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Greenacre, P. (1969). The Fetish and the Transitional Object. Psychoanal. St. Child, 24:144-164.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 24:144-164

The Fetish and the Transitional Object

Phyllis Greenacre, M.D.

The main focus of this paper will be a comparison of the clinical forms and functions of the transitional object and the fetish. The understanding of the differences and similarities may be facilitated by a consideration of the developmental backgrounds.

The transitional object and the fetish resemble each other in certain formal aspects: both are inanimate objects adopted and utilized by the individual to aid in maintaining a psychophysical balance under conditions of more or less strain. But there are rather striking differences in their origins and roles. The transitional object appears in and belongs to infancy, and is generally relinquished when infancy merges into childhood. The fetish, on the other hand, is commonly adopted as a necessary prop or adjunct to insure adequate sexual performance in adult life. The term fetish is here used in the limited sense of the perversion of fetishism. While this condition becomes manifest under the demands of adulthood, it has its roots in disturbances in infancy. The transitional object is almost ubiquitous and does not generally forecast an abnormal development.

There are other fetishistic phenomena in which the differences from the transitional object are not so clear-cut. This is especially true in conditions where the fetish is not related specifically to the genital sexual performance. It would be helpful, then, to study the fetish as an amulet or magic object, as a symbolic object in religious rites, as a token in romantic love, and as a special property in children's play. There may be an overlap between the functions of the transitional object and the fetish. The use of the transitional object seems then to be prolonged and ultimately serves a fetishistic need.

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