Psychoanalysis and Education: Minding a Gap

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This book provides a unique and highly topical application of psychoanalytic theory to the broad context of education, including schools, universities, and adult learning. Education is understood as a crucial element in a lifelong project to gain more coherent and meaningful understanding of self and others. Psychoanalysis has taken the contingency, construction, and development of human subjectivity, as well as the difficulty of thinking, to be its prime preoccupation. Yet - at a time of increasing doubt and anxiety about the purposes and practice of education - psychoanalytic understanding, from various traditions, has never been more marginal in educational debate. The book seeks, in these terms, to bridge some of this gap: it is written for teachers, trainers, policy-makers, clinicians, researchers, and diverse academics who want to look beyond bland superficialities to deeper struggles for self and understanding. This includes unconscious processes in the relationships that constitue education as well as resistance to new ideas and practices. The intention of the book is to move towards bridging a fundamental gap in the conceptual imagination required for everyday understanding of what is really going on in educational settings: one where the experiencing subject is at the centre of our deliberations.

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CHAPTER ONE. Introduction: minding a gap

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Alan Bainbridge and Linden West

Starting points

In December 2009, diverse educators, psychotherapists, and others from the UK, Scandinavia, France, Italy, Turkey, South America, and Australia met at a conference held in Canterbury Christ Church University. The focus was to engage in discussing the applications of psychoanalysis, broadly defined, to education, in its widest sense, including adult and lifelong learning and higher education as well as schooling. This book originates from what, in retrospect, can be seen as a significant conference, and seeks to capture the complex, often messy, and yet potentially liberating world of education. Such a project, to connect these two worlds, was not novel, yet it should be noted that recent academic texts related to this broad area can be counted in tens rather than hundreds (e.g., Appel, 1999; Bibby, 2011; Britzman, 2009; Salzberger-Wittenberg, Williams, & Osborne, 1983; Youell, 2006). It is also clear, from a UK perspective at least, perhaps more widely, that psychoanalytic thought has had relatively minimal impact, especially in recent years, on education and the wider education-focused academy. Indeed, this book will present evidence of increasing hostility from many educators and academics towards its claims, aspirations, and ways of knowing.

 

CHAPTER TWO. To think or not to think: a phenomenological and psychoanalytic perspective on experience, thinking, and creativity

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Lene Auestad

Introduction

Juxtaposing Bion’s and Arendt’s reflections on “thinking” as an activity provoked by experience, the chapter aims to question the preconditions for openness to the differences of new situations encountered. Both theorists illuminate how thinking rests on some social conditions, how the individual is not self-sufficient as a producer/perceiver of meaning. Where Arendt’s philosophical account emphasises the necessity of a space between people for meaning and thinking, Bion’s psychoanalytic theory conveys the essential importance of an inner space and the presence of a receptive other. The theme of thinking and its dangers is explored through two stories that have informed psychoanalysis. First, King Oedipus, questioning why a plague is destroying his city, discovers that he has unknowingly caused the disaster by marrying his mother and killing his father, and reacts with horror. He became a king because he freed the city from the terrible sphinx through guessing its riddle. Second, Nathaniel seeks to find out who the figure of the Sandman is, and his obsession with this theme seems to lead him into madness. Ambivalence with regard to the value of enquiry is common to both the Greek myth/play and Hoffmann’s gothic fairy tale. It is argued that the acquisition of a conceptual framework involves an epistemic closure as well as enrichment, and that thinking rests jointly on a fundamental felt security and willingness to risk one’s supporting frameworks.

 

CHAPTER THREE. Anxiety, psychoanalysis, and reinvigorating education

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Anastasios Gaitanidis

Introduction

In this chapter, I examine how the psychoanalytic understanding and treatment of anxiety can provide the basis for a radical rethinking of the current educational system. I begin by highlighting the problematic assumptions embedded within the seventeenth and eighteenth century idea of liberal education (Bildung), along with its desire to preserve the students’ autonomy and their ability to think critically. I then move on to examine the recent developments in education that contribute to the abolition of the students’ critical abilities and reinforce their passive acceptance of their individual and social fate. I argue that this is accomplished by the current system’s promotion of a form of pseudo-education (Halbbildung), which can be characterised as “psychoanalysis in reverse”, that is to say, a type of education which attempts to repress and stifle students’ anxieties, instead of encouraging the critical exploration of the underlying conflicts and tensions that give rise to them.

