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Harris, A. (2017). Radioactive Identifications and the American Election: An Introduction. Psychoanal. Dial., 27(3):368-369.

(2017). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 27(3):368-369

Radioactive Identifications and the American Election: An Introduction

Adrienne Harris, Ph.D.

Since the early 1990s, Yolanda Gampel has been doing important theoretical and clinical work in situations of social and political violence and has written now a number of influential essays

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developing a term she names “radioactive identifications.” Whether we think of the unspeakable and unrepresentable effects of local or social trauma, we must see the disruption of so much functioning in these moments and in particular in the clinical setting. As the world macro and micro shakes and shudders, or as someone has written, the social glue melts, the frame and working assumptions of our work are all put into question, or free fall, or turmoil, or all at once.

I use the term “radioactive identification” or “radioactive nucleus” (Gampel, 1993, 1996a) to refer to phenomena that are comprised of unapproachable, nonrepresentable remnants of the memories of social violence that remain “radioactive,” … These radioactive elements lie scattered about—hidden in images, nightmares, and symptoms—through which, however, they are detectable. (Gampel, 1998, pp. 343–368)

For a number of analysts and for their patients, the events around the election of Donald Trump as president were utterly uniquely destabilizing. This unsettling and disruptive experience was certainly not the same for everyone. But indifference or business as usual came to seem the most troubling symptom of all. The level of social fear, of hatreds

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