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The Social Unconscious in Persons, Groups and Societies

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The social unconscious is vital for understanding persons and their groupings, ranging from families to societies, committees to organisations, and from small to median to large therapeutic groups, and essential for comprehensive clinical work. This series of volumes of contributions from an international network of psychoanalysts, analytical psychologists, group analysts and psychodramatists draw on the classical ideas of Freud, Klein and Jung, Bion, Foulkes and Moreno, and on contemporary relational perspectives, self-psychology and neuroscience. Volume I is concerned mainly with the theory of the social unconscious. It is focused on topics such as location, sociality, the social brain, identity, ideology, the foundation matrix, social psychological retreats, false collective self-objects, the collective unconscious and its archetypes and social dreaming.

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Introduction: Earl Hopper and Haim Weinberg

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Earl Hopper and Haim Weinberg

In this Introduction we outline the development of the concept of the social unconscious, and identify several of the current areas of interest in it. We believe that the study of the social unconscious is at the heart of the group analytic project, which continues to change and to develop.

I

Before Freud, the notion of the unconscious mind was often used by philosophers such as Spinoza, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. For them, the “unconscious mind” referred to perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations that, at any given time, are outside the field of consciousness. Working within this tradition, but at the same time attempting to break free from it, Freud developed a topographical model of the personality in which psychic life could be represented in terms of three levels of consciousness: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious, including the non-conscious. As a noun, “unconscious” referred to mental or psychic processes, phenomena, and structures that occur or exist in the absence of conscious awareness; as a verb, it referred to the action of making or having made these processes and phenomena, and structures unconscious, in the sense of suppressing, repressing and/or splitting off, as an adjective and/or adverb, unconscious referred to the fact that such psychic processes, phenomena, and structures are outside and/or have been put outside a person’s conscious awareness. It was assumed that the unconscious is a matter of degree, and not a permanent condition. It was also assumed that, in one way or another, the unconscious originates within the human body and in the human species.

 

CHAPTER ONE: The concept of the social unconscious in the work of S. H. Foulkes

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Dieter Nitzgen

The “basic nature of social influences” in psychoanalysis and group analysis was one of the main concerns of S. H. Foulkes. Even in his first book, Introduction to Group Analytic Psychotherapy (Foulkes, 1948), he welcomed the “growing recognition of the basic importance of society” in psychoanalysis (p. 11). In fact, group analysis can be seen in terms of the recognition of the importance of the concept of the social unconscious, which Foulkes introduced as a supplement to Freud’s concept of dynamic unconscious. However, the references Foulkes made to this concept are scarce and scattered, and taken from and relating to very different contexts, such as neurobiology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, sociology, and social anthropology, as well as epistemology. Moreover, these references are dense and need unpacking. This chapter will review Foulkes’ main references to the social unconscious, and provide relevant background information regarding the contexts of them.

Foulkes’ references to the social unconscious

 

CHAPTER TWO: The concept of the co-unconscious in Moreno’s psychodrama

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Heloisa Junqueira Fleury and Anna Maria Knobel

Introduction

Around 1937, J. L. Moreno defined his hypothesis regarding the shared unconscious within the theory of psychodrama, which, in his opinion, represents one of the dimensions of the interpersonal process itself. In his view, individuals with a stable, meaningful relationship, such as married couples, families, and professional partners, develop both specific and shared forms of subjectivity that constitute co-conscious and co-unconscious states. The former is remembered as part of their life history, as a component of their identity. The latter consists of what each individual has experienced, heard of, or known at some time, but is no longer able to remember. The co-unconscious state may also be related to something the individuals never really “knew” but which they experienced within their field of meaningful relationships, irrespective of whether these individuals were dead or alive. These elements constitute a continuum of relational transmitted meanings that give experiences a colorful and unique quality.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Enrique Pichon-Rivière: the social unconscious in the Latin-American tradition of group analysis

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Juan Tubert-Oklander

The birth of a tradition

There has been an independent school of group-analytic thinking and practice originating in the work of Enrique Pichon-Rivière, since the late nineteen-thirties, in Buenos Aires. This was further developed in various Latin-American countries by several generations of psychoanalysts and group analysts who identified with the tradition he initiated, including myself.

