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Craib, I. (1987). The psychodynamics of theory. Free Associations, 1(10):32-56.

(1987). Free Associations, 1(10):32-56

The psychodynamics of theory

Ian Craib

When I began this paper it was going to be a discussion of the way in which Freud's work has, over recent years, been incorporated into the social sciences. Not only was the idea interesting; it seemed to fit neatly into a wider project. But although it was interesting, it turned out to be too much of a distraction from pressing deadlines and I abandoned it in favour of a review of four books I had looked at as part of the original enterprise: Ilham Dilman's Freud and Human Nature and Freud and the Mind, and C. R. Badcock's The Psychoanalysis of Culture and Madness and Modernity. As I was starting work on this, it became caught up with an unexpected bout of self-questioning: what on earth was I doing reading all this? Did I think it was important or even interesting? What, anyway, could I possibly have to say about it?

All four books are concerned with big questions: the nature of human beings, of society and life in general, an area which I will refer to simply as theory, although some might prefer ‘metatheory’ or ‘philosophy’. I have spent most of my adult intellectual life in the world of theory, from my schoolboy conversion to Marxism onwards. For a long time I was comparatively happy, but over the last decade I have been slowly moving away from it, trying to develop other research interests and moving out of teaching theory and philosophy. As I work in what is still, despite the cutbacks, a comparatively large sociology department, such a shift seemed possible without causing too much disruption.

Last summer, however, circumstances seemed to be taking me in the opposite direction. I discovered that most of a particularly heavy teaching load next year, involving a great deal of time and commitment of intellectual energy, would involve theory.

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