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Kwawer, J.S. (1992). Interactional Paradigms and the Self in Psychoanalysis. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 40:1225-1226.

(1992). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 40:1225-1226

Interactional Paradigms and the Self in Psychoanalysis

Jay S. Kwawer, Ph.D.

June 2, 1991

Kirshner's (1991) discussion of the history of the concept of "self" in psychoanalysis usefully calls attention to the philosophical roots of current concepts in the theories of Hegel, for whom "self" develops out of encounters with other people. Erroneously, I believe, Kirshner states that the "intersubjective approach to the development of selfhood made its appearance in psychoanalytic psychology in the work of Winnicott" who broke "away from the encapsulated, representational tradition of regarding the interpersonal as a matter of projections and introjections …" (p. 169). He attributes to Winnicott's views on the formation of the self a "fundamental shift in perspective or paradigm" (p. 170).

While it makes great theoretical and clinical-empirical sense to conceptualize a "self" that "requires intersubjective experience" and that "is built up out of interactions with others" (p. 179), I believe it is historically inaccurate to attribute this paradigm shift to Winnicott's impressive clinical contributions. I am writing in the interest of scholarly accuracy about this aspect of the history of psychoanalytic ideas.

In fact, Winnicott's (1967) paper on the "mirror role" of mother, cited by Kirshner, follows by more than half a century the introduction into psychology of an interactional frame of reference for understanding "selfhood," by the so-called "Chicago school" of social psychology, including Charles Horton Cooley (1902) and George Herbert Mead (Strauss, 1956). Cooley and Mead were influential American university academics of the pragmatic school. They understood the "self" as arising only out of social experience and described it as a social creation. Apropos "intersubjectivity," Cooley wrote explicitly, "self and other do not exist as mutually exclusive social facts" (Cooley, 1902p. 126). Built up out of the reflected appraisals of others, this immutably social "self" functions as what Cooley, and not Winnicott, first called a "looking-glass self" (Cooley, 1902p. 184).


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