 

CHAPTER FOUR. A psychoanalytically orientated clinical approach in education science

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Claudine Blanchard-Laville and Philippe Chaussecourte

Introduction

The existence of educational sciences in the French university system dates from 1967. Education science currently has the status of a fully autonomous university discipline with the legitimacy to hire its own teaching and research staff. Studies in the field start in the third year of the bachelor’s degree—what in France is called the licence—and extend to the doctoral level. There are some 14,000 students in the discipline with teaching and research staff numbering around 500.

All the educational sciences programmes in France have components of psychology and applied sociology linked to education, and quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The programmes also very frequently contain courses in pedagogy, the history of education, educational ideologies and/or studies of educational systems and institutional approaches to teaching and evaluation. There are also often courses in the history and philosophy of education, anthropology, comparative studies in education and didactics, as well as a great variety of optional subjects that are often linked to a local context.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. Zohar’s late arrival: a clinical analysis of teaching practice

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Laure Castelnau and Claudine Blanchard-Laville

The subject of my (LC) research is the transmission of unconscious phenomena from the teacher’s point of view in the teaching space. The focus is on understanding how the introspective work I undertook with a clinical analysis of professional practice group, followed by written work, enabled me to analyse a professional situation which had concerned me as a teacher. The research processes presented here took place over several periods of time.

I begin by presenting what is involved in belonging to a clinical analysis of professional practice group, and by describing the main elements of the process that supported my research over the three periods of time elaborated below. Later, I develop hypotheses about what might have been played out between the teacher I was and the pupil I call Zohar.

The clinical analysis of professional practice group

This form of clinical analysis of work-based problems, conceptually derived from the ideas and practice of psychoanalyst Michael Balint, is outlined in Chapter Four, above, by Blanchard-Laville and Chausse-65 courte. The group meetings take place every three weeks and each lasts two and a half hours. The group is directed by a leader specifically trained for this work within the framework of a professional Masters degree. During each meeting, two or three participants explain professional situations, which are then explored as a group. The speakers are encouraged to bring as much spontaneity and improvisation to their accounts as possible, factual details and inner feelings are solicited, with the other participants being allowed to request clarification, in order to throw light on the institutional context and what is professionally at stake within the situation described. At the instigation of the leader, the group then moves to a phase of associations, encouraging, wherever possible, links to the professional situation described in the teaching as well as the personal history of the speaker. At the following meeting, those participants who have described situations are invited to comment on their work experiences since the last discussion, and to share with the group the emotions, introspection, and ideas which have stemmed from the previous meeting’s work. One characteristic of the setting derives from a hypothesis that, between the two meetings, the participant continues his or her psychic work, often unconsciously, which can result in subsequent modification of his or her link to the events being studied.

 

CHAPTER SIX. Margot’s red shoes: when psychic reality challenges teaching

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Anne Bastin and Philippe Chaussecourte

This chapter highlights how psychoanalytic theory can be used in the study and understanding of the relationships and psychic processes at work in the educational experience of a primary school teacher. The material has been discussed and analysed between Philippe and myself, Anne, but I will use the personal pronoun, since much of the writing is mine and derives from a developed process of investigating psychic interactions in the ordinary teaching setting of my own class. While participating in a professional practice analysis group, I have presented situations giving rise to professional anxiety concerning a particular pupil that I call Margot. Her situation was evoking strong echoes in my own personal story. The group gave me the opportunity to work through the unconscious phenomena that resonate between pupil and teacher, generating misunderstandings inherent to the educational setting (Blanchard-Laville, 2001).

In order to deepen my understanding of the psychic phenomena at work, within a university research setting, I devised and implemented an observation framework. This is composed of two complementary processes: writing and talking. The individual writing process consisted of a psychoanalytically informed research monograph based on direct observation of the little girl in my class during a school year. The talking process refers to the group work, which offered an appropriate space to share professional difficulties, to be listened to, and to disentangle some of the muddle of the teaching situation. I will first describe some theoretical elements for understanding the case study, before presenting the teaching situation, and a particular episode with Margot is analysed.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN. White cliffs, white horses: on playing and auto/biography

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Jacki Cartlidge

“Whatever I say about children playing really applies to adults as well”

(Winnicott, 1971, p. 46)

This chapter extends a discussion that I developed in a recent article (Cartlidge, 2011), using the theories of Donald Winnicott, psychoanalyst and physician. The starting point was research carried out for my PhD, which involves engaging with the educational biographies of a small number of non-traditional learners in and around Dover, in the South East corner of Kent. By “non-traditional learners”, I mean people, some of whom are older returnees to education, who, for a range of reasons, are deemed to have “failed” at school, either in their own perception, or that of the educational authorities. I argue that “playing”, as Winnicott employs the term, is potentially crucial in understanding their experiences of learning and of managing transition. I also discuss the potential for using psychoanalytic insights, alongside an auto/biographical narrative approach, to illuminate complex processes in teaching and learning. By auto/ biography, I mean the sense of how we might draw on our own lives to make sense of others, as well as theirs to make sense of our selves, in both research and teaching (Stanley, 1992)

 

CHAPTER EIGHT. Teacher’s countertransference reconsidered

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Alper Sahin

Introduction

The influence of psychoanalytic theory on school psychology is fast improving in Turkey. The impact of the Istanbul Psychoanalytic Study Group linked with the International Psychoanalysis Association (IPA) and founded in 1994 as the Istanbul Psychoanalysis Group has an important role in this process (Parman, 2011). The Educational Sciences Department of Maltepe University has also made significant contributions, with yearly conferences under the name of “School and Psychoanalysis” and publications on psychoanalysis and education. Maltepe University are pioneers in the area of psychoanalytic pedagogy in Turkey. This has led to many school psychologists and clinicians developing a growing interest in psychoanalytical concepts and their use in school settings. In this chapter, the reader will find one of these discussions that relates to the countertransference of teachers.

The quality of school learning partially depends on the relationships between the students and their teachers (Bloom, 1982). In order to improve the quality of this relationship, on the teachers’ part, a deeper understanding of their emotions while working with their students is, therefore, necessary. Consequently, this chapter intends to investigate what might be a helpful way of defining and conceptualising the unconscious emotional responses, such as the countertrans-ference of the teachers, within the classroom setting. In this chapter, the countertransference of teachers in the school setting will be discussed in terms of mourning and learning. In order to clarify, define, and explore the use of this term, two case study schools are presented. The reason why these two schools have been chosen is the problematic emotional atmosphere that formed around a single significant problem, which is the mourning behaviours of the students, teachers, and parents. Since the researcher is also the teacher trainer for the case study schools, the opportunity for close observation and interaction permitted a deeper awareness of the feelings of those involved. An important focus here is on the definition and use of countertransfer-ence in a non-clinical environment. Since the clinical setting is clearly defined by psychoanalytic principles and practices, any psychoanalytical concept used outside that setting must equally be defined carefully.

 

CHAPTER NINE. Prequels and sequels: a psychoanalytic understanding of developing a professional practice in an education setting

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Alan Bainbridge

Introduction

Areview of the research on the early careers of education profes-sionals1 reveals that the encounter with professional knowledge and practice involves an interaction between the past, with all its memories and phantasies, and the objectivity of an established professional practice (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988; Huberman, 1995; Jones, 2003; Ovens & Tinning, 2009). This dialogical relationship between the past and present reflects the psychoanalytic assumption that a dynamic unconscious influences how early life events contribute towards later dispositions. Within a traditional clinical context, it is the role of the therapist to jointly explore the influence of the past and to guide the patient towards an understanding of the present.

The research reported here applies this supposition to the early career development of education professionals. The implication that will be developed is that an awareness of past responses to education settings will have an impact on understanding how a professional practice might develop. This chapter provides a psychoanalytic discussion on how unconscious processes influence the interaction between the past and present in education settings. A discussion of the impact this has on the encounter with professional knowledge and practice will then lead to a justification for the research project that explores the use of narratives to encourage professional reflexivity.

 

CHAPTER TEN. Border country: using psychodynamic ideas in teaching and research

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Celia Hunt and Linden West

Introduction

This chapter arises out of recognition of the importance of psychoanalytic theory in both our approaches to teaching and research. We demonstrate how such ideas—broadly defined as encouraging people to engage more closely with thoughts and feelings that may be hidden from the conscious mind—can be applied in many diverse and radical ways. We also show how such an approach can be problematical for students, teachers, and researchers. In writing this chapter, we take issue with those writers who want to separate therapy from education, insisting as they do that “therapeutic education” involves a “diminished” notion of the subject who sees him- or herself as a victim of circumstances. Instead, we suggest, entering the border country between therapeutic and educational processes and ideas can be deeply rewarding, empowering, but also difficult for teachers, researchers, and learners alike.

Our teaching and research

We have both used a psychodynamic approach to teaching and research in higher and adult education for many years.: “We define ‘psychodynamic’ broadly as an approach that encourages people to engage more closely with thoughts and feelings that may be hidden from the conscious mind” (Leiper & Maltby, 2004, p. 13). Celia convened a Masters programme on the use of creative writing as a developmental and therapeutic tool at Sussex University for fourteen years. People took this programme to strengthen their creative writing through a deeper engagement with self, to explore life transitions, and/or to acquire skills to work with others in education and health and social care. Part of the work was experiential, involving self-exploration through imagery and metaphor, and rewriting of personal narratives using fiction. While this was not therapy in the strict sense, there was a strong therapeutic dimension to students’ studies, but they also developed conceptual understandings of their writing process, drawing on psychodynamic, literary, and cultural theory. So, the learning involved was both emotional and cognitive, often identifying and working through subtle difficulties in learning to write creatively. Linden has used psychodynamic ideas in Masters and Doctoral programmes in developing auto/biographical reflections and research methodology. This includes exploring the role of the researcher, professional guidance worker, or doctor in shaping, sometimes unconsciously, what the “other” might say (e.g., Reid & West, 2010, 2011; West 1996, 2001, 2004, 2009, 2010). In his research, he has explicitly used psychodynamic ideas in interpreting aspects of his own life history as part of interrogating the auto/biographical dimensions of research. Gender, and changing senses of self, in the transitional spaces of education, broadly defined, as well as the interplay of desire and resistance, have similarly emerged as important themes in his work.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN. Training teachers: psychoanalytical issues in the teacher–student relationship

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Anna Zurolo

Introduction

This chapter is concerned with training teachers working in difficult educational situations in Southern Italy. It describes a number of psychoanalytically informed interventions to help teachers, and reflections on those experiences. Generally speaking, it is always difficult to promote interventions in very structured organisations; in such contexts, it is important to keep in mind that even when an intervention is directly requested, various forms of resistance to any potential change are evident. Following from this general point, I believe that any intervention should be respectful of the particular characteristics of each organisation, of its history, and of relationships between individuals. Any intervention by an external professional can be perceived as being done by an “external stranger”, whose knowledge and “know how” are, on the one hand, potentially important instruments to use; and, on the other, might bring in elements that threaten a pre-existing equilibrium and, as such, are anxiety provoking. Based on a range of theoretical, largely psychoanalytical insights, as in the work of Bion (1961), Kaës, Anzieu, Thomas, and Le Guerinel (1979), and Winnicott (1965), I suggest that any training can be a transformative process which alters the practice of those who take part (Urwand, 2002), but it should be noted that there can be strong resistance, too.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE. Learning through the emotions: experience-based learning for psychologists

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Adele Nunziante Cesàro, Anna Zurolo, Valentina Boursier, and Allesandra Delli Veneri

Introduction

This chapter reflects on the introduction of an important and distinctive dimension of experience-based training on the Master’s programme in Dynamic, Clinical, and Community Psychology at a university in southern Italy. To put this in context, it is important to note the characteristics of this Master’s programme and the related training requirements for psychotherapists and psychologists in Italy. A Master’s programme is typically an academic training that takes five years. It is usually followed by a one-year apprenticeship, generally in public services, after which students take a further examination to qualify for professional practice and to qualify to become a member of the “Regional Professional Psychologist Society”. Overall, this Masters course has a broad remit, training professional psychologists for work with individuals, groups, in industrial settings, and social communities. It aims to develop students who have a theoretical knowledge as well as the technical and methodological skills that will enable them to build and manage relationships with clients and customers. It also aims to promote research and to consider preventative measures. Ultimately, only those students who have undertaken a four-year specialisation in psychotherapy as part of their Master’s can practise as psychotherapists.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN. Continua: mentally ill artist students uninterrupted

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Olivia Sagan

Introduction

This chapter reports on research with a group of art students, each of whom had a history of mental ill health. The research was funded by the Higher Education Academy and the University of the Arts, London, to explore the experiences of mentally ill students within higher Arts education. Longitudinal, unstructured biographic narrative interviews1 were used, through which interviewees were encouraged to reflect, in an uninterrupted narrative flow, on their life, their art practice and their illness/health. The research prioritised free associative narrative (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000) to foreground the first-person experience of the interviewee, and allow her/him to shape the content with what felt important to the individual, rather than imposing a set of themes and questions on to the interview setting. This setting was carefully attended to, with priority given to regularity, reliability, and the (same) researcher each time working from within the frame of reference of the interviewee, remembering past details and holding in mind the person’s full story. Such a setting evoked a Winnicottian (1971) potential space. In such a space, at best, a trust, once established, allows for the two beings to become other, through dialogue, through co-narrative, through play. Seven people were spoken to in total, with each person being interviewed once a term. The shortest connection was for two years, the longest four. Students were recruited through the university counselling service, word of mouth, flyers, the Student Union, a student’s mental health support group, and general university advertising. Recruitment was not easy, with both an understandable reluctance to engage in research that was targeted at those experiencing mental ill health, and a high level of protection on the part of counsellors and tutors, who were wary of having individuals in their “care” involved. Several talks were given around the university by the researchers to inform both professionals and students about the research. Eventually, after a high number of enquiries which were not fruitful, several interviews with people who did not, as it turned out, meet the criterion of being diagnosed as having a mental ill health issue, and a number of complaints from around campus that mentioning mental illness in a research flyer was in some way infringing the rights of the mentally ill, a relatively stable sample was obtained. This beginning was a salutary reminder of the sensitivities at play within research that explores the fine lines between mental illness, mental health, self-identification, and the labelling of others through medical diagnosis. Viewing such interruptions and untidiness in the process of research as an integral part of the research and the story it is telling, and being aware of our own emotional responses to these, also offers a deeper insight into the nature of the subject being investigated (Sagan, 2011b).

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN. Transformative learning: a passage through the liminal zone

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Larry Green

Introduction

This chapter will explore the role and contribution of trauma theory and praxis to the understanding of transformative learning (TL). TL distinguishes itself from previous educational models, such as the banking and transmission models (Freire, 1993). These models were critiqued for their assumption that students were passive containers into which the teacher deposited content (ibid.). Transformative learning acknowledges that the container changes shape—the person reconfigures over their lifetime. It is not just a matter of adding or reorganising content (concepts) into an already formed container (self). Rather, the self can and often does change its shape. If we think of the self as delineated by the boundary that separates the “me” from the “not-me”, or the self from the other, then, as various psychoanalytically orientated theorists (e.g., Fairbairn, 1952; Guntrip, 1968; Kegan, 1982; Winnicott, 1965) have pointed out, that defining boundary is renegotiated over time. According to Kegan (1982), each developmental stage involves a reformulation of what is self and what is other (or object). It begins with the realisation, “mummy and I are not one person”. As this occurs, what was once experienced as an aspect of self—the mother— moves over to the object pole of the relationship. Separation anxiety could be more accurately described as not anxiety as a result of separation from the mother, but, rather, a separation from the self that one formerly was (ibid.). Kegan claimed that at each stage of development, a similar separation occurs, where what was once experienced as subject is moved over to the object side. For example, a tired child “sees” frustrating adults at every turn; later, she will objectify her “tiredness” and factor that compensating knowledge into her perceptions. Her tiredness no longer unconsciously conditions her perceptions, but, rather, becomes an object of her perception. In this movement, the psyche has undergone structural change.

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN. The dynamics of student identity: the threats from neo-liberal models and the benefits of a relational pedagogy

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Tony Brown and Mark Murphy

Introduction: the consequences of neo-liberalism and how integration of psychoanalytic theory and Honneth’s critical philosophy provides a healthier alternative

The decision to make the UK student population financially responsible for their own university education has major implications for the future of higher education (HE) provision. Chief among these will undoubtedly be a much stronger emphasis on the student experience, though this emphasis will not be confined to teaching and learning. Given the increasing influence of consumerism, the distinct possibility exists that opening HE to commercial markets will raise the importance of the non-academic aspects of university experience above that of the academic, thus changing forever the way we see and define student identity and students’ experiences of higher education.

If the American university experience is a guide to possible UK behaviour, then the shift to student as consumer will bring increased attention to the social and leisure aspects of the student experience (no bad thing in an absolute sense) together with a shift in emphasis away from academic standards, intellectual achievement, and student learning. Students who have bought a degree are less likely to sign up to tackle difficult learning and more likely to expect higher costs to be reflected in higher grades. Grade inflation (clearly the bottom line in value for money in a “student as consumer” world) is an inevitable outcome of a consumerist model since the value of the degree will increasingly be determined by grade comparisons between students, and between the different degree programmes that students have bought. Less attractive by far will be the option to struggle with difficult conceptual knowledge, with its attendant risk of lower grades on the lower slopes of understanding. Less attractive, too, when student unemployment is increasing, will be the idea that education can be intellectually and culturally transformative, and that it is for the public good. It is an appropriate time to explore the impact of consumerism and the dangerous shift in what “student experience” could come to mean: a shift that inevitably reframes accountability in terms of economic exchange.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN. Bridging gaps

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Linden West and Alan Bainbridge

In the final chapter, we summarise some core themes presented in the proceeding chapters and recognise the difficult, yet potentially rich, border country that exists between psychoanalysis and education. We also sketch out certain ways in which psychoanalytic ideas can contribute to a renewed relationship with education, at a practical level as well as in research. Our fundamental premise is that psychoanalytic ideas and practices allow “what happens in the particular” to be focused on building a more fulsome understanding of processes of meaning making in specific educational settings, yet one that also works to compose more general understandings of being human, of learning and change processes. Such understanding is grounded in careful and sustained chronicling of human experience. Modern psychoanalysis, predicated on relational dynamics, considers the ebb and flow of the individual, the other(s), and a wider cultural world (Clarke, Hahn, & Hoggett, 2008). It highlights the influence that the dynamic unconscious often has in our interactions with others, and in their responses to us, in ways conventionally only barely comprehended. It offers a view of human experience and struggles for selfhood that is responsive to physiological, neurological, psychological, social, and cultural dimensions, while foregrounding the experiencing self. In addition, the clinical practice of psychoanalysis provides a relational lens through which experience and anxiety in the interplay of the known and unknown is better understood. This, we argue, is mirrored in biographical narrative research or observational studies. Just as the clinic provides a safe, containing space for thinking, so, too, can research, although the two processes are not simple equivalents and should not be considered so. However, the psychoanalytic interpretative repertoire, uniquely, engages with understanding the process of “a particular becoming” and can be used in education and research, as well as clinical settings, to provide richer interpretation of learners and their stories.

 

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