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Gerlach, A. (2009). Fascination, Alienation and Fear of Contact: Ethnopsychoanalytic Considerations on Large-Group Identity. Int. Forum Psychoanal., 18(4):214-218.

(2009). International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 18(4):214-218

Fascination, Alienation and Fear of Contact: Ethnopsychoanalytic Considerations on Large-Group Identity

Alf Gerlach, M.D.

Translated by:
Pauline Elsenheimer

(Received 18 September 2008; accepted 17 April 2009)

The subject of large-group identity has repeatedly been raised and elaborated upon in psychoanalytic discourse by Vamik Volkan (1999, 2002, 2005). Having developed this term, he has above all applied it to the examination of international relationships between nation states, communities of states, and ethnic groups. In so doing, his interest focuses on the extent to which differing large-group identities affect international relationships, how they can lead to obstacles in bringing parties closer together who have hitherto been hostile to one another, and also how targeted intervention can render these obstacles conscious and at least diminish the conceptions and fears unconsciously associated with them.

Volkan defines the large-group identity as the “subjective experience of thousands or millions of people who bond through a permanent feeling of being alike, whereas at the same time they have many characteristics in common with other groups alien to them” (Volkan, 1999, p. 48, translated). In his argumentation, Volkan makes use of certain core concepts that, in his opinion, most definitely relate to the subject of large-group identity and can be important in better understanding the associated phenomena. In his view, externalised images common to any one group act like a shared reservoir, a cultural reinforcement for non-integrated images of self and object. They bring a deep feeling of belonging to one's own group, as opposed to a group-related need for enemies, a search for suitable targets that can be externalised, while at the same time maintaining a principle of non-alikeness to another group.

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