| Home - Human Nature Review | What's new | Search | Feedback |


by Robert M. Young

I want to speak about the aims of THERIP: The Higher Education Network for Research and Information in Psychoanalysis. I shall do so in a rather rambling and anecdotal way, but my purpose could not be more serious. What we mean by 'teaching' and 'research' and how we conduct those activities lie — alongside clinical practice and institutional arrangements — at the heart of the discipline. I suggest this is more the case with respect to psychoanalysis than, say, thermodynamics, because of its essentially reflexive nature. Its objects are always in a fundamentally dialectical relationship with the subjectivity of the practitioner, whether he or she be therapist, researcher, teacher or patient or any combination of these.

When I decided to address this theme I had but one thought— a useful, probably even important, one — but the more I thought about the topic, the more complicated, fraught, polemical, risky and daunting it became. My initial thought was, I later came to realize, something of a reprise of a paper I wrote a quarter of a century ago, entitled 'Scholarship and the History of the Behavioural Sciences'. It was an attempt to fight blinkered positivism in what I would now call 'the human sciences' and to draw attention to the importance of a more broadly based history which connected scientific research to the history of ideas. My own way of thinking has broadened (and, I hope, deepened) in the meantime to include social history, ideological determinations and other forces at work in the genesis and dissemination of ideas. I'm sorry that my initial idea for this talk wasn't new and even sorrier that it still needs to be argued. Not to mince words, my point is this: there are standards in scholarship. There are accepted ways of doing things, citing things, researching things. There are standards of decorum in print and between scholars. There are standards of providing access, of allowing use of materials, of completeness of bibliography, of giving permission to reprint in anthologies. I could go on listing such absolutely ordinary, taken-for-granted norms in the academic community and say of all of them that the psychoanalytic community (especially in Britain) seems to me not to have a clue about them and to show very little inclination to learn.

It is part of THERlP's task — even mission — to put this right. In my view, THERIP, along with Free Association Books, the Freud Museum and the programme in Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Kent, constitutes a special sort of space — a space which tries to avoid getting ensnared in the virulent sectarianism, the projections and re-projections and the ghetto-mindedness that constitute much of the psychoanalytic culture and its myriad subcultures in this country, as in, for example, France and Argentina. Of course, in a sectarian world, the group which says that it wishes not to be sectarian is merely declared another sect. To put it differently, in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is not king but is rather likely to have his eye put out.

There are also standards of vision and perspective in scholarship. These are not as nearly universally agreed as the ones about decorum, collegiality, access and civility which I mentioned a moment ago. There are widely agreed ways of setting by which I mean locating — research. One reads the literature and reads around it and around that. I mean to say that all of knowledge — and some of the very best research being done in the helping professions is profoundly and richly illustrating this with respect to medical knowledge — all of knowledge is embedded in a history of ideas, a history of practices, a social history, an ideological history, a period, an epoch, a mode of production. Knowledge is historically and socially located. The point of view of the sociology of knowledge is a sine qua non of decent scholarship. There might now follow a chamber of horrors to justify my polemical tone, but I am anxious not to lose the sweep of my argument, so I'll just give you a taste of the sort of thing that I think happens all the time in psychoanalytic culture.

Shortly before delivering this talk I went to a teaching day on the work of Wilfred Bion, an event which left me wondering if we are witnessing the taming or domestication of Bion's subversive ideas. A bibliography was handed out. It listed all of his works and a few secondary sources. Not a long bibliography, to be sure, but I think it was no accident that the foremost scholar on Bion— the author of seven or eight books, some of which have Bion in the title and one of which is about nothing else — was not on the list. Nor was the second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth best-known commentator on Bion. Why? Sectarianism. He is ours, says one sect. We have the relics. Indeed, would Mrs Bion please stand up to show that we have her blessing. None of the works of that selfsame foremost commentator on Bion was reviewed in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis in the editorial reign of another sectarian. What the scholarly community has to say to such practices is simply that it is not done.

I could spend all of my time regaling you with such petty perversions about and within psychoanalytic scholarship, for example, a long piece about the history of British psychoanalysis which puts Kuhnian ideas like a sticking plaster on to a complex piece of social and intellectual history in a way that no sensible historian of science would think of doing or could get published if he or she tried. But, as I say, I want to keep to a certain level of reflection. Here I want to introduce a sobering thought on the way to a different tack. We must distinguish knowing about from knowing. As I see it, in the realm of knowing, the culture of British clinical psychoanalysis is as rich and inspiring as its scholarly practices are mean and paltry. We may say — and I would say — that scholarship and university teaching of psychoanalysis are pretty bad news in this country. But the good news is that the conduct and writing up of British clinical research is — I hope you'll agree — nonpareil. I went for a number of years to an annual meeting of radical analysts from all over Europe - hundreds of them, excellent at metapsychology and Hegel and so on. My colleague, Karl Figlio, got up one year and observed that no one ever spoke of clinical case material. That was true, and it could not — would not — happen in a British context. I'm told by Sherry Turkle that the same is largely true in Lacanian circles in France, although I have no direct experience and have learned a lot from the clinical writings of non-Lacanian French analysts, for example, André Green, Joyce McDougall and Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel.

