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 by Robert M. Young

What I want to talk about today is difficult to characterize, and, if I could achieve that, it is also difficult to say what would follow. When I received the call for papers for this year’s Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere conference I had a truly ambivalent reaction. The formulation was exquisitely and thrillingly what I would have wished it to be, and yet I was stung with bitter irony, since I strongly believe that our own institutions — by which I mean the conference planning group, the institutions to which most of us belong (including the Tavistock Clinic, the University of East London and the University of Sheffield) and the culture of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and the helping professions — will not come well out of such scrutiny.

You may say that I am being utopian in arguing that there should be high standards of accountability in our subculture. You may even say that I am being ultra-leftist or libertarian in believing that we are any more accountable to one another than people in any other line of work or profession. My reply is that this conference and its constituency have identified themselves as standing for higher values in the psychoanalytic world, as did the initiatives and institutions associated with it.

Let’s look at some of those. My perception is that many of them have prospered but at the expense of the vision which originally brought us together. Some have not prospered, and one or two have quite dramatically not done so. The pioneering Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Kent is being wound up at the end of next year. Its director has been induced to take early retirement, and its other staff are being returned to the departments from whence they came. There are reasons for this concerned with academic standards and standards of student welfare. Second, Free Association Books has been taken away from its original owners, staff and supporters by a series of questionable manoeuvres on the part of new shareholders who did not wish to follow the founders’ vision and who manipulated things and broke solemn undertakings which resulted in their being able to take over the company and expel its originators. It is now owned one hundred per cent by a person who is no part of our subculture and who deeply regrets what has been lost from the company but doesn’t seem to know how to put things right. Perhaps more importantly, a site for radical publishing is in the hands of people who do not share or even comprehend our politics or values.

There have recently been major splits in at least two of the psychotherapy organizations whose members are, I submit, natural affiliates of our conference, the Arbours Association and the Philadelphia Association. Both concerned quite fundamental questions of principle about democracy and how one should treat colleagues. Both concerned hierarchies. Both concerned sexual politics. Of course, the disputants inevitably disagree over what the issues really are. In certain other psychotherapy training programmes and MA programmes in psychoanalytic studies there are serious issues about standards, appointments and management. A major organization which provided a forum for debate and which was thought to be free from sectarian affiliation has become captive to a single voice, and the pluralists have left its management committee. I am referring to THERIP, The Higher Education Network for Teaching and Research in Psychoanalysis, which is now a Lacanian front.

And then there is the much lager issue of the relations between the UKCP and the BCP, about which I have written a number of essays. What is important about this, for the purposes of this essay, is the effect it has on people’s minds and self-esteem. There is a hegemony, as a result of which people who care about standards are told that they have to line up with the BCP. I am very weary of this issue, but I continue to feel that people of the left, some of whom attend this conference more or less regularly, have chosen not to see that quite basic political issues are involved in this conflict. The ruthless, unscrupulous and unremitting machinations of the BCP are so devious that I cannot briefly and accurately summarize them here, thought I have tried to do so in essays at my web site. Suffice it to say that both the process and the current situation are undemocratic and inimical to freedom of choice, in particular, the choice to belong to both organizations. I am not suggesting that the promoters and defenders of the UKCP are white hats, while those who promote the BCP are blackguards. There is a mixture as in all realities. However, there is a line-up of forces which I find sinister, and it is not confined to clinical training organizations. It connects to an axis of patronage which reaches across London and links two key institutions of enlightenment and promotion of the psychoanalytic vision. The two absolutely key patrons in those institutions are on the wrong side of the UKCP/BCP debate, and their protégés and close colleagues are strikingly silent or unwilling to engage with the issue, just as the BCP is very reluctant to take part in public debate. (I also remain struck by the unwillingness of one of these people to acknowledge his role.) I am not just referring to the issues which are overtly controverted between these organizations. Perhaps more fundamentally, I am trying to raise the question of how decisions get made. I mean the role of deference, cronyism and nepotism in the subculture of the psychoanalytic left in this matter, as in others concerning not only the UKCP and BCP but also the University Association of Psychoanalytic Studies, the Universities Psychotherapy Association and the various university courses and psychotherapy trainings which make up much of our clinical and academic world.

