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Civin, M. Lombardi, K.L. (1990). The Preconscious and Potential Space. Psychoanal. Rev., 77(4):573-585.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Review, 77(4):573-585

The Preconscious and Potential Space

Michael Civin, Ph.D. and Karen L. Lombardi, Ph.D.


Within psychoanalytic theory, the dualism inherent in the century-old mind-body conflict has assumed the form of a forced choice between the primacy of internal experience (that is, instinctual drives) or the primacy of external experience (that is, relationships with significant others) in the formation of human psychic life. Greenberg and Mitchell's (1983) recent division of psychoanalytic thought on object relations into mutually exclusive paradigms which they call the drive/structure model and the relational/structure model represents one of the most carefully reasoned and provocative illustrations of such a dichotomy. For good reason, this work has had a striking impact on the field, especially among those of us who find the study of object-relations particularly rewarding. It has provided a cogently synthetic review of most of the major contributors to the development of thought on object-relations while at the same time clearly articulating a central issue in modern psychoanalytic theory.

In this article, we will attempt to justify the contention that this division into a drive/structure model and a relational/structure model reflects a larger tendency within psychoanalytic theory to divide the totality of human experience into a dichotomy between phenomena that reflect external experience and phenomena that reflect internal experience. We will further argue that such a tendency to dichotomize ignores to a large extent the significance of both the Freudian (1900) concept of the preconscious and the Winnicottian (1971) concept of potential space.


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