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Frosh, S. (1992). Jerome Bruner, Acts of Meaning, London: Harvard University Press, 1990, xvii + 179 pages, hb, £15.95. Free Associations, 3(3):460-462.

(1992). Free Associations, 3(3):460-462

Jerome Bruner, Acts of Meaning, London: Harvard University Press, 1990, xvii + 179 pages, hb, £15.95

Review by:
Stephen Frosh

The history of relationships between psychoanalysis and academic psychology is full of antagonisms and deep, apparently irreconcilable divisions. Psychologists have pilloried psychoanalysis' neglect of traditional scientific method, its immersion in the subjectivity of the analyst as much as of the patient, its speculative grandiosity and frequent neglect of simple psychological realities. Psychoanalysts have scorned psychologists' inability to formulate interesting questions about human functioning, their inhibitions about emotion, their obsessive concern with what can be seen, touched and counted. Central to many of these disputes is a profound opposition around what constitutes a possible explanation of human conduct; in particular, about what kinds of ‘meanings’ or intentions might be significantly causal to the individual and intelligible to an external observer. Psychoanalysis makes meanings — albeit of a specific, limited variety (unconscious meanings) — fundamental to its explanatory accounts; psychology has tended to regard them as untrustworthy, epiphenomenal and obscure.

But things have been changing in both disciplines, piecemeal and not often noticed by the other. Psychoanalysts have become more rigorous in their approach to measurement and observation — witness, for example, the explosion of analytic interest in developmental psychology — and their readiness to attempt evaluations of their practice. Psychologists, in limited areas of work, have begun to return to asking grand questions.

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