Border Tensions: Troubling Psychoanalysis, an Annual Conference

Posted by Nikole Hollenitsch on Oct 21, 2015 5:00:00 PM

mastheadThis week we send warm wishes to faculty members Mary Watkins, Lynne Layton, and alumnae Deanne Bell who are presenting at the Association for Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society’s  annual conference, Border Tensions: Troubling Psychoanalysis.

From Deserved Shame to Reparative Solidarity: The Role of Psychosocial Accompaniment

Chair(s): Mary Watkins (Pacifica Graduate Institute)

Presenter(s): Mary Watkins (Pacifica Graduate Institute)

From a decade of work on the borders between Anglos and Mexicans in the U.S., Watkins has tracked the role of deserved shame in psychological and community life. She defines deserved shame as feelings of shame that arise in the aftermath of individual or collective actions that have caused harm, differentiating it from undeserved feelings of shame experienced by innocent individuals. She asserts that if deserved shame is given psychological and community space, it can be a transformative emotion, capable of helping us move toward greater integrity in our relationships with those we or our cultural group has aggrieved.

Watkins argues for the inclusion of psychosocial accompaniment as an important role for psychologically-minded people and as a critically important and needed alternative to individual psychotherapy. Through such accompaniment we not only provide support and witness to people who are encountering the multiple challenges of membership in exploited and oppressed communities, but we may begin to locate and claim our own collective remorse and shame over excess profit, privilege, and use of natural resources at the expense of others. While often entering into the practice of psychosocial accompaniment to “help” others, the accompanier more deeply discerns her own identity and group history and is moved to joint actions of reparative solidarity that seek to transform the social, political, ecological, and economic conditions that generate misery in our time.

This roundtable will provide a space for individual reflection and voluntary group sharing around social arenas where participants experience deserved shame or collective remorse and the “borders” we are each called to cross to acknowledge this shame and to act in solidarity-with-others to address and redress the consequences of shameful actions and living. Psychosocial accompaniment will be explored as a role that can contribute to this process.  

What’s My Line? Agendas in Analytic Social Psychology

Chair(s): Jeremy Cohan (NYU Sociology, SPI)

Presenter(s): Jeremy Cohan (NYU Sociology, SPI), Greg Gabrellas (Drexel School of Medicine, SPI), Scott Jenkins (SPI), Lynne Layton (Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society)

In troubled times, it is worth asking basic questions—How do inner life and social form relate? Can an analytic social psychology contribute to social critique and change? Whose sleep is troubled? But we too often treat theory as a given, ready for launch against new happenings. We get a perpetual inventory, a critical cataloguing of events. But we don’t create an agenda for research that points toward possibilities of transformation.

Analytic Social Psychology lives or dies with these agendas. They are shaped by theories concerning the core elements of psychoanalysis. They put forward core questions. They confront the obscure dynamics of domination. They have changed and must change. Emphasizing these changes means finding differences even among allies in the struggle for a better world, for the sake of clarity and purpose. The borders between theories can help elucidate the problems of our time.

This roundtable invites participants to discuss the theoretical fundamentals of analytic social psychology by examining schools that set strong agendas for it. Presenters will take on, for purposes of breadth and depth, the Sex-Political school/movement of Wilhelm Reich (1933), the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory (1945), and the Ljubljana school (1989), among others—their fundamental theories and their entwinement in political history. Each of these formations will be presented through a brief report on its fundamental fault lines. Each presentation will be followed by discussion. All participants will then have an opportunity to raise questions about the present, motivated by the conversation.

We feel that this dialogue, while it may prove a modest contribution toward the formulation of a new agenda in social psychology, is important to the continuing vitality of psychoanalytic social theory as we draw, redraw, and efface the borders between sociology and psychology, society and individual, the status quo and an emancipated world.  

Bystanding Catastrophic Experience

Chair(s): Deanne Bell (Antioch College)

Presenter(s): Deanne Bell (Antioch College)

How is trauma, as a consequence of state violence, experienced by the historically marginalized in the neoliberal world? What psychic mechanisms do we use to bystand, and therefore contribute to, this injustice? If psychoanalysis is meant to increase our understanding of ourselves, how do we understand our apathy in not utilizing psychoanalytic insights including denial, disavowal and derealization in the face of overlooked collective trauma against oppressed peoples? This roundtable will explore these issues in the context of extending psychoanalytic social theorist Kelly Oliver’s (2004) idea of developing “social notions of alienation, melancholy, shame, affect, sublimation, idealization, and forgiveness” (p. xiv) to denial/denied racism and classism, enablers of state crime. Also, psychoanalytically informed trauma theory promotes witnessing as an ethical response to treatment of traumatic experience. Is this an adequate response if we are concerned with social transformation? Can we elaborate upon witnessing, extending it further? Finally, participants in the discussion will be asked to consider how psychoanalysis may contribute to a psychosocial theory of traumatization - that process by which everyday structures in the social world oversee suffering, deprivation, humiliation, physical endangerment and scarcity (Stevens, forthcoming).

This roundtable will include a brief overview of Oliver’s argument followed by a facilitated discussion on issues raised.

Oliver, K. (2004). The colonization of psychic space. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

Stevens, M. (forthcoming). Ruination's Glow: Trauma and Catastrophic Injury as Complex Cultural System. In (Eds.), Injured: The Cultural Politics of Injury and Redress in Comparative Perspective. Durham, NC: Duke University.


Faculty members Mary Watkins and Lynne Layton teach in Pacifica's M.A./Ph.D. Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology, and Ecopsychology Specialization of the Depth Program.

Alumnae Deanne Bell is a graduate from Pacifica's original M.A./Ph.D. Depth Psychology Program.

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