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Leffert, M. (1998). Theoretical Evolution or Shifting Interests?. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(4):1327.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(4):1327

Theoretical Evolution or Shifting Interests?

Mark Leffert

July 22, 1998. I read with great interest Paul Mosher's creative use of the PEP CD-ROM (JAPA 46/2) to study word counts of particular psychoanalytic terms appearing in the literature over the decades. I must, however, disagree with his conclusion that these incidence figures demonstrate the “evolving views of psychoanalytic writers” (p. 581; emphasis added). It is more accurate to say that changes in these figures, while they may at times involve development or evolution, represent only the shifting interests of such writers over the years. As we all know, various topics, from borderline issues to narcissism to enactments, to name a few recent ones, have blown hot and cold in the literature. This, unfortunately, does not necessarily imply evolution, as much as we might wish it to, only usage. To conclude, for example, that we have come to understand repression in a definitive way and hence see the term less in our literature does not seem warranted, however appealing the thought. I am not suggesting that Mosher explicitly states this conclusion, but he certainly implies it.

A project with more validity might involve the use of such counting procedures to study the way concepts raised in acknowledged seminal papers impact the literature. One could look at frequency of referencing, of course, but also the appearance of conceptual terms or phrases in the subsequent literature to determine if these concepts are used or merely cited. This would allow us to observe something about the fate of psychoanalytic ideas, valid or invalid, in our literature.

This is a useful first effort, but it is a mistake to try to conclude too much from it.

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