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Sweetnam, A. (1996). The Changing Contexts of Gender: Between Fixed and Fluid Experience. Psychoanal. Dial., 6(4):437-459.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 6(4):437-459

The Changing Contexts of Gender: Between Fixed and Fluid Experience

Annie Sweetnam, Ph.D.

Each of us holds unconscious representations of man and woman. Traditional psychoanalytic theories have viewed gender as formed primarily through unconscious representations of either man or woman. These theories have linked gender identifications to the resolution of either oedipal or preoedipal developmental issues. With this resolution, gender identifications have been conceptualized as acquiring a cohesiveness and a fixed nature over the rest of the life span.

Contemporary feminist theories have challenged these ideas of fixed, unitary identifications and have offered instead the notion of a fluid gender that moves between multiple identifications. What is problematic is that either the understanding of gender has been restricted to the idea of singular, fixed identifications because of the linear frame of traditional theories or, in the feminist psychoanalytic quest for multiplicity and fluidity, no place has been left for the more fixed quality of gender experience. The tension between gender rigidity and fluidity has been collapsed.

The author argues that the complex and dialectical nature of gender as an aspect of experience that at times feels sure and fixed and at other times feels more open to fluidity and change must be accounted for in gender theory. She traces the major developments in the psychoanalytic gender literature and, through case vignettes, uses Klein's and Ogden's formulations of the psychological positions to illustrate how the dialectical

movement between the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions continuously recontextualizes gender such that the tension between fixed and fluid experience is maintained.

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