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Steinberger, C.B. (2018). Conservative and Radical Perspectives on Psychoanalytic Knowledge: The Fascinated and the Disenchanted. By Aner Govrin. New York: Routledge, 2016, 255pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 105(1):130-133.

(2018). Psychoanalytic Review, 105(1):130-133

Conservative and Radical Perspectives on Psychoanalytic Knowledge: The Fascinated and the Disenchanted. By Aner Govrin. New York: Routledge, 2016, 255pp.

Review by:
Claire Beth Steinberger, ED.D., Esq.

Aner Govrin's interdisciplinary inquiry bridges psychoanalysis and sociology, presenting a rich investigation of two approaches to psychoanalytic theory-building and/or “images of knowledge.” The author describes his research as a “journey in search of the way fascinated and troubled communities go about developing and enriching psychoanalytic knowledge” (p. 11). He advances the idea that psychoanalytic “images” emerge from the tension between two groups and their different epistemological orientations—one conservative (“fascinated”) and the other radical and change-oriented (“troubled” or “disenchanted”). The book's well-organized scholarship builds on contributions of science philosopher Yehuda Elkana (1981), who addresses the need for intellectual investigation to adapt to a changing world, where “images of knowledge” and “world views” emerge from socially determined constructions that depend on time, culture, and society. Govrin is concerned with the psychoanalytic field's capacity to thrive in a postmodern, scientifically dominated twenty-first century world.

The book's comparative assessment can come across as overly polarizing, creating a rather sharp demarcation between closed-minded, leader-driven (conservative) communities (e.g., Freudian, Kleinian, Kohutian) on the one hand and open-minded, nontraditional (radical) communities (e.g., the relational approach) on the other. Although the author acknowledges independent thinkers like Mike Eigen, Jonathan Lear, Hans Loewald, Marion Millner, and Thomas Ogden, he highlights the idea that most psychoanalytic theorists belong to one of the two dominant communities. Along this line, he points to stark differences between conservative and radical groups in terms of sources of knowledge (e.g., empirical research vs. clinical case material), capacity to tolerate intracommunity controversy (e.g., British object relations with Anna Freud and Melanie Klein), and openness to novel ideas.

A discussion titled “The Dialectics of the Fascinated and the Troubled within Psychoanalytic Schools: Stolorow, Josepth, Ferro and Eigen” (ch. 5, pp. 107-141) brings a softer and less polarizing appreciation. It emphasizes a view that both groups—the fascinated and the disenchanted—embrace theoretical challenge and diversity.

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