You may say, ‘It was ever so!’ and point me to the literature on the history of psychoanalytic organizations, for example, in Britain, France and North and South America. In particular, you could point me to Elisabeth Roudinesco’s recent writings on psychoanalysis in France and her biography of Lacan and claim that compared to those settings we are models of civility and have managed to avoid the cult of the psychoanalytic guru. You could also point me to the literature on group relations, institutions and to theories about the circulation of elites. One of the best articles I have ever read was one by Barbara Heyl about the group of people around L. J. Henderson at Harvard 1n the 1930s, and how his ‘Harvard Pareto Circle’ was imbued with organic analogies intermixed with the conservative social theories of Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian social philosopher, to lay the foundations of American functionalist social science in the writings of Crane Brinton, George C. Holmans and, above all, Talcott Parsons, the doyen of American conservative functionalist social science, and mentor to the doyen of the sociology of science, Robert K Merton. Donna Haraway tells a number of stories which interdigitate with this one in tracing the rise of biological psychology and psychiatry, primatology, systems theory and cognitive science in her magisterial study, Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science. A continuation of this story is being enacted before our eyes in the development of Darwinian psychology from these same roots in biologistic social science which extends from the sociobiology of the 1930s to the reformulated discipline of the same name under the inspiration of E. O. Wilson in 1975 and on to the current and putatively all-encompassing vogue of Darwinism in psychology which, according to Daniel Dennett, embraces epistemology and everything else. He quite literally calls it ’a universal solvent’. There is a growing hegemony in the human sciences around the selfish gene, the current rendering of the Victorian concept of the survival of the fittest.

I am not sketching these developments as a digression. What I want to draw attention to is the fine texture of the network of power and patronage which makes this sort of hegemony possible. Haraway details it institution by institution, appointment by appointment, journal by journal; Heyl offers a microscopic study of a single patronage network in a single university. My aim in this paper is to suggest that we are not exceptions to this sort of wielding of intellectual and political power, and our junior colleagues and students are just as constrained by our beliefs and affiliations as are the characters in the stories told by Heyl and Haraway. In the midst of the UKCP/BCP debate I vividly remember making a straightforward moral criticism of the behaviour of the then head of my training organization, only to be told by a member of the committee of this conference that such criticisms made her uncomfortable, and she’d rather not hear them, since he had been her much-admired supervisor. The message was not to speak ill — even in a different context — of the political behaviour of a significant figure, a mentor, in her clinical training. In suggesting that many of the activities in our world are bounded by the patronage of two key mentors, I am not saying that the UKCP/BCP issue is central for everyone. Rather, I am trying to convey something about a political space which is more narrowly bounded that those who live within it may acknowledge or be aware of, any more than they consciously experience the political limits imposed on their imaginations, affiliations and activities. It is in living within such consensual boundaries that we find hegemony, ideology and the unconscious coming together and truncating people’s clinical and theoretical work and their social relations, broadly conceived.

As I mentioned in my plenary address last year, a number of the founders of this conference are now in positions of authority and patronage. Mike Rustin, Andrew Cooper, Andrew Samuels, Paul Hoggett,. Barry Richards, Bob Hinshelwood and I are all professors, and Karl Figlio is head of a centre. I own two journals, have founded a third, am on the board of ten and am currently involved in setting up several new ones. Bob Hinshelwood has founded two, and a new one on the history of psychoanalysis is about to be launched. I have published over three hundred volumes and have written and edited another dozen or so. Margot Waddell is co-editor of a new and exciting list of books exclusively from the Tavistock Clinic which is being published by Duckworth. We function within affiliations, make alliances, indulge in and elicit forms of deference and defend loyalties, e.g., in at least one case, a relatively uncritical loyalty to the Institute of Psycho-analysis. We are, in our subculture, the sorts of people about whom papers like Barbara Heyl’s and books like Donna Haraway’s will be written in due course.

It must be said that we are the senior generation. For example, I am three years off the retiring age. And yet, in spite of all of our shared ideals and histories, it is my settled view that we are in no serious sense — personally or politically — accountable to one another. You may say, ‘Why should we be?’ To be sure, I am not on the appointments committees of either of the universities which recently made appointments with which I strongly disagreed. Indeed, I don’t seem to have much say about appointments in my own university. I cannot ring up an old friend and ask why he is treating a candidate for a university post in a way which distresses me or warn against appointing someone who I know is truly impossible. Strictly speaking, of course, I ‘have no standing’ I these matters. Come to that, in previous years I found it well nigh impossible to make criticisms of people not doing what they said they would on the planning committee for this conference or make criticisms for treating fellow committee members in wounding ways. There seems to be no way of working things through or even thrashing them out. It is assumed that strong disagreement is bad, that it is not done. People who strongly disagree just go away. There is no structured way of pursuing a sustained process of conflict resolution. My impression is that we adhere to the taboos about what can and cannot be discussed which are characteristic of what is called ‘professional ethics’, and that means no critiques of character or collegial dynamics. People who have institutional power exercise it in traditional ways and tend not to involve many colleagues in strategic thinking. On one strategy committee it became increasingly clear that what was happening was really a series of plebiscites. Plans were to be aired, and then, after people had ’freely’ expressed their views, the director would do what he had originally envisaged. When people persisted in disagreeing, matters were no longer brought before the committee, and then the meetings were increasingly postponed and then cancelled.

