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Youakim, J.M. (2002). The Politics of Psychoanalysis: An Introduction to Freudian and Post-Freudian Theory. By Stephen Frosh. 2nd ed. New York: New York University Press, 1999, 336 pp., $18.50.. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 4(2):251-254.

(2002). Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 4(2):251-254

The Politics of Psychoanalysis: An Introduction to Freudian and Post-Freudian Theory. By Stephen Frosh. 2nd ed. New York: New York University Press, 1999, 336 pp., $18.50.

Review by:
James M. Youakim, M.D.

The “politics” of the title of Stephen Frosh's book is not the political maneuvering among psychoanalysts. Frosh is concerned, first, with how political thinking is inherent in the assumptions of psychoanalytic theories and, second, how psychoanalysis can be applied to wider social and political theory. By politics he means “the positions taken up with respect to power relations that exist between people and that are embedded in the major structures of society” (p. 12).

This is a thorough survey of Freudianism and its preeminent successors, based on both primary and secondary sources, and viewed through the lens of progressive political thought. Frosh's modus operandi is to set forth the ideas of each of his subjects then review what he finds politically useful and politically dangerous in their work. About a quarter of the book is taken up with a discussion of Freud. Drive theory, the structural theory, and the importance of repression are emphasized as shaping the Freudian view of the individual's relation to society. Frosh reads Freud as pessimistic and conservative. Hope for radical social change is, like religion, another effort at finding consolation in the face of the inevitability of repression and its hardships. Yet, Frosh argues, what seem to be the most reactionary elements of psychoanalysis hold some promise for progressive thinking, if only because they open the inner world of the individual to analysis.

Societal factors, he believes, not intrapsychic factors, cause human misery. He criticizes psychoanalysis as an authoritarian technique that emphasizes the analyst's authority and centrality of the transference, which perpetuates the oppressive structures of society.


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