Although this Latin-American tradition began to be orally conveyed when some South American colleagues settled in London, there has not yet been an English translation of Pichon-Rivière’s writings. (There are, however, French translations of his work, which has been introduced in France by René Kaës (Pichon-Rivière, 2004a,b).) In 2004, Hernández de Tubert and I published a book called Operative Groups: The Latin-American Approach to Group Analysis, in which we provided historical and biographical information on Pichon-Rivière, and a summary of his concepts on groups, as well as our own theoretical, technical, and clinical approach to group analysis. We deem this work to be a present-day continuation and evolution of his original proposals, in confluence with the Foulkesian tradition.

 

Introduction: Malcolm Pines

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Malcolm Pines

In the 1970s, the revisionist psychoanalyst George Klein emphasized that psychoanalytic theory had not yet found the rightful place for what Hopper (2003) has termed the essential “sociality” of human beings. Klein pointed out that in the structural theory of id, ego, and superego, there was no place and no word for “us-ness”, or “we-ness” as a complement for “ego” and perhaps for “id” or “it”. We needed a concept such as the “we-go”, but somehow this was not quite the right word for this. Now, on the basis of his European classical education, Tom Ormay, who is not only a group analyst but also a philosopher of science, in “Mirror neurons, sociality, and the species homo sapiens” has given us the missing word: “nos”.

Ormay does not want to discard Freud’s great achievement in presenting us with his structural theory, with which he replaced his original drive theory, taking into account the great social forces of human society. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c), Freud wrote that, from the very first, individual psychology is at the same time social psychology as well: all intrapsychic object relationships can be considered as social phenomena. However, Freud could not accept the proposal of the American psychoanalyst Trigant Burrow that psychoanalytic theory itself should be open to what Burrow called “group analysis”, the result of his exploration of the dynamics of small groups. Later, Foulkes remembered that he had read these papers, as well as the related work of Fromm, Horney, Adler, and others who shared similar interests.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Mirror neurons, sociality, and the species homo sapiens

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A. P. Tom Ormay

Need for an instinct theory

In recent years the human genome has been “deciphered”. Geneticists managed to identify the three billion chemical formulations that make up our genetic code. It is not yet known what is what, we do not yet know what most of the components do, and a lot more work has to be done. It is also important to consider that the route from genetic code to human relationship must be long and complicated; at one end we have the chemicals we are born with, at the other end we have relating and feelings, and there are many steps between, but suddenly we are in a position to track the way. Common sense always dictated that the human personality is made up of genetics and environment. In the past century we learnt much about the environment, but when it came to the genetic side, we had to resort to speculation. We can say that the twentieth century was for environmental psychology while in the twenty-first we might be able to redress the balance. I expect some people will go overboard, and suddenly think that it is all biology; we shall have to wait and see. Neither has it been a mistake to speculate about what we inherit. We can ask meaningful questions only if we think ahead of our evidence. An open mind is a good thing; an empty mind is not.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The group mind, systems-centred functional subgrouping, and interpersonal neurobiology

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Susan P. Gantt and Yvonne M. Agazarian

In this chapter, we build a link between the emerging insights of interpersonal neurobiology and the systems-centred group method of functional subgrouping as a tool for developing the “group mind”. We propose a definition of group mind that differs from the one formulated by Le Bon (1896), who emphasized crowd psychology, McDougall (1920), who focused on individuals thinking together, and Durkheim (1966), who emphasized the collective of the society as an organism. Instead, we propose a definition of “group mind” that builds on interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) and systems-centred theory (SCT) and practice. Although this new definition is compatible with the group analytic emphasis on the mind as dependent on social and cultural life (Hopper, 2009), it introduces an important difference through linking the neuro-biological findings with systems-centred functional subgrouping.

Interpersonal neurobiology

The past fifteen years have brought a new understanding of the brain and especially of experience-dependent neuroplasticity (Badenoch, 2008). Certain genetic potentials in the brain are now recognized as experience-dependent for activation (Kandel, 2006). A growing body of research has demonstrated that repeated neuron firings at synapses can increase the density of neural circuits and form new ones, validating Hebb’s (1949) idea that repeated firings of one neuron followed by the firing of another strengthen this neuronal connection. For example: individuals who meditate have increased neural thickening in the middle prefrontal cortex and right insula areas of the brain, areas associated with attention, inte-roception, and sensory processing (Lazar et al., 2005); London cab drivers have larger hippocampal volume, an area of the brain related to spatial mapping (Terrazas & McNaughton, 2000); musicians have thickening in auditory areas of the cortex (Menning, Roberts, & Pantev, 2000); and both novel experience and exercise stimulate the formation of new stem cells (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus (Song, Stevens, & Gage, 2002).

