Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

In Search for a Psychoanalytic Research Strategy: The Concept of Ideal Types

Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

In Search for a Psychoanalytic Research Strategy: The Concept of Ideal Types

Article excerpt

Aspects of a Development of a Psychoanalytic Qualitative Research Strategy

"Formal psychoanalytic research has had a chequered history in psychoanalysis, a discipline rooted and developed through the clinical data of the therapeutic consulting room" (Wallerstein & Fonagy, 1999, p. 91).

According to our empirically-minded critics we psychoanalytic researchers would be well advised to amend our methods to enable us to measure certain items and so get hold of so-called objective data; given the nature of our material, however, this presents us with fundamental difficulties. It is a peculiarity of our subject matter, especially the introjection of the therapeutic relationship, that the aspects which interest us are disguised, subject to change and often overdetermined because largely unconscious defence mechanisms disguise the aspects which interest us (cf. Deneke & Stuhr, 1992). There is therefore little hope of listing them neatly under distinct categories, a prerequisite for independent statistical tests. Perhaps it is a pity but, particularly in our field, that is the way things are: we cannot get hold of any data bruta.

In our view there is a useful link here to the term "type" as used in the social sciences, for instance by Uta Gerhardt, who has taken Max Weber's concept of an ideal type a step further. In 1983 she wrote that, when using a biographical-typological approach like Weber's, one has to link systematically various aspects of each case to establish an ideal type. This establishment needs to come about by conducting biographical interviews fairly in a way that does not take sides with either a nomothetic or ideographic theory. It looks as though the idea of a type is the relevant link, clinically and scientifically, between nomothetic and ideographic thinking. For the problem is how to draw general conclusions from single cases or special aspects of several cases, without becoming diffuse or vague. What is required is a method which does not ignore the historical aspect and encompasses more than the single case, just as is pointed out by Glaser and Strauss (1968, p. 242) where, in their article on "grounded theory" they indicate that they are not concerned with single cases but with types of people and/or events subject to social pressures.

Just "going ahead and testing it (empirically)" is no easy matter if the subject matter is biographical; everything is irretrievably in flux, and what is required in Weber's view is our capacity to make sense of things, to grasp the historical truth behind a flood of shifting images. An individual case tells us a typical story, it represents a typical structure and thereby transcends itself without sacrificing any of its iniqueness. For this Max Weber invented the term ideal type which in recent years has attracted a great deal of interest (see Weiss, 1992, p.65). It is a term that bundles past and present, giving shape and sense to disparate empirically observable attributes. Of course, the crux is the discrepancy between this invented ideal type and what one can observe empirically. The ideal type is a generalization and a hypothesis but, in conjunction with the so-called test of experience, it can form the basis for an interpretation which makes biographical details intelligible and meaningful.

Uta Gerhardt's reworking of the Weber ideal type provides hints on the kind of crosschecks required: first of all an ideal type is extracted out of a series of single cases; this extraction then serves a hypothesis against which one can check further cases. Here Gerhardt is replying to the accusation often levelled against Weber that his ideas are "of little empirical use" because he explicitly excluded empirical testing. The ideal type may be seen in a single empirical case, perhaps not in pure form but more or less approximately. Where appearing in pure form in a single case, it is termed an "isolated optimal case". This isolated optimal case, a recognizable concrete example, thus empirically illustrates the ideal type. …

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