I am trying to draw attention to a fundamental matter of process in our own proceedings. There is no structured way of pursuing a sustained process of conflict resolution and no commitment to finding one. We who advocate democracy and the politics of process strike me as no better at it than the people whom we regard as to the right of us and as the establishment. In spheres where we are in power we do not seem to me to behave much, if any, better.

Two people whom I respect in most ways take the view that it cannot be otherwise. One says that everyone behaves badly, that all institutions are corrupt and that there is nothing that can be done. Beyond that, he says that since people behave badly out of anxiety, to confront them with the wrongness of their behaviour will only increase their anxiety and lead them to behave even more badly. I take this to be a counsel of despair: we can analyse them but we cannot criticise or hope to change people by appealing to moral or political values. Another — who is being honoured across town this very day — wrote ’A Swiftian Diatribe’ against all institutions and a trenchant critique of the inner worlds of those who strive for power and live in their inner worlds at the nether end of their own psychic digestive tracts, which he calls ’the claustrum’. According to Meltzer, such people will do anything to get and retain power, no matter at whose expense, and they are, he claims, in terror of being expelled out the psychic anus and into a schizophrenic breakdown. I recognize this personality type in a small number of figures in the psychoanalytic establishment, but (call me naive if you wish) I do not see it in the characters of more than one or possibly two of the people who have been fairly regular attenders of our annual conferences. And yet we do not deliberate together or lay ourselves open to consultation from people outside our particular institutions. There is no left caucus outside particular patronage networks, no right to say one’s piece, much less present arguments for an alternative approach. The rule is to live and let live. We inhabit a series of fiefdoms which do not, on the whole, interact. Putting this point another way, loyalty to our institutional affiliations take precedence over our broader political beliefs. We are members of this or that institution at a deeper level than we are leftists, socialists, or dissidents of any kind.

I now want to bring my reflections even closer to home by quoting three of the four paragraphs from the aforementioned admirable call for papers to this conference: 

Authority, tradition and modernisation in psychoanalysis and in society need to be connected not sundered. We will welcome papers and presentations which give substance back to concepts like 'responsibility', 'adulthood', 'authority', 'compassion', ’leadership’ and ’governance’. We will be interested in papers which can present examinations of predicaments in concrete situations or specific institutional contexts, and which may deal with ambiguities of role and of task in psychoanalytic, political or policy terms. This will help us to think about what it means to be, for example, 'a teacher' or a 'citizen' or ’social worker’, or to describe forms of creative social action which embody such meanings.

Daily experience is often in contradiction with public rhetoric but cannot gain an adequate hearing. Public and political discourse is increasingly emptied of desire, of a felt relationship to personal and social struggle. Contact with the messiness, ambivalence and conflict of everyday experience seems to have become too dangerous, too threatening as a source for political vision.

The title of the 11th Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere Conference, ’Where are the People? Expertise and Experience’, invites contributions which reveal and articulate how psychoanalytic thinking and engagement can rebuild the bridge between private troubles and public issues. The conference will address the question of how psychoanalysis can illuminate processes of social leadership, policy formation, and social transformation.

We are invited to ’give substance back to concepts like "responsibility", "adulthood, "authority", "compassion", "leadership" and "governance"’, to connect public discourse to personal and social struggle, to make contact with the messiness, ambivalence and conflict of everyday experience, to rebuild a bridge between private troubles and public issues — all in the service of illuminating social leadership, policy formation and social transformation.

I could not agree more. However, my experience in our own institutions — training organizations, university programmes, left projects and this conference — is that it is hell’s own job to get such discussions and attention to concrete matters going, much less sustain them. Two or three years ago we were asked in the closing plenary to create some way of sustaining communication between annual conferences. An email forum and web site were created, and a print version for ongoing debates was mooted but has not come on stream. I think I am right in saying that no member of the conference except me contributes to the forum or proposes articles for the web site. I am even short, after several requests, of one of the plenary addresses to last year’s conference. Why do we not support our own responses to requests from our own participants? This may, of course, simply reflect how few of us are as yet on the net, but I can think of a large handful who are and are active in the conference but who have been utterly silent. Copies of talks given to the conference have been requested for the web site. None has arrived from the 1996 conference except from me. I should add that on an average day forty-five people from round the world access our conference web site and its archives. The web site provides an excellent way of sharing our deliberations with potentially sympathetic people from all over and inviting them to join in our deliberations. I hope we can make more use of the web site in the future and hope that the authors of papers presented to this year’s conference will be more forthcoming with their papers.

