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Atwood, G.E. Stolorow, R.D. (2012). The Demons of Phenomenological Contextualism: A Conversation. Psychoanal. Rev., 99(2):267-286.

(2012). Psychoanalytic Review, 99(2):267-286

The Demons of Phenomenological Contextualism: A Conversation

George E. Atwood, Ph.D. and Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D.

Over the course of some 40 years, our work has been centrally devoted to liberating psychoanalytic theory and practice from various forms of Cartesian, isolated-mind thinking (Descartes, 1641/1989) en route to a post-Cartesian psychoanalytic perspective. We would characterize the essence of a post-Cartesian psychoanalytic framework as phenomenological contextualism (Atwood, 2011; Stolorow, Atwood, & Orange, 2002). The framework is phenomenological in that it investigates and illuminates organizations or worlds of emotional experience. It is contextual in that it holds that such organizations of emotional experience take form, both developmentally and in the psychoanalytic situation, in constitutive relational or intersubjective contexts.

Why phenomenological contextualism? The way we see it is that our original studies of the subjective origins of personality theories in Faces in a Cloud (Atwood & Stolorow, 1993; Stolorow & Atwood, 1979) put us on a lifelong path of rethinking psychoanalysis phenomenologically, hence our early proposals for a “psychoanalytic phenomenology.” Our unwavering dedication to phenomenological inquiry, in turn, led us inexorably to the context-embeddedness of all emotional experience—hence our contextualism. It strikes us that our path from phenomenology to phenomenological contextualism mirrors that taken in the movement from Husserl's still-Cartesian phenomenology to Heidegger's phenomenological contextualism (Stolorow, 2011).


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