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

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This book has two essential aims. First, to introduce some of the key assumptions behind relational psychoanalysis to an international audience and to outline the points where this approach counters, complements, or extends existing object relations (Kleinian and Independent) traditions. Second, to consider some of the implications of the relational turn for the application of psychoanalytic concepts and methods beyond the consulting room.The emergence of what has become known as "the relational turn" in psychoanalysis has interesting implications not just for clinical practice, but for other psychoanalytically informed practices, such as group relations, the human service professions, and social research. Relational forms of psychoanalysis have emerged primarily in the USA, and as a result their core concepts and methods are less well-known in other countries, including the UK. Moreover, even within the USA, few attempts have so far been made to consider the wider implications of this development for social and political theory; intervention in groups and organizations, and the practice of social research. As with all new developments, there is a tendency to deal with them in one of two ways: either to insist that there is nothing new about them and that existing practices already include their implied critique, or to sharpen and exaggerate the difference, thereby construing the new arrival as something that is a counter, rather than an extension and complement, to what already exists.

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CHAPTER ONE: Relational thinking: from culture to couch and couch to culture

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Lynne Layton

Introduction: history and key assumptions of relational analytic theory

At one point in my personal analysis, my analyst, whom I had chosen in part because the self psychology and object relations books on her shelf suggested that she was someone who would not bludgeon me with predictable oedipal and penis envy interpretations, told me that the reason she had forgotten to call me at the agreed upon time during her three-month maternity leave was that I appear self-sufficient and give the impression of having no needs. This touched a very sore spot in me and I went off to seek consultation—having parents whose mantra when they did something hurtful was always “You're too sensitive,” the last thing I needed was an analyst who made a big blunder and blamed it on something about me. We worked it out. But I begin with this vignette because I think that it is my sensitivity to this issue that drew me to what has come to be known as relational psychoanalysis. Of the many schools of psychoanalysis, none besides relational analysis, so far as I know, holds as a central ethical principle not just awareness, but acknowledgement, of the analyst's complicity in the inevitable re-enactments that are at the heart of any treatment.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Democratizing psychoanalysis

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Susie Orbach

Relational routes in (mainly) British psychoanalysis

From the 1930s to the 1970s, there was an extraordinary intellectual flowering within psychoanalysis. The Balints, object relations theory, Winnicott, Fairbairn, Guntrip, Bowlby and attachment theory, the work of R. D. Laing and his colleagues, the anti-psychiatry movement, all attempted to resituate and recast what psychoanalysis had turned into. Then, Independents such as Bollas and Rycroft, contemporary Freudians such as the Sandlers and Fonagy, the clinical and theoretical innovations of The Women's Therapy Centre, Nafsyat and other equally radical therapy initiatives, all these different tendencies focused on the actual experience of patients, their history, and the ways in which intrapsychic development was an outcome of the internalizations of relationships they had experienced from the earliest moment of their entry into the world.

This emphasis on the actual, has swept through nearly all psychoanalytic schools: Jungian, Object Relations, contemporary Freudian, Kohutian. It was always the basis, in the USA, of the work of the Interpersonalists, the Intersubjectivists, and of latterly what has become known as the Relational School. (Of course, similar developments within humanistic psychotherapy were also occurring.) The emphasis on the actual has dovetailed with the work of infant researchers, Mahler, Bergman, and Pine; Stern; Trevarthen; Beebe; and Steele and Steele, who have been demonstrating the very active, relationship-seeking requisites of the baby and the ways in which the character of parental responses structures the infant's relation to self. Beebe's work in particular, which scrutinizes the frame-by-frame of mother–baby interactions, shows the intricate play between mother and infant, the efforts the baby makes to engage the mother, the way the baby responds to the mother's initiatives and the emotional impact of failing attempts to engage with each other.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Staying close to the subject

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Paul Zeal

In this chapter, in order to place relationality, I investigate the nature of psychoanalytic discourse and consider at what levels psychoanalytic relating takes place given that both participants are subjects. (I am registered as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Distinctions between that title and psychoanalyst are, in the context of this chapter, porous to say the least.) I consider connections and disconnections between presenting self and subject. Paradoxically, to do so I discuss the subject of addiction, which, it is generally agreed, presents obstacles to psychoanalytic discourse and relating. I also touch on the appetites of consumerism in a psychoanalytic perspective.