I asked a contributor to a recent conference to comment on an essay of mine in the light of the paper he gave which I felt took a very different line from mine. I waited a year before reminding him. That was a year ago (or was it two?). There has been no response. Regular attenders of the conference have voluntarily taken on responsibilities — editorial tasks and writing commitments — for Free Associations and have simply not fulfilled them. A touching gesture was made when two of us resigned from the conference committee after many years of stalwart service. One was a bouquet presented to the outgoing chairperson at the meeting after the last conference. The other was the promise of a CD for me. It arrived almost a year later — as it happened, on my birthday. It is lovely and much appreciated, but I hope I am right to think it isn’t wild analysis to attach the word ’ambivalence’ to the giving of the present.

When Free Associations was in danger of being sold by the people who acquired control over Free Association Books, an initiative was taken whereby some members of the board might have formed a consortium to buy it. However, the first gesture was to get in touch with the people newly in control of the press, rather than with me, with the result that when I made up my mind not to let it be sold I had to pay a multiple of what I could have got it for if I had been consulted first. A market had been created, so the sellers could hold out for a commercial price where they had up until then had no bidders and would have sold it for very little. Moreover, I was told by the person exploring buying the journal that he thought that, in the light of my increasingly critical attitude toward the Institute of Psycho-analysis and other matters in the culture of psychoanalysis, perhaps it was no longer a good idea that I should be editor of the journal, one which I founded and which I have kept going at my own expense over many years.

More recently I have been told that it is thought in some quarters that my criticisms of the behaviour of the Institute of Psycho-analysis and its deferential fellow travellers in the ongoing UKCP/BCP affair means that I have turned against psychoanalysis. I have tried to correct this impression in what I have written and say again here that what I am criticising is the arrogant belief that any one institution or group of practitioners own or have an exclusive right to ‘speak for psychoanalysis’. I use that phrase, because the external relations officer of the Institute said in my presence at a public meeting last March that ’only the Institute of Psycho-analysis speaks for psychoanalysis’. The implication is that people affiliated to the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) have some sort of copyright and proprietary relationship with psychoanalysis. Lacanians are the first to reject this claim and defy convention in this country by calling themselves psychoanalysts. Practically all other psychoanalytic practitioners in Britain (including me) defer to the tradition that only members of the Institute of Psycho-analysis call themselves psychoanalysts. There are about 300 of them practising in Britain. The other 2000 plus psychoanalytic practitioners call themselves psychoanalytic psychotherapists. It is therefore just about a plausible claim (pace the Lacanians) that the only the Institute speaks for psychoanalysts, but psychoanalysis is another matter. Barry Richards, Ros Minsky, Mike and Margaret Rustin, Paul Hoggett, Karl Figlio, Gianna Henry, Em Farrell, Jeanne Magagna — to name but a few colleagues whose names and writings come readily to mind — all speak admirably for psychoanalysis in this country. I should perhaps add that Donald Meltzer, Charles Rycroft and David Malan speak for psychoanalysis in this country, as well, and yet all of them have resigned from the Institute of Psycho-analysis. Many esteemed writers who are not members of the IPA speak eloquently for psychoanalysis abroad, e.g., Gérard Bléandonu, Michael Eigen, Kenneth Eisold, the late Harold Boris. Moreover, in America, France, Brazil and Argentina and perhaps elsewhere there are many non-IPA psychoanalytic institutions whose members speak for psychoanalysis and call themselves psychoanalysts. Who on earth do the people think they are who are attempting to own a rich tradition and treat critics of that approach as enemies? It is grotesque. I owe a great deal to orthodox psychoanalysis, but it also owes a great deal to me and people such as those I have mentioned. I should also mention in passing that, with a small handful of admirable exceptions, analysts rarely attend conferences, including this one (except as speakers, in which case they typically only turn up to give their papers) which are not mounted by analysts or psychiatrists. They must think they have nothing to learn.

