DD307 – Sniggering at the Social Psychoanalytical approach

I’ve just finished making my notes on ‘Self’ – chapter 5 of the DD307 Social Psychology Matters course book. Again, it’s been an interesting and thought-provoking read. I was particularly taken by the phenomenological approach to self as illustrated by the Ashworth and Ashworth research into how carers can better relate to Alzheimer’s sufferers. It struck me as being an eminently sensible and reasonable approach – and one which was generating “proper” knowledge that was genuinely useful.

However, I found myself sniggering all the way through the case study on “Vince” (and “Esther” too for that matter), which formed one of the examples for the social psychoanalytical approach in the chapter.

I understand the idea that there is more to self than the conscious mind, but what I still can’t quite square off is that Freudian psychoanalysis is founded in anything empirically sensible at all. Surely building a ‘social psychoanalytical’ perspective on such a dubious body of work is rather like building a house on quicksand.

The conclusions in the “Vince” case study may or may not be valid, but I keep on going back to wanting to apply Occam’s razor – “entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity”. In other words, “keep it simple, stupid”. While “Vince” may not have had a condition that could be detected by medical science at the time, the most likely explanation is that he probably did, rather than appealing to some quasi-mysterious (and ultimately unknowable) set of unconscious motivations.

Sigh. I can see I’m going to make a rotten critical social psychology student if the social psychoanalytical perspective in this course doesn’t come up with anything a little more convincing – and fast!

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Reader Comments

  1. Kathy Clark

    I went through similar thought patterns with social psychology. Sometimes I loved the approach (phenom for example) and others I actually thought were just plain nutty! (soc psych!) But I think the ultimate realisation for me was that on their own, none ogf the offer a complete solution as they all have weaknesses and gaps; but taken together, they could well offer a credible methodology. Just take it as it comes and enjoy it!! 🙂

    • tim

      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for that – and I was being perhaps just a little tongue in cheek when I put this post together! And, low marks on TMA01 or not, I am enjoying it … and I’m even beginning to enjoy SD226 now after a very slow start. Onwards and sideways …

  2. Susan Mcmahon

    We wouldn’t be where we are today without what went before, and in another hundred years the Parapsychologists or whatever is in vogue will be giggling at the Cognitive approach….we aren’t the end….we are just riding our moment (Mcmahon, 2011)

  3. Jane

    Agree- Esther and Vince’s examples are hardly compelling! I don’t feel I know enough yet about how ‘social’ fits with ‘psychoanalytic’ and those examples didn’t help much. I think I am (unconsciously, of course) just not very impressed by the approach so far.

    But the Alzheimer’s example was just…brilliant. And moving.

  4. Gail Ollis

    More milestones for me courtesy of DD307. As well as giving me my lowest OU mark ever (I am NOT going to say ‘so far’!), it has provoked my first ever swearing in the notes I make in the margins, and my first “What the…?” email to a tutor. I contacted her yesterday to ask if there was anything I could read to help me understand what life is like on Planet Psychoanalytic. (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much!) I’m putting my faith in phenomenology here, hoping that I can grasp something of their lifeworld!! I might then be able to constructively evaluate their analysis, instead of just getting hung up on the theoretical principles they base it on.

    Anyway, she suggested the ‘optional reading’ on psychoanalytic theory, from the course website. It’s a whole extra chapter to read, which is a bit of a pain, but maybe it’ll help so I thought I’d pass on the advice.

    Just to finish on a more upbeat note by agreeing with someone, I agree with Jane. Reading that whole Ashworth & Ashworth article is time tremendously well spent.

    • tim

      Hi Gail,

      I hadn’t realised there was extra reading available on the course website for psychoanalytic theory, so thanks for the tip. After struggling through the Chodorow stuff yesterday that sounds like something I ought to read. It also makes a little more sense as to “why” that reading is included after re-reading the commentary in the chapter too (also paraphrasing wildly, “it’s the unconscious, innit?”).

      I’ve also dug out the Ashworth & Ashworth article – that’s a bit of extra reading for me tonight I think.

  5. Eli

    Tim, your notes are the most amazing ever. Thank you so much for allowing them to be shared. Makes my ramblings look well, rambly 🙂 Yours are so clear and well set out and I got a good mark for tma 01 because of them. Keep up the good work!!! Also I agree with you on psychoanalytic perspective!! And phen too. Think I will be using that in my pathetic attempt at a research project.

  6. michael

    I think I agree to bits of what your saying but I think the altzimers example is only better because we can relate to it. there is a look more to social psychoanalytic perspective than fruad. The extra reading does really help. im excited about my reserch im definitely doing social psychoanalytic perspective as it makes the most sense to me

  7. tim

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the comment. If you’re excited about a particular approach then you should definitely do it for your project. I’m still excited by discursive psychology and qualitative methods, but I never did get too much further with the social psychoanalytical stuff I’m afraid. However, I think that the different perspectives used by researchers is what makes psychology so interesting and vibrant as a topic – and I don’t doubt that this approach has its uses. It’s just not for me I guess!


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