Think of the clinical papers of Klein, Winnicott, Little, Bollas, Rosenfeld, Joseph, Segal, O'Shaughnessy, Meltzer, Tustin, Hyatt Williams. They are gripping, moving, illuminating. The integration of the clinical with the theoretical is often beautiful. Compare this with the style and rhetoric of much of American writing (I would make exceptions of Joel Kovel, Victor Wolfenstein and Harold Searles). Much of the American work is so burdened with scientistic metapsychology that the human story gets lost. The British School is particularly evocative in the area of writing up research on psychotic, borderline and autistic patients, and this has been done in such a way that the illumination of the primitive in all of us is much enhanced.

I suggest that there is a similar bad news/good news dichotomy with respect to teaching. Here I speak from very personal experience, having attended university lectures on psychoanalysis and having lectured on it myself for a decade. My own case is illuminating, since I now feel that my lectures (well-attended and, I think, appreciated) bore no relationship to what I would say today. They were clear and interesting, but I had not been analysed and had not done clinical work as a therapist. I would now do it entirely differently, and this poses a real problem for university teaching of psychoanalysis. I was offering didactic knowledge — knowing about. I hope I would now offer evocative knowledge in which the intellectual and theoretical was illustrated by, and integrated with, the clinical.

In my experience, lectures and theoretical seminars on psychoanalysis both in the education sector and in the London trainings are not very good. These forms of teaching are not seen as aspects of a vocation or a high calling. I can think of one or two exceptions, but for the most part I believe that the teaching is poor and that the teachers do not prepare themselves properly. This should change; otherwise we are in the grip of a deplorable state, since practice without theory is blind, just as theory without practice is empty.

The good news is that teaching in the sense of clinical supervision of therapy sessions is excellent. It is often said to be the best in the world. British clinicians are in demand all over Europe, North America, South America, even South Africa and India. Some ideas (Michael Rustin says this of Kleinian ones) are best understood through the supervision of process reports of clinical sessions, carefully recorded.

It is sometimes said that the older you get the harder it is to learn. Well, I was in my late forties when I began clinical supervision, and I am glad to report that I have never learned more or in a more satisfying way than from my supervisors, Bob Hinshelwood, Judith Jackson and Alex Tarnopolsky. Of course, as Charlotte Balkanyi once said to me when I said that one's own analysis comes first, ’It also comes second, third, fourth and fifth’. I can't say how this criterion of having clinical experience should weigh in our sense of THERIP. I'm of the 'let a hundred flowers bloom' school, but I'm sure this is a deep question for us, one which we should discuss at length. Most trainings allow only clinically trained therapists to teach, and they thereby lose the services of good academics. Most academics have little or no clinical experience but know a lot about pedagogy, theory, the setting of knowledge. There are very few people who are academically trained scholars as well as being therapists. I have in mind Joel Kovel, Victor Wolfenstein and Peter Gay in America. In Britain Karl Figlio, Margot Waddell, Martin Stanton, David Mayers and I come to mind. But there are not many.

This raises serious questions. It is too easy to say that knowing is all and comes from the couch, while knowing about is alienated, not inward - the labours of a desiccated Casaubon (you'll recall Dorothea Brooke's boring husband who was working on a universal mythology in Middlemarch). One cannot even say that scholarly procedures are the key. Some who sketched and leaped gave us insight. I am thinking of Michel Foucault and David Bakan. Some who might seem ideal have grave liabilities. Jones's biography of Freud is, in its way, a fine work. But it is utterly sanitized. Ernest Jones had a very bad case of false consciousness about the social and ideological articulations — or lack of them — of psychoanalysis. Consider this quotation from a letter Jones wrote at the time of the Lucerne congress in I934, at the height of the Nazi take-over of psychoanalysis:


We see once more that Politics and Science do not mix any better than oil and water. We know, as psychologists, that the motives impelling men to change a given social order are of the most varied kind, a medley of laudable and ignoble impulses in which the desire to ascertain truth seldom plays any but the most subordinate part. So that anyone engaging in such activities must necessarily be impelled by motives other than scientific ones. The master of our school, though well-known to be strongly imbued with humanitarian desires for the betterment of human life, has always known how to keep these strictly apart from his scientific work, which has therefore never suffered in its purity. In this, as in so many other respects, he has set us an example we should do well to follow. There are not wanting among us signs of impatience with social conditions and eagerness to engage in the changing of them. From what I said it follows that whoever yields to such impulses becomes by so much the less a psychoanalyst. And to attempt to propagate his particular social ideas in the name of psychoanalysis is to pervert its true nature, a misuse of psychoanalysis which I wish firmly to denounce and repudiate.

Anna Freud echoes this in her zeal to repudiate Wilhelm Reich. What is offensive to her and her father in Reich 'is the fact that he has forced psychoanalysis to become political, psychoanalysis has no part in politics' (quoted in Steiner, I989).

