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Wolfenstein, E.V. (1991). On the uses and abuses of psychoanalysis in cultural research. Free Associations, 2(4):515-547.

(1991). Free Associations, 2(4):515-547

On the uses and abuses of psychoanalysis in cultural research

Eugene Victor Wolfenstein

Virtually from the beginning psychoanalytic theory has been applied extra-clinically.1 These efforts have not always been welcomed by practitioners in the fields of application (history, sociology, literary criticism, etc.). Partly this cool reception represents resistances to the critical and de-idealizing force of psychoanalytic theory. Partly it reflects the often unsophisticated, indeed methodologically crude, nature of such psychoanalytic ventures. But, in my opinion, it also reflects mutual misunderstandings about the nature of and relationship between clinical and extra-clinical inquiry. My aim in this essay is to weaken the hold of such misunderstandings.

I will approach my topic from two directions. First, I will put forward two propositions concerning the epistemic relationship between clinical and applied psychoanalysis. In the process I will make several points about the methodology of applied psychoanalysis. Second, as an illustration of applied psychoanalytic work, I will discuss the process through which Malcolm X liberated himself from his discipleship to Elijah Muhammad and emerged as a man with a mind of his own.2 My hope is that these approaches will prove to be complementary.

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