Object Relations and Social Relations: The Implications of the Relational Turn in Psychoanalysis

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Object Relations and Social Relations: The Implications of the Relational Turn in Psychoanalysis edited by Simon Clarke, Herbert Hahn and Paul Hoggett Karnac, London, 2008; 210 pp; £21.99

This book represents an important and positive challenge to mainstream clinical psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. It sits within a long tradition of work, reaching back to Freud himself, concerned with the social engagement of psychoanalysis and the contribution of psychoanalysis to social engagement. Many of the authors are experienced psychoanalytic clinicians, all of them know their theory intimately, and each has a distinctive history or sphere of engagement that informs their thinking on a spectrum encompassing clinical work, research, organizational consultancy, front line welfare and teaching. The collection's epicentre is the innovative programme of work led by Paul Hoggett at the University of the West of England, which is part of a growing network of centres for psychoanalytically informed 'psychosocial studies' in the UK. One point of origin for this work lies in the Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere conferences of the 1990s, hosted at the University of East London, where psychosocial studies also still flourish. These were marvellously creative events that helped revitalize a socially radical spirit in British psychoanalysis.

What is the intellectual project at the heart of this book? In her chapter on 'Artistic Output as Intersubjective Third', Lynn Froggett explores some practices associated with 'restorative justice' and refers to one of its aims as seeking ''to restore a sense of connection between victim and offender in which both parties acknowledge themselves to belong to the same moral community'' (p. 89). A sustained critique of psychoanalytic practice and theory that overtly or covertly render patient and analyst as members of different 'moral communities' is one organizing theme of the collection. In various ways the 'relational turn' in psychoanalysis is posited as a solution to the tendency of psychoanalysts and psychoanalysis to assume 'master narrative' status for their theories, practices and clinical discourses. Of course, psychotherapy is much more than just a moral or ethical endeavour. The book's project reflects this amply, constantly weaving its arguments from among a variety of experiential and discursive levels of analysis. But is its core critical endeavour valid, or does it to some degree mirror the projective social and clinical dynamics it seeks to identify in the practices and theories of others?

In her discussion of the importance of relational thinking for psychoanalytic research into the formation of personal identity, Wendy Hollway offers a succinct and careful account of the ontological, epistemological and methodological precepts informing relational psychoanalysis, and the manner in which these imply a distinctive clinical, social and political ethics. Her analysis is deepened via detailed extracts from the records of psychoanalytically trained researchers who undertook observations of the mothers of newborn infants who were participants in the research study she led. A number of the papers in this book function as pairs, and Simon Clarke's 'Psycho-social Research: Relating Self, Identity and Otherness' includes a vivid and moving account of psychoanalytic psychosocial research with a complex, conflicted subject (Billy) who evokes correspondingly divided emotional reactions in the researcher. Rooting himself in the self-reflective work of Habermas and the Frankfurt school, Clarke reveals his own powerful and conflicting identifications with Billy, evoking what Karen Izod later describes as the 'babble' of her inner and outer worlds as she tries to make sense of her professional task. In one sense, all this may seem familiar and recognizable from a conventional clinical perspective - a translation into other domains of inquiry of the need to attend to our countertransference if we are to grasp the deep subjectivity of another person, group or social process. …