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Rustin, M. (1985). The Social Organization of Secrets: Towards a Sociology of Psychoanalysis. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 12:143-159.

(1985). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 12:143-159

The Social Organization of Secrets: Towards a Sociology of Psychoanalysis

Michael Rustin


This article attempts to give a sociological account of the professional and training institutions of psychoanalysis in Britian, which have scarcely been described in the sociological literature. It proposes that the highly personal and confidential content of psychoanalytical work poses particular problems for its professional organization. Simmel's account of the

importance of the flow of knowledge to the structuring of social groups and institutions is found useful in explaining the forms taken by psychoanalytic institutions, which necessarily, because of the technical requirements of psychoanalytic practice, have some of the characteristics of the 'secret society'. The psychoanalytic institutions must not only regulate the flow of intimate knowledge within psychoanalytic practice, but are also themselves bearers of a particular form of knowledge, or 'prophecy', within their wider society. Different strategies for the preservation and propagation of this knowledge are described, in which a more conservative and restrictive conception is contrasted in its origins and implications with a more outward-oriented and missionary one.

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