In Relationality: From Attachment to Intersubjectivity, Stephen Mitchell (2003) situates relational psychoanalysis in psychoanalytic tradition and begins his Preface, “Psychoanalysis has always been centrally concerned with human relatedness” (p. ix). He writes that the domain of the psychoneuroses that Freud wrested from the neurology of his day was a domain of mental events having largely to do with relations with other people. Freud then abandoned his seduction theory (child as innocent, corrupted from outside) in favour of instinct drive theory, in which significant others were largely fantasized. Mitchell writes, “But Freudian drive theory always remained, necessarily, a kind of object relations theory, in which fantasies about others rather than the actions of others were crucial” (ibid.). He continues that the clinical process of psychoanalysis has always been fundamentally relational, but there have been long stretches in the history of psychoanalytic ideas when the nature of human relatedness has not been studied directly (ibid). Instead, the patient's mind was understood to derive from bodybased, constitutionally wired primal fantasies, and psychoanalysis became definitively intrapsychic, in which actual others were considered “accidental” factors.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Relational thinking and welfare practice

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Paul Hoggett

Introduction

In a recent article Anna Yeatman (2007) has compared what she calls liberal and post-liberal forms of individualism in terms of their conceptions of the human subject and the implications of these conceptions for welfare practice. In this chapter, I draw upon current developments linked to the relational turn in psychoanalysis to try and put some more flesh upon what Yeatman calls a “postliberal” or “post patrimonial model” of professional practice.

Classical liberalism

Traditional liberal models of the human subject emphasize rationality and autonomy. Rationality is construed in patriarachal terms, something to be counterposed to emotion, passion, and the language of the body. Autonomy refers to the individual sovereign subject, a self-interested subject capable of co-operation with other self-interested subjects, a unitary self, not one torn by internal conflicts or constituted by its relation to others.

The liberal welfare subject is construed in terms of a deficit or pathology model, constituted in a child-like way as someone lacking the capacity to make reasonable judgements about themselves and the others they have responsibility for. Professional practice arises in conditions of advancing modernity that privilege credentialed expertise. The professional is seen unproblematically as the “one who knows”, but this knowing is situated in the context of an ethical relationship to the other, the one who is known. Professional ethics stress the duty of care to the other. The discretion of the professional expert is therefore bounded by a set of ethical responsibilities. Yeatman (2007) sees this as part of a wider “ethics of patrimonialism” in which “the liberal individual is ethically obligated to protect and provide for those who come under his private jurisdiction whether this is domestic or professional in nature”. The ethical stance of classical professionalism should not be lightly dismissed. Many of the current struggles of teachers, nurses, social workers, and others against the managerialist thrust of successive neo-liberal governments alert us to the continued value of practices that give room for forms of care and discretion, albeit care and discretion cast in a paternalistic fashion.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Artistic output as intersubjective third

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Lynn Froggett

Seeing the other in community-based practice

In Chapter Four, “Relational thinking and welfare practice”, Paul Hoggett argues that both classical liberal professionalism and its opponents who wish to see a less oppressive and more responsive welfare practice share a somewhat “thin” and idealized view of the supposedly rational and unitary welfare subject. The paternalistic stance of classical welfare, with its tendency to efface the particularity of the client, has been assailed by new social movements, user and advocacy groups that, in the name of diversity, have exposed the demeaning consequences of “top-down” welfare models and expert-led care. Under the banner of anti-oppressive practice, these critics of liberal welfare have struggled to create new spaces in which the people who use services can be seen and heard. A huge literature, which is partly underpinned by post-structuralist social science, has addressed the power relations that perpetuate inequality and oppression within welfare systems. However, Hoggett draws attention to the fact that something important eludes a welfare practice based on the micro-politics of power, and that derives from a shallow conception of the welfare subject who, positioned in the endless play of power relations, is seen as fundamentally inert, incapable of a desiring, resisting, creative, and destructive agency. How, then, might it be possible to “fill out the hollow welfare subject” so that they become a partner with depth, substance, and agency produced in a complex interplay of actual and phantasized social relations.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Psycho-social research: relating self, identity, and otherness