You may wonder why I am labouring this point. One reason is that it has lately been pissing me off. A serious reason why it has been doing so is the theme of a recent paper of mine, entitled ‘Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: The Grand Leading the Bland’, in which I argue that the hierarchy of training organizations, the role and machinations of the BCP and the elaborate deference to IPA psychoanalysts on the part of many leading figures in the worlds of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, psychoanalytic scholarship and teaching have a baleful hegemonic influence on people whom I believe would otherwise be more outspoken, publish more and be more original and creative. I believe that we are living in a caste-ridden subculture in which people known to me — former colleagues and even comrades — live in the lee of a structure of patronage which requires deference to the Institute of Psycho-analysis and certain of its members and protégés for legitimacy, joint projects, referrals and access to publishing outlets. Ask yourself how many spaces there now are in psychoanalytic publishing for dissident voices. Routledge, Karnac and the current regime at Free Association books dominate the field.

This sort of hegemony — by which I mean the organization of consent without the use of overt force and without much of the structure of power being subjectively experienced by those labouring under it — leads to some pretty breathtaking behaviour. I’ll give some examples which never cease to amaze me. The analysts controlling the Lincoln Clinic and Centre for Psychotherapy removed the organisation from the UKCP without consulting the membership. When the membership voted on three successive occasions to rejoin, the Professional Committee simply ignored the votes (all by substantial majorities), and the person who was then its chair (who also held the most senior position at the Tavistock Clinic) announced at the AGM after the last vote that they were not going to accede to the vote and also ruled that no discussion of this matter would be allowed. When the issue was raised again at a subsequent meeting it was made very clear which way students were expected to vote and that voting for UKCP membership would jeopardise membership in the BCP, and the majority was reversed. It is no wonder that people depending on this person for patronage — which in some cases means jobs and in others co-operation over programmes — either defer to his views or take care to hold no views on this matter.

In closing, I want to quote once again two sentences from the call for papers: ’Public and political discourse is increasingly emptied of desire, of a felt relationship to personal and social struggle. Contact with the messiness, ambivalence and conflict of everyday experience seems to have become too dangerous, too threatening as a source for political vision.’ I think those are profound words and thank whoever drafted them. The passion I feel in reflecting on them is that of heartbreak. It breaks my heart that a group of people could come together and bring into being a number of radical initiatives such as this conference, FAB, FA and various courses only to find that as they prosper their relationship with more conservative values has clouded visions, blunted purposes and led to a deeply regrettable accommodation with a psychoanalytic establishment which is, on the whole, far to the right — in its authoritarian and hierarchical ways of doing things — of our politics of a decade ago. It can, of course, still be claimed that we are committed to the public sector in, for example the Tavi and the universities and to working with disadvantaged patients and students. But I have always felt that radical politics was something more than noblesse oblige while we carry on conducting the process of our political and social relations in traditional, indeed, increasingly traditional, ways. When I look at what passes for the left in the broader culture — Blair and Clinton, to name but two — I am not astonished, but I an certainly sad and weary. I may be getting too old to be an actual manual labourer in the spadework and the pouring of the concrete, but I would dearly love to see who, if anyone, is queuing up for the task mentioned in the call for papers: ’to rebuild the bridge between private troubles and public issues’. I still think the personal is the political and that only purity of means can justify and lead to good ends.


Paper presented to 11th Annual Conference on Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere: ’Where Are the People? Expertise and Experience’, University of East London, 30-31 January 1998.


Dennett, Daniel C. (1995) Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. N. Y.: Simon & Schuster; reprinted Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.

Haraway, Donna (1989) Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. Routledge.

______(1990) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Free Association Books.

Heyl, Barbara (1968) ’The Harvard "Pareto Circle"’, Journal of The History of the Behavioral Sciences, 4 (No. 4): 316-34; reprinted in C. Chant and J. Fauvel, eds., Darwin to Einstein: Historical Studies on Science and Belief. Longman/Open University Press, 1980, pp. 135-55; also at web site http://www.shef.ac.uk/~psysc/rmy/circle.html

Meltzer, Donald (1992) The Claustrum: An Investigation of Claustrophobic Phenomena. Strath Tay: Clunie.

______ et al. (1986) ’A Swiftean Diatribe’, in Studies in Extended Metapsychology: Clinical Applications of Bion’s Ideas. Strath Tay: Clunie, pp. 191-202.

Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere/ Free Associations web site http://www.shef.ac.uk/~psysc/rmy/fa.html

Roudinesco, Elisabeth (1990) Jaques Lacan & Co. A History of Psychoanalysis in France 1925-1985. Free Association Books.

______ (1997) Jacques Lacan: Outline of a Life, History of a System of Thought. Cambridge: Polity.

Young, Robert M. (1996) The Culture of British Psychoanalysis and Related Essays on Character and Morality and on The Psychodynamics of Psychoanalytic Organizations.

______ (1997) ‘Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: The Grand Leading the Bland’

Copyright: The Author

Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Rd., London N7 9RQ


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