Sunday, November 25, 2007

Freud More Popular Outside of Psychology Departments

It's fairly common knowledge that Freud is very popular in what Thomas Nagel once called "the weaker reaches of the humanities and social sciences." And it's also fairly well-known that he's not that popular inside psych departments anymore. That's what this is all about.

In this respect he's rather like Marx: no longer of much interest to economists, he nevertheless is accessible and sexy, so easily picked up by literary theorists, anthropologists, sociologists, "speech communication" types, etc. These Po-Mo-y types really love anything that lets 'em talk about sex (or bash capitalism), so I expect that Freud (and Marx) will have a home there for a long time.

(Note: needless to say, not all LitCritters, anthropologists, etc. are mushy-headed Po-Mo dittoheads. But those disciplines sure do have way more than their share of those types.)


Blogger Tracie said...

This is absolutely true. As a current Psych student, a lot of emphasis is/was placed on the "science" of Psychology. In fact, an extra stats class as well as a research methods class were required before we were able to take upper level classes.

And while I took classes like Social, Cognitive, and Abnormal Psych, Psychoanalysis was not offered, mainly because it's hard to empirically test. Psych journals print results from lab based tests and surveys. After reading about 50 of both this semester (yay seminar classes!), many Psych journal articles read more like Bio journal articles, instead of, say, Anthropology or Sociology articles.

While Freud is always mentioned as someone historically important, his accomplishments (some of which to my knowledge are rather dubious, as many of his "famous" patients' accounts were padded or partially fabricated) were not emphasized as much as men like Wundt, Leibnitz, Skinner, James, Pavlov, Chomsky, etc. Many of his theories were either disproven with empirical data (fMRI scans of the brains of people with compulsions or depression) or generally discredited, like his theories about children's sexual feelings towards their parents.

To my knowledge, Freud's theory of the subconscious mind is pretty much the only remainder of mainstream psychoanalysis. Most practicing psychologists use a variety of different techniques in their practice, including cognitive/behavioral approach and psychodynamic theory. Subconscious thoughts are often brought to light during sessions, and these thoughts are examined, but not in a traditional psychoanalytic fashion. I'd say that his ideology and methods have evolved so much that they're a new species completely; they have roots in Freudian thought, but beyond that, not a whole lot remains of a "traditional" Freud. And this is how it should be; this is how science progresses. Just as our knowledge about microbiology has expanded exponentially since new technology and techniques have been invented and refined, so has psychology based on our newfound knowledge based on brain scans, genetic information, and general knowledge.

However, I can understand his appeal to some areas of the liberal arts and social sciences. Most of the appeal is in the fact that you can never really be sure what exactly lurks in someone's subconscious.. including your own! I think the idea of having a secret, hidden self that can think strange, unknowable things is very powerful. This idea strikes a chord that resonates within almost every human being, in that at some point, we all question how well one can really, truly, know oneself. And in the end, I find that at least some Freudian theory is inexorably tangled in philosophy.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tracie confirms my sense that Freud's being ignored in Psych depts tells us more about the scientific self-image of Psychology than is does about Freud's value in understanding the mind. Freud certainly thought of himself as doing science, but that seems to have been one of the main things he was wrong about. Psychoanalytic vocabulary is an extension of our ordinary psychological vocabulary rather than something (like neuroscience in the Churchlands' (eg) aspiration) that might be construed as a rival to it. Most people are convinced that propositional contents aren't going to turn up as ground-level explanantes in physics, or any 'hard' special science, ergo: Psychology's scientific aspirations are incompatible with taking much notice of Freud.

"Not all LitCritters, anthropologists, etc. are mushy-headed Po-Mo dittoheads," as you say; but the same is true of enthusiasts for Freud (see eg Jonathan Lear's recent Routledge book on Freud).

5:38 AM  

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