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Simon Clarke

I n this chapter, I explore the nature of psycho-social research, its origins, development, and its importance in contemporary social science research, in particular when applied to areas such as cultural identities and Otherness. There is something quite distinct about a psycho-social approach to social research; it is more an attitude, a position towards the subject of study rather than one methodology (see Clarke, 2006). Psycho-social research can be seen to be part of a group of methodologies that point towards a distinct position. These may entail the analysis of group dynamics, observation, or a detailed reading of the co-construction of the research environment between participants (we are all participants) and researchers. For me, and this is very much my own personal journey, the most important element of psycho-social research is that it does not reduce to either social or psychic; there is no duality, the two are so related they are inseparable, or at least we cannot talk about one without the other.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The importance of relational thinking in the practice of psycho-social research: ontology, epistemology, methodology, and ethics

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Wendy Hollway

Introduction

The object relations and relational psychoanalytic traditions can have a profound effect on the practices of social science research and, in the UK, this is taking place largely in the tradition that has come to be called “psycho-social”. My own research practice has been moving in this direction for some time, and it has become evident to me that the use of psychoanalytic concepts that derive from the object relations and relational traditions have radical effects on every aspect of research. By every aspect, I refer first to the substantive analysis of phenomena that have social and psychological aspects (which surely includes most phenomena of interest to social science). I also refer to the trio of principles informing research that I refer to in the title of this chapter as ontology (how the person as subject of research is theorized), epistemology (how the status of the knowledge generation process is understood), and methodology (how these together inform how the researcher goes about finding out). Not in the title, but also implicated, is the subject of research ethics. After an outline of the project that I use as an illustration, subsequent sections of this chapter deal with ontology, epistemology, methodology, and research ethics.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: How does a turn towards relational thinking influence consulting practice in organizations and groups?

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Karen Izod

Enter …

I am writing this chapter as an attempt to convey the kind of thinking that goes on in me as I work with individuals, groups, and organizations in challenging situations. It is a contribution from consulting practice that links with pieces of theory that have found some resonance with how I conceptualize my role as an organizational consultant. It is also a practice that resonates with my inner and outer worlds, which babble away in me as I am involved in making sense of the experiences of my client systems, the tasks they are engaged in, and myself in relation to them.

I see this as an opportunity to stimulate an exploration of issues arising from relational thinking, as it applies to working in, or consulting with, groups and organizations. I will outline what I understand to be “the Relational Turn”, and how I conceptualize it as a set of ideas that can address a capacity for negotiating the meaning and organization of relations while taking a position as an engaged individual.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Inquiry as relational practice: thinking relationally about the practice of teaching and learning

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Margaret L. Page

Introduction

What conditions are needed and what conceptual tools required in order for the consultant/educator to enable clients and students to creatively explore tensions that present themselves as polarities? What might relational thinking offer to educators and consultants who wish to develop this capacity? This chapter takes up these questions and explores them through examples drawn from experiences of teaching and learning within management education. Taking up the themes explored by Karen Izod, it draws from the work of Jessica Benjamin and from current research on experiential teaching and learning to explore difficulties and opportunities of inquiry-based teaching and learning within contexts where instrumental approaches predominate. Finally, it returns to the question: so what is special or radical about relational thinking? What is its potential or actual contribution to teaching and learning in university-based management education programmes?

In the first section, I offer an introduction to relational theory and practice, as an application of inquiry-based learning and teaching. This is developed in the three illustrations that follow. The first of these is a co-mentoring relationship that enabled teaching staff to sustain an inquiring stance in relation to Masters level students, and to resist institutional pressures to adopt a more instrumental approach. The second and third sections also relate to Masters level students, this time in the context of a programme that is experiential and based on peer learning. Two vignettes are offered that explore how relational thinking offered a way of making sense, in reflection after the event, of the challenges of sustaining inquiry in the context described. The final section draws together reflections on these experiences to consider what relational thinking might offer to inquiry practice. More specifically, it explores its potential contribution to working with the difficulties and opportunities of management learning in the current UK context, where pressure is intense to stick to instrumental approaches.

 

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