Session Three: The Politics of the Unconscious

If you want to listen to the recording of this session, you can find it HERE

How many of our responses to the world are really rational?

To what extent do people think, vote, or act in ways which are actually based on information and reason, and to what extent are we all motivated by unconscious identifications, emotional forces and unexpressed fears or desires?

What is the connection between such forces and the wider social world?

This session considered the history of attempts to understand these questions and their political implications.

You could spend a lifetime reading on this subject, but roughly we covered:

-Basic psychoanalytic theory and its political implications – what do Freud and his followers actually think, and what does it tell us about political motivations and behaviour?

-concepts of identity and identification and their political relevance (e.g. why do people vote for figures like Berlusconi or Boris Johnson, with whom they have so little in common?)

-Feminist critiques and appropriations of psychoanalytic idea: e.g. are ideas like ‘penis envy’* just sexist nonsense, or do they give us an invaluable language for thinking about the psychic consequences of patriarchy?

-Radical developments within and against psychoanalysis: anti-psychiatry, Lacanian thought Zizek, even…), etc.

-The revolutionary materialist, collectivist, ecological thought of Deleuze & Guattari

If you want to do some further reading, you could do worse than just read as many wikipedia articles on psychoanalysis as possible. If you want to go a bit further than that, see if you can find a copy of Freud’s ‘Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis and ‘New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. To go beyond that, a really interesting place to start is the career and work of the feminist psychoanalyst Karen Horney. If you’re interested in Deleuze and Guattari and Schizoanalysis, try reading Ian Buchanan’s reader’s guide to their book Anti-Oedipus (which is very difficult to read unaided).

Here are some specific texts to read if you want to (not obligatory at all):

Sigmund Freud ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’

Félix Guattari ‘The Three Ecologies’

The seminar took place at the New Economics Foundation, 10 Salamanca Place, SE1 7HB, July 14th 2015, 6:30-8:30.  


*the idea of ‘penis-envy’  = the idea that women all secretly envy men for having penises…or maybe just for having the privilege which seems to go with having one…