Marius Dahmen


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

The Ambivalence of Emancipation. Psychanalysis between Negative Dialectics and Functional Integration in US Sociology, post-WWII

Dissertation in Soziologie

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

My dissertation project investigates the role and function of psychoanalysis in US sociology in the 1950s and 60s. It aims to delineate the specific implications of psychoanalytical concepts in diverging sociological theories with regard to inherent notions of emancipation. The historical frame is marked by Institute for Social Research’s (IfS) relocation to Germany in 1949, and the delayed reception of it’s Critical Theory in US academia which set in in the early 1970s. A major guiding question is whether, and how, psychoanalysis functioned as a ‘bridging element’ between otherwise conflicting approaches.

By the 1950s psychoanalytical concepts and methods where not only used therapeutically but also by the advertising industry, the effort to construct political consent, and prominently figured in the development of sociological research methods and theories. Outstanding examples are the IfS’s Studies in Prejudices series (1950), David Riesman’s sociological bestseller The Lonely Crowd (1950), Talcott Parson’s Social Structure and Personality (1964), and Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization (1955) and One-Dimensional Man (1964). A closer look at the theoretical trajectories underlying the specific readings of psychoanalysis, however, reveals diverging and contradictory notions of the individual and society. The IfS stands for a materialist, Marx-inspired understanding, the existing social order is conceived as inherently ‘wrong’ and Critical Theory eventually aims at overcoming it. Parsons’ functional and descriptive perspective doesn’t problematize the societal whole. Riesman’s work doesn’t involve such a fundamental critique either, but is strongly informed by Fromm, who in turn, prominently references Marx and used to be a member of the IfS.

What does emancipation mean, if the societal whole is to be overcome; what does it mean if society is chiefly conceived as a functional entity? My project sets out to sharpen the specific notions. Leading questions are: what characterizes the use of psychoanalysis in the American sociological mainstream in the 1950s? What is the critical/emancipatory potential of psychoanalysis in Critical Theory and Lacanian psychoanalysis? How to account for the contradictory use of psychoanalysis in US social theory in the 50s and 60s?

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft