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Merchant, J. (2019). The Controversy around the Concept of Archetypes and the Place for an Emergent/Developmental Model. J. Anal. Psychol., 64(5):701-719.

(2019). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 64(5):701-719

The Controversy around the Concept of Archetypes and the Place for an Emergent/Developmental Model

John Merchant, Ph.D.

This paper addresses two key controversial questions to do with the concept of archetypes - do they operate autonomously without connection to an individual's personal life experience? Does their biological base mean they are genetically determined, innate and thus a priori inherited psychic structures? These questions are addressed through the case of a person who began life as an unwanted pregnancy, was adopted at birth and as an adult, experienced profound waking visions. An emergent/developmental model of archetype is outlined which stresses developmental start-points through this infant's engagement via response and reaction to the affective and material world of the infant/birth mother matrix and from which emergence later occurs by way of participation in a socio-cultural and material context. The emergentism aspect of this model rescues it from being reductionist since it allows for cultural and socialisation inputs. The model's explanatory power is vastly enlarged by combining this with the developmental component. Critically, once developmentally produced mind/brain (image schema) structures are in place, they have the capacity to generate psychological life. Imagery can then appear as if it is innately derived when that is not the case. The contemporary neuroscience which supports this model is both outlined and related back to the case example.

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