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Gabriel, Y. (1984). A Psychoanalytic Contribution to the Sociology of Suffering. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 11:467-480.

(1984). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 11:467-480

A Psychoanalytic Contribution to the Sociology of Suffering

Yiannis Gabriel


Freud argued that civilization is built on a systematic suppression and re-orientation of instinctual energies. The individual both resists and submits to culture's demands, suffering various discontents, notably sexual frustration and incapacitating guilt. As consolations, culture offers substitute gratifications, such as political and religious illusions, which are collective wish-fulfilments; while offering some satisfaction, illusions deepen the discontents of civilization and worsen the individual's burden. While this vicious circle was seen as central to humanity's 'tragic fate', the author suggests that illusions and discounts vary historically. In advanced capitalist societies, increasing bureaucratization, consumerism and decline in religious and political commitment transform the relationship between instincts and culture. Identification with bureaucratic routines overrides rationality, morality, utility and pleasure and proceeds from the sublimation of the death instinct into compulsive repetition of routinized behaviour. Eros, released from constraints of morality and relieved from bond-building functions, is unable to attach itself to meaningful objects, and is introjected leading to narcissistic states of meaninglessness. Thus while bearing the special marks of our impersonal machine-dominated culture, illusions and discontents are still locked in the vicious circle identified by Freud.

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