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Bowker, M.H. (2017). Analytical and Political Neutrality: Change, Privilege, and Responsibility. Free Associations, 18(2):1-17.

(2017). Free Associations, 18(2):1-17


Analytical and Political Neutrality: Change, Privilege, and Responsibility

Matthew H. Bowker, Ph.D.

Tension between the ideal of analytic neutrality — although conceived and applied in various ways — and the putative danger of political neutrality is intrinsic to psychoanalytic investigations of culture and society. It presents itself with urgency in times of social conflict, especially when such conflict is characterized by or framed in terms of victimization, but it has not been a subject of rigorous debate. That the tension between analytic and political neutrality has not been widely examined might mean that when analysts engage in scholarly work outside of clinical settings (e.g., writing books or papers), we adopt a different set of norms to guide our behavior, norms that do not include whatever attitude of neutrality we may observe in the consulting room. But it might also mean that this tension is a site of resistance, that we are unwilling to look closely at a difficult aspect of our work because we expect it to yield uncomfortable experience. Of course, this resistance may be largely unconscious, leading us to miss or mistake the meanings and consequences of our positions.

Analytic Neutrality

Due to space limitations, in this essay I do not review the long history or many variations of the idea of analytic neutrality. There remains a healthy discourse on the subject, particularly as it pertains to the timing and nature of interpretations, the self-presence or self-absence of the analyst, and the establishment of an appropriate working

* I am exceedingly grateful to David P.

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