Psychoanalytic perspectives on activism

Element Descriptor

Activism – being involved in one or more groups, which are (hopefully) part of a “movement” that is in conflict with other actors (corporations, governments, states) is a confusing and occasionally frightening business.  Psychoanalytic theories are one way of explaining/dealing with  that confusion/fear.The absence of having ways to deal with confusion/fear means you’re dominated by it rather than have some hope of coping with it.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You can understand how basic notions of ego, super-ego, id and ego-defence mechanisms can be applied (and misapplied) to individuals (careful here!),  social movement organisations, movements and issues. Oh, and you also you understand what a deeply unpleasant (conservative, misogynist) guy Freud was and how that makes many of his ideas either dodgy or dodgy in the eyes of othersYou are able to use a comprehensive understanding of ‘mainstream’ psychoanalytic thought (the basics) to examine the standard conflicts between various groups and individuals, tracing the hidden assumptions and desires in their actions and various written pronouncements.  But you’re not so good on doing anything about it or explaining it without seeming very very weird indeed.You are able to use your understanding of several psychoanalytic theories to look at how groups do or do function and deal with problems that emerge as their honeymoon period fades. You can explain the usefulness and dangers of the perspectives to diverse audiences, including skeptical ones, clearly and succinctly.You can do a Kleinian reading of McAdam, a Bionic reading of Jasper and… you don’t get invited to many parties. Or protests. But you’re able to use different psychoanalytic theories to offer useful insights for movement building, the role of emotions as a two edged sword in organising and sustaining civil society organisations, without giving in to your Messiah complex or intellectualisation.

Element Overview Essay

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The reason this is done badly or not at all, is that most people are, understandably if incorrectly, deeply suspicious of psychoanalysis, and think that it’s all about people wanting to shag their mother or father and that it has no relevance for non hierarchical groups of active citizens. Sadly, they’re wrong. psychoanalytic approaches can be can be extremely useful.

The consequences of not understanding this is that the insights are lost and predictable patterns that might be comforting. incited for particular predictable pressures and conflicts that are not necessarily productive, are allowed to play out when a few astute words and changes to the format of meetings and bringing certain items onto the agenda literally and metaphorically, might have helped everyone use their energies better.

The solutions to this are to engage with the work that has been written. Rosemary Randall for 30 or 40 years ago, wrote a wonderful short book called community group meeting or community group dynamics why your meetings don’t have to be so terrible and they can also be worth groups. actively seeking out actively reflecting on such insights there are about how groups work. I’m thinking of beyond and the cloud stream and how groups choose the worst leader. There are other. There are other insights too.

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