 

Introduction: Robi Friedman

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Robi Friedman

Accepting that people are influenced by their “unconscious” is difficult enough; to acknowledge that they are constrained by their “social unconscious” is quite a challenge. But this differentiates group analysis from other therapies. In fact, understanding the social unconscious may be crucial for the future of our trade, and an appreciation of the intersubjective helps us to rethink these concepts. Weegmann points to the development of our understanding of intersubjectivity as a result of self-psychology and the relational perspective; Lavie depicts aspects of the influence of the sociologist Norbert Elias on the thinking of the group analyst S. H. Foulkes.

Making space for the appreciation of both sympathy and empathy in the study of human relations, Husserl (1931) introduced his concept of intersubjectivity within the context of a general discussion of phenomenology. This enabled a more complete conceptualization of the experience by one person of another person who is both a subject and an object of this experience. Moreover, from this perspective, the experience of oneself is defined in terms of how one has been experienced by another, and, thus, in terms of an internal world of relations which are almost entirely shared.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Working intersubjectively: what does it mean for theory and therapy?

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Martin Weegmann

One of Freud’s favourite quotations was from the poet, Heinrick Heine, who derided the philosopher thus:

With his nightcaps and the tatters of his dressing-gown, he patches up the gaps in the structure of the universe.

(in Freud, 1933a, p. 161)

Classical philosophers have been prone to the belief that they could arrive at a state of certainty or discern an irreducible principle, in full control of what they have conceived, a principle personified by Plato’s “philosopher king” and present in Descartes’ notion of knowledge being like a house needing a secure foundation, beyond doubt. Part of this omnipotent thinking stemmed from the idea that one can indeed comprehend an explanatory principle or totality, a “state” which is without gaps and fully coherent. Freud knew this to be an illusion, which is why he resisted trying to convert his psychoanalysis, which he saw as a science, into a new fabricated “view of the universe” or Weltanschauung; in fact, Freud believed that psychoanalysis could find its place within the “scientific Weltanschauung” that already existed. It could be argued, however, that Freud fell into a different, but related, trap, that he thought he had discovered the irreducible principles of mental life, the ultimate structuring principles of “the unconscious”, “repression” and “infantile sexuality”. The analyst, by virtue of his training, was in a privileged position and, with his interpretations, could patch up the gaps in the structure of the patient’s mind, so to speak. In other words, he conceptualized an isolated mind, a “one-body psychology” and the analyst, who could feel secure once guided by this new branch of medical science.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The lost roots of the theory of group analysis: “interrelational individuals” or “persons”

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Joshua Lavie

This chapter combines a micro-historical analysis of unpublished drafts of work by S. H. Foulkes—intended to be part of his “Theory Book” on group analysis—with my reading of published writings by Norbert Elias that are especially relevant to group analysis. (My reading is a “historical reading” taking into account both the cultural–historical climate that prevailed at the time Elias and Foulkes thought and acted, and a “micro-historical analysis” of documents which were discovered in the Archives.) I will focus on two lost roots of the theory of group analysis: one, Elias’s innovative conceptualization of the simultaneous and interdependent process of individualization and socialization; two, Foulkes’s attempts to conceptualize the mind as a multi-personal (or transpersonal) phenomenon. The main argument is that the theory of group analysis is based on the notion of interrelational individuals (in the plural) or persons (Hopper, 2003) rather than the reified “individual” as opposed to the nominalized “group”. It is proposed that Foulkes’s conceptualization of the individual mind as a multi-personal and transpersonal phenomenon is compatible with Stephen Mitchell’s much later work on “multiple selves”; in fact, several contributions from group analysis, such as those of Hopper (1977) and Pines (1986) in connection with the notion of the self as a group and the group as a self, might have contributed to the early development of relational psychoanalysis. It is also proposed that, for Foulkes, the social unconscious was a transper-sonal phenomenon, both forming and being formed by multi-relational persons (Weinberg, 2007).

 

Introduction: Felix de Mendelssohn

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Felix de Mendelssohn

These two intriguing papers that comprise the section entitled “The mind and the social system” explore the largely uncharted territory at the confluence of individual developmental psychology with specific structures and functions of social systems. Through the use of extensive but pertinent international literature, the authors bring to us a plethora of original insights gathered from their formidable and formative clinical experiences in Eastern Europe under the workings of totalitarian regimes and ideologies, and the sudden, often traumatic, collapse of these extreme forms of “social order”.

Helena Klímová, from Prague, in her astute and moving paper “The false we/the false collective self”, takes us with patience and high descriptive power through the stages of individual and collective psycho-social development that underlie the pernicious, all-pervading processes of life under totalitarian dictatorship.1

Klímová registers the effects of these projections of the individual self on to and into the collective life in terms of “parallel processes”, although it must be said that one could also think here of a kind of reciprocally incremental feedback effect. Her use of some small but well-chosen case vignettes is helpful in illustrating not only theoretical, but also empathic qualities in her understanding of these complex processes.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: The false we/the false collective self: a dynamic part of the social unconscious

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Helena Klímová

Atask for group analysts has emerged: to interpret the social unconscious in connection with recent historical experience, especially in the context of totalitarian societies, or, rather, those societies who have lived through totalitarian regimes. The two totalitarian systems in Europe have gone, yet we are presented with two ubiquitous dangers that are properties of our foundation matrices: the transmission of trauma over generations, and the compulsion to repeat traumatic experience.

The predisposition both to experience events as traumatic and actually to seek traumatic experience, is known as traumatophilia (Abraham, 1907). It involves both libidinal and aggressive wishes, including the desire for punishment as well as for revenge on others. It is based on the compulsion to repeat traumatic experience that has been encapsulated in the context of attempts to master the original experience … [Hopper, 2003a, p. 56]

These patterns actually can be detected in the roots of the totalitarian regimes, in their historical reappearance.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Manifestations of psychic retreats in social systems

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Marina Mojovic

Introduction

This chapter will consider the manifestations of “psychic retreats” (Britton, 1998; Grotstein, 2009; Steiner, 1993) in social systems ranging from dyads to societies in the context of traumatogenic processes, especially in connection with the theory and concept of the social unconscious (Hopper, 2003a; Weinberg, 2007). These manifestations are usually troublesome, but obscure, which may be one reason why they have rarely been explored and discussed. However, they underlie much social pathology and social trauma, including their transgenerational repetition, through unconscious co-creation of specific social-psychic formations within social systems, which I call “social-psychic retreats’.

According to Steiner, psychic retreats are internal “pathological organizations” involving highly structured and closely knit systems of defences and object relations. Formed initially out of desperation, these sabotaging, self-protecting, and self-organizing internal subsystems are actually sub-personalities, which provide alternative shelters from human relationships and from reality in general. In their very essence is a paradox: they both protect and imprison the vital parts of the self. They could be located on the continuum that ranges from taking over almost the whole of the personality (as in the cases of some psychotic and severely borderline patients) to only small parts of it (as in the cases of some slightly neurotic or normal individuals). Discovered first as resistance to treatment, they are found to cause serious difficulties in various interpersonal relations, functioning as obstacles to many life processes, to their free flow and joy.

 

Introduction: Gerhard Wilke

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Gerhard Wilke

At the core of these two chapters are questions about linkage: how does an individual relate to society and fit into a group; how does the body relate to the mind; how do nature, culture and social structure interlink; in what sense is the “We” greater than some of its parts; and in what sense do social systems have minds of their own? However, these questions define the perimeters of a permanent academic building site—open for construction, deconstruction, and reconsctuction.

The founder of group analysis, S. H. Foulkes, was inspired by the psychoanlytic writings of Sigmund Freud and the sociological theories of Norbert Elias. Freud (2000) showed that the mind of an individual and the culture in which this individual lives out a lifes-pan are shaped by biological drives and unconscious psychological defences against socially unacceptable desires. In a brilliant theoretical conjuring trick, Freud reduced the interaction between the individual and society to a one-to-one relationship that he believed could ultimately be explained in terms of individual psychology. Foulkes (1986, 1990) broke from this way of thinking by placing patients face to face in a group, and claiming that it had become clear to him that the minds of all group members are connected in a web of relationships through which unconscious material flows. It followed from this that the small group also has a “mind” open to the transference from its members of cultural, social, and historical information and undigested psychic feelings that mostly originate from within the wider social system. The transference of information—verbal or emotional—is always an exchange, involving at least the self and the other. The mutual influence goes both ways and system and subsystem can transfer unconscious information and tasks to each other, depending on the context and the function that the object of exchange serves for the individuals and the whole social system. Foulkes tried to capture the interactive, relational, and interdependent nature of human interaction in and between groups by referring to the “mind” matrix of the small group in terms of its dynamic matrix, and to the “mind” matrix of a society/culture in which the smaller group is located in terms of its foundation matrix.

 

CHAPTER TEN: The social unconscious and ideology: in clinical theory and practice

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Farhad Dalal

Introduction

Let me begin with two questions: why is it that in the psychoanalytic world, we find ourselves in this curious position of having to argue for the social? And why is it that the argument tends to have a defensive quality about it, of having to justify something that seems to go against the grain?

In part, this is because of the established norm in the psychoanalytic mainstream, this being that the social is secondary to, and born of, the psychological. It is perhaps not surprising to hear Klein say, “the understanding of [the individual’s] personality is the foundation for the understanding of social life” (Klein, 1959, p. 247). Neither is it surprising to hear Bion say,

I think that the central position in group dynamics is occupied by the more primitive mechanisms [of] … the paranoid–schizoid and depressive positions … [It] is necessary to work through … the more primitive anxieties of part-object relationships … [as] I consider [them] … to contain the ultimate sources of all group behaviour. [Bion, 1961, p. 189, my italics]

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: The foundation matrix and the social unconscious

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Regine Scholz

Introduction

This chapter contains an attempt to conceptualize ideas on transpersonal, supra-individual processes, usually referred to as “the social unconscious”, suggesting that it might be fruitful to revert to S. H. Foulkes’s notion of the “foundation matrix”. The concept understands individual and group as one single and inseparable process in which biological, social, cultural, and economical factors meet, based on ongoing communication. This chapter tries to work out these ideas without drowning the individual in the social or treating societies as though they were persons: in other words, to work on the endeavour of a group analytic idea of unconscious processes in which the multiple actors are constitutive.

After outlining dimensions of content that constitute the foundation matrix, I will enlarge the meaning of “communication” to include actions and the body as carrying meanings. I will also consider the time dimension of the “foundation matrix”. The unconscious is not a reservoir of eternal topics, released from the laws of time and space. Unconscious life has a special relation to time and has its special media. I try to stress the role of embodied memories and values, the significance of family talks, and that of externalizations such as books, museums, and rituals, as well as places, making a distinction between communicative and cultural memory, emphasizing the fact that personal memories emerge from, and are based in, collective memories.

 

Introduction: Amélie Noack

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Amélie Noack

The following chapters explore the connection between the social unconscious and the numinous, a topic that could be considered somewhat unusual in the context of a book like this. Gordon Lawrence, a former business consultant, and Stephanie Farris, a former solicitor who is now a Jungian analyst and group psychotherapist, each approach the subject from the angle of their own disciplines, which differ from Foulkesian group analysis.

Lawrence uses his experience of social dreaming, which is a method he discovered in 1982 when working at the Tavistock Institute in London, and which since has been widely applied in a variety of contexts, such as consulting to business and organizations, to explore the social dimension of dreaming, especially in connection with social trauma. Social dreaming looks at the thinking and cultural knowledge contained in dreaming and aims to elucidate political and social realities through a connection with the social unconscious, which “… comes into existence when three or more people relate through their individual unconscious … and discover … an added quality beyond the capabilities of their individual unconscious” (Lawrence, 2007, p. 6).

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: The social unconscious and the collective unconscious: the Jungian perspective

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Stephanie Fariss

Introduction

In February 2006, European newspapers published several political cartoons, including a caricature of Islam’s founder, Mohammed, as a terrorist with a bomb in his turban. Considered “blasphemous”, the cartoons sparked violent protests in Muslim and Arab countries which resulted in several deaths. Europeans and Americans, who experience such satirical forms of expression as a legitimate cultural tradition, were nonplussed by the Muslim response. Around this time, an American Muslim named Eboo Patel told a story on National Public Radio that illustrated the dilemma of someone holding the tension of both views:

“Do you believe in free speech?” people asked him.

“To the teeth,” he replied.

“Are you hurt by the ridiculing of the Prophet Mohammed in mainstream newspapers?”

“Deep in my heart.”

Confused, they then say: “But your beliefs contradict each other; which do you choose, Western values vs. Muslim values? Free speech vs. cultural sensitivity?”

But Patel refuses to dichotomize the discussion or to be pushed to the point of polarization. As he sees it, viewing the world in such absolutes plays into the hands of those who are working to entrench the clash of civilizations and make it as bloody as possible. Some people, he imagines, are whispering into the ears of right-wing politicians in Europe, saying things such as, “True Europeans are ready to hear that we were not meant to live with these foreigners. Let’s make Europe pure again.” Their counterparts in the Muslim world, he imagines, are telling their people that if Muslims do not go to war with the West, then the West will continue to insult Islam. The two sides think they are battling with each other, Patel says, but their volleys serve mostly to destroy the dream of a common life together.

 

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