3.4 Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis, as a fourth resource, certainly provides some theories of the unconscious, but the history of psychoanalysis is a fragmented and contradictory one in which the theories spin off in different directions. In Freud's work and in that of his followers there are various models of the relationship between consciousness and its 'other' -- with that other sometimes conceptualised as a hydraulic system, sometimes as a place, and sometimes as a collection of gaps in discourse whose appearance signals the voice of the true subject. We would, in any case be suspicious of one true account that pretended to give a correct interpretation of material. Even in a classical Freudian framework, interpretation of texts should also be of a speaking subject with a personal history. Since we are not engaged in psychoanalysis or psychotherapy of individuals here, and we are warned thoroughly enough against that by Foucault's work, some quite radical revisions of psychoanalytic theory are necessary. Some writers have broken completely from psychoanalysis, and moved through systemic debates to deconstructive and foucauldian narrative therapy (see Parker, 1999a), and I think it would be fair to say that they are standing politically pretty much where we want to arrive as we cut our way through the worst of Freudian and post-Freudian writing.

A starting point for the internal revisions to psychoanalytic theory, revisions which then start to systematically disrupt it, lies in the series of critiques of adaptationist trends in American 'ego-psychology' which assume, like the rest of laboratory-experimental positivist psychology, that the individual is a self-contained unit that can be studied and understood (Hartmann, 1939). The very notion of the ego as separate and 'conflict-free' is inimical to the whole project of discursive qualitative research, of course, and it is quite easy to find in Freud (1927) accounts of the unconscious which see the ego as intertwined with what is excluded, driven away, repressed. We do not have to presuppose that this 'unconscious' is shut away as if it were in a box, as if our task was simply to unlock it and find out what the real answer was. Rather, we take our cue from the Lacanian (Lacan, 1977) re-readings of Freud which see the unconscious as an 'Other' site of discourse. This 'other' is just as thoroughly social as the individual author or the operations in the text that make it 'other' in the first place.

One of the other advantages of Lacan's work is that it can be read as a theory of language and the subject which breaks completely from traditional psychoanalysis. This is not the way the Lacanians would want him to be used, of course, but the discursive dynamic in his work, which locates all fundamental unconscious processes in the Symbolic order, and which theorises the development of consciousness within a master-slave dialectic rooted more in phenomenology than in Freud, allows us to then reflect upon psychoanalysis as a symbolic form and the way psychoanalysis positions the subject in relation to 'others'. There are connections, again, with the work of Bakhtin here (e.g., Georgaca and Gordo-López, 1995), and with the way in which the 'Other' is formed as something separate, powerful and frightening to the individual in the Western world. Gender and race categories that are felt to be different from the self are then pushed out into the 'Other' (Sampson, 1994).

This is, of course, also a cultural re-reading of psychoanalysis which looks to linguistic processes in self-formation, and which locates what there is of the 'Oedipus complex' and so forth in Western nuclear family relationships and in the powerful talk about those relationships that surround the infant from her or his first moments in the world. There is an important debate here over the extent to which it is right to presuppose familial and Oedipal structures in research. This is linked to the wider debate about how far we take psychoanalysis seriously as a form of knowledge, even if it is one we loath, and whether we understand the responses of the researcher as varieties of 'counter-transference' because this notion 'works' now in Western culture (Parker, 1997). We know that it might be dangerous to take such forms of subjectivity for granted, because we then play our part in reproducing them.

The account of discourse that emerges from this is, at any rate, one in which the researcher is seen as thoroughly embedded in discourse, constituted by discourse which then gives meaning to the speech of an interviewee or author of a text. What one wishes to obtain from a reading of a text, or from any other qualitative material, is structured as much by patterns of relationship that are set up in the research process as it is by the 'unconscious' in the text or the prior 'unconscious' fantasies of the researcher. One of the difficult tasks that a researcher has to embark upon is to manage their intuitive engagement with the material in a way that also speaks of unconscious gaps in the text to other readers. Again, this is a matter of the collective activity of a research community in making sense, and opening contradictions in language, in discourse, not of revelations of secrets to gifted individuals. The Discourse Unit is a research community, and it has close relations with other qualitative research groups, relations that constitute a wider community, and this community here and internationally is something that is vital to this type of work (cf. Gordo-López and Linaza, 1996; Levett et al., 1997).

The power of the researcher is at issue here, and psychoanalysis does help attune us to investments that a researcher may have in bringing about particular discursive effects. There is also an issue, of course, which is to do with the way psychoanalytic practice is warranted by the use of the framework in academic work. Psychoanalysis has an ambivalent relationship with psychology, one that we wish to tease out, whatever our other attractions or otherwise to the theory. Psychoanalysis is, in some respects, 'the repressed other of psychology' (Burman, 1994), at least in Anglo-American varieties, and the continual attempts by so-called scientific psychology to shut away psychoanalytic attempts to bring subjectivity back into the picture make it so appealing. Psychoanalysis is a powerful narrative about the self, and too powerful in some contexts, most notoriously in therapeutic training institutions. Nevertheless, it works in a game of power against psychology, a discipline that finds subjectivity so threatening.

Previous Section Top Next Section