These could provide the texts for a whole book on the question of science and ideology with respect to creativity, group process and the wider historical and social processes of psychoanalysis. Jones and Anna Freud here provide us with a mixture of unexceptionable homilies and utter naiveté. Yet we had in him a consummate politician. He was, as he wrote, in the midst of a disreputable compromise (many would more truly say sell-out) with respect to German psychoanalysis. He was also a man who, as Andrew Paskauskas has shown, could function with great panache with respect to tendencies in the movement and his own position as chief apparatchik. This was true of Jones's relationship with Jung, with Anna Freud and with Melanie Klein, among many others.

I would argue with, say, a Sherry Turkle, a John Sutherland or (to some extent) a Phyllis Grosskurth that we have to work our way through the complexities, entanglements and base motives to the depressive position of how good work emerges from terrible ructions. I'm an advocate of knowing which is embodied, articulated, textured, reflexive about its determinations: warts and all.

There is, of course, a deeply pathological version of this position. Juliet Mitchell once said of Grosskurth that her biography of Klein read as if its author didn't like anyone. I disagree, but I know what she meant. I have often thought that some writers want only to drag eminent analysts down to their own level, in varying degrees of gossip, bitterness about humanity or addiction and polymorphous perversity. Such authors take us to muck without refining it and producing something redeeming. Then there are those who, while impeccably scholarly in research and citation, tell a highly biased story. I have in mind Frank Sulloway's biologization of Freud at the expense of the profound literary and cultural dimensions of psychoanalysis.

Occasionally someone writes a balanced and wise account. I believe that Peter Gay has done this with his Freud biography. What he achieves is the closest to an integration of the personal-cum-intrapsychic, intellectual, social, cultural and large-scale political history of any biography I can recall except for Wolfenstein's psychobiography of Malcom X. Throughout the text, Gay gives each of these levels of analysis its due and interweaves their roles to the degree that he feels able to do so in a given episode. Some are tightly woven, some loosely, some left until more evidence is available — as, for example, how intimate was Freud's relationship with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays? Of the biographical studies I have read it is also the most evocative and touching about the texture of Freud's life. This is particularly true with respect to his account of the privations suffered during and after World War I. We are given careful expositions of just what it was like to be without food, to suffer mega-inflation, to need food packages with this or that particular item sent from abroad. He also gives a close account of the rise of Nazism and the decision to emigrate in I938. Finally, we are given the details of Freud's long illness, its terminal stages and his death. The last of these is told with great dignity, and the final passage is beautifully written. Here is psychoanalytic research at its best, penned by a social and cultural historian who has undergone an analytic training in his mid-fifties (something which can be done in the United States, though not in Britain).

I also want to express my admiration for a group of writers about Freud's neurological period — Ernst Kris, Ernest Stengel, Peter Amacher and David Rapaport. Here academic research is used to illuminate the assumptions of classical psychoanalysis. Work this careful now needs to be done about the history of British psychoanalysis, and I'm glad to say that some of it is being done by Bob Hinshelwood and Eric Rayner.

I have my own shopping list for psychoanalytic teaching and research. I think we have much to say about the theory of culture especially consumerism. We also have to do a lot of work at the interface between epistemology and Bion's alimentary theory of thinking. I would like to see more non-Lacanian film studies and a British tradition of literary work around psychoanalysis. But I also think that psychoanalysis has much to say about popular culture, political psychology and group processes, including the group processes needed to revive a radical subculture in a form that can endure rather than collapse under the weight of the return of the repressed. Much work needs to be done about psychoanalysis and racism, an area in which one hears a loud silence except with regard to the Holocaust. This, of course, reflects the 'ethnic mix' of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

I won't go on except to say that as I see it, in the scholarly sense, British research has to start from scratch, while British teaching needs to be considered an important activity with standards of pedagogy. In the clinical realm, I would argue that the highest standards are already being met in both research and teaching. There is a deep irony around my remarks. 'Standards' is a word much mooted by various psychoanalytic institutions and trainings, usually implying that they are maintained 'here' but not 'there'. Well, they really are here, in scholarship. Is it too much to hope that we can in due course achieve an integration of these — that knowing and knowing about can come together in the same space, a space I hope THERIP will do much to create, nurture and maintain?


Steiner, Ricardo (1989) "'It's a New Kind of Diaspora"', Int. Rev. Psycho-Anal. I6:25-78.

Young, Robert M. (1966) ‘Scholarship and the History of the Behavioural Sciences’, History of Sci. 2: 1-51, 1966.

3140 words

This paper was originally delivered as a talk to THERIP (The Higher Education Network for Research and Information in Psychoanalysis), 18 March 1989. It is reprinted from Free Associations (1993) Volume 4, Part 1 (No. 29): 129-37

Copyright: The Author

Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ


The Human Nature Review
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -

Amazon.com logo

UK -

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | Books and Reviews | The Human Nature Daily Review | Search |