed, and we are enjoined not to depend on the idea of a job for life. Not to work is damaging and excluding, but work leads to overwork, 'stress at work', and an ethos of superficial attachment. This conference will explore the ambiguities in our time of 'working in order to live' and 'living in order to work'.
This one day event 'Work, Welfare, Wellbeing' aims to develop a dialogue between people engaging with public policy, poverty, psychoanalytically informed thinkers and those involved in the welfare sector. Sally Witcher, ex-Director of Child Poverty Action Group, and Nick Davies author of Dark Hear and columnist on crime and social issues, will address the conference in open plenary session. Andrew Cooper and Julian Lousada (Tavistock Clinic) will bring a Psychoanalytic perspective on welfare and work, in open plenary session.
Small discussion groups will follow the plenary sessions. Workshops will be opened by invited speakers with differing perspectives on the theme:
Mental Health and Work
The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM