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Psychoanalysis and Social Theory


Module description

This 20-week module is taught across two terms. Psychoanalysis and social theory are two central areas of theory and practice that inform psychosocial studies. The module will develop your understanding of key concepts in psychoanalysis and social theory and examine the relation between the two.

In the first half of the module we will situate psychoanalysis in the context in which it emerged in late nineteenth-century Vienna, in relation to Empire, Europe's colonial expansion and decolonisation movements. We will study key concepts in psychoanalysis such as the unconscious and the drive; gender, sexuality and sexual difference; love, hate and ambivalence; dreams and fantasy; melancholia and intersubjectivity; and discuss them as both clinical and social forms of analysis. We will debate the social, political and ideological implications of these theories as well as approaching psychoanalysis as an open and dynamic body of thought that has been received, critiqued and revised. The module will also examine the complex relations psychoanalysis has had with social and political theory, feminism and queer theory, and post-colonial studies. 

The second half of the module will explore how social theory and the discipline of sociology help us understand inequality and difference as central aspects of the organisation of social and psychic life. We will use readings from a range authors to introduce some of the central debates around ideas about of modernity and colonialism; knowledge and rationality; subjectivity and identity; social divisions and inequalities, globalisation and decolonisation, and normativities and the making of social majorities and minorities (class, gender and ethnicity), as they have emerged in social theory since the nineteenth century. We will take a socio-historical approach to the study of modernity, the modern subject, and inequality and difference, tracing historical changes, and paying attention to the importance of time, space, place and nation.

Indicative module content

  • Concepts of the 'subject' and 'subjectivity' in psychoanalytic theory
  • The origins of psychoanalysis - Freud and his times
  • Freudian concepts such as the unconscious and repression; defences; drives and objects; the Oedipus complex; transference
  • The Kleinian story: phantasy; envy and destructiveness; paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions; reparation
  • Lacanian provocations: language and the subject; imaginary, symbolic and real
  • Critical responses to psychoanalysis from feminism, queer theory and critical race studies
  • Core concepts in critical theory including the legacy of Marx, Weber and Durkheim
  • Conceptions of the social or 'society' and their inclusive/exclusionary connotations
  • Processes of colonisation, racialisation and capitalism
  • Contemporary processes of migration and diaspora
  • Nationalisms, anti-nationalisms and counter movements

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • differentiate between schools and traditions of psychoanalytic and social theory
  • demonstrate an understanding of core concepts in both fields of study
  • show a deepened capacity for reflexivity and a capacity for thinking critically about knowledge production and 'theory'
  • critically engage with and use psychoanalytic and social theory in the analysis of individual and collective experience.