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Marius Dahmen


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

The Ambivalence of Emancipation. Psychoanalysis between Functional Integration and Dialectical Negativity in US Sociological Theories, post-WWII.

Dissertation in Sociology

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Harald Wenzel
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Markus Kienscherf
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Florian Sedlmeier

My dissertation explores the ambiguous legacy of psychoanalysis by analyzing a number of sociological theories which prominently integrate Freudian concepts in the field of US sociology, post WWII. It is specifically interested in the gap that opens up between the physical encounter of the originally Frankfurt based Institute for Social Research and US sociology during the Institute’s American and the delayed reception of Critical Theory, its social-philosophical legacy, which begins in the late 1960s. In the context of my research interest, psychoanalysis functions as a common reference system of otherwise conflicting approaches. I ask for the critical potential of Freudian theory and trace theoretical and personal encounters in order to illuminate a period of conformity, challenges, and changes within the disciplinary field.

The analysis is twofold. Following the conceptual framework of Bourdieuian field analysis, the first to chapters trace the instrumental dynamics of competitive struggles for symbolic capital and scientific authority in the fields of American psychology and US sociology, with regard to the integration of psychoanalysis. In both fields, processes of professionalization and scientification lead to disciplinary ‘golden ages’ in the 1950s and their eventual demise in the 1960s. My analysis eventually carves out the dialectical relation of professionalization processes and psychoanalysis’s inherent emancipatory promise and points to the complex entanglement of rationalization processes and societal relations of domination. Following, with reference to Ernesto Laclau, a definition of emancipation as necessarily radical, the third and fourth chapter investigate concrete adaptations of Freudian concepts in the works of critical theorists Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, and US sociologists Talcott Parsons, David Riesman, and Philip Rieff. The fifth and last chapter eventually offers an analysis of the explicit or implicit emancipatory potentials and essential convergences and divergences. The investigation finally picks up on Eva Illouz’s contemporary analysis of emotional capitalism, which critically identifies a ‘therapeutic narrative’ as the core of modern self-hood.

My investigation makes its own normative directedness towards radical notions of emancipation explicit. It comes to the conclusion that the abandonment of Freudian drive theory becomes a crucial marker of psychoanalysis’s rationalization which is complicit in the formation of Illouz’s therapeutic narrative; however, instead of abandoning Freudian theory altogether it mobilizes Critical Theory’s negative emancipatory potential and argues, with Adorno and Marcuse, for a critical, and dialectical, re-appropriation of Freudian drive theory.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft