Interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Thought Network

International Hegel Workshop Series at the University of Oxford


Oxford Interdisciplinary Psychoanalysis Seminar (St John’s College)

The Social Subject: Intersubjectivity, Psychoanalysis, and Hegel

St John’s College, University of Oxford

2nd July 2022, 9:30 – 5:30

This Workshop is kindly supported by the Hegel Society of Great Britain.

Why Psychoanalysis? Why Hegel?

In pursuit of a solution to the problem of how far socialisation makes the individual subject a reflective participant in social life and as receptive to the transmission of social meaning, we have been interrogating Raymond Williams’s suggestive but intractably vague concept of a structure of feeling. So far we may say that, ‘emergent’ but not actual as a social formation, a structure of feeling is a socially created environment of affective relationality between individuals, which produces and is produced by their activity within in society’s structures. However, as a form of consciousness this nevertheless does more than just format, or entrain, society’s members into either conformity or conflict with social norms, since it is both generated by and produces experience that is ‘present’ to the individual herself (and could therefore be thought to have motivational force).

At the same time, the entry of the individual into the realm of ethical responsibility is blocked by Williams’s (Marxian) insistence that the individual’s immediate experience within the social structure is the product of social forces and arrangements, rather than constitutive part of the relations between individuals that are intrinsically affective and reciprocally meaningful. So long as individual experience comes from without, i.e. is determined by others, so long too will it and others themselves determine action in despite of the agent’s own choice or free will.  The best that can be hoped for is acceptance and tranquil conformity with social norms and predominating ideologies, sharing which will be felt as an achieved intersubjectivity that at the same time does duty for an individualised social consciousness.

Why Psychoanalysis?

One such ideology is embedded in the advocacy of relations of care in which intersubjective affectivity centres around concern for the other and mandates the subject to praiseworthy norms, attitudes and actions of other-directed benevolence. Definitionally, an ideology’s normative force is such that the individual is unable reflectively to critique its imperative.  Insistence on meritorious intersubjectivity paradoxically creates a social norm both permitting coercion and itself coercive in colluding with its own permissiveness. Psychoanalytic critique shows that care and concern for the other are one side of a projective relation (‘projective identification’), the other side of which is coercive control of its object. Hence at the level of social normativity, intersubjectivity does not deliver an adequate account of how meanings and affective relations are experienced within a structure of feeling, nor how they consequently come into play in society as a conscious social formation; what is ‘present’ to the subject in an affective relation is only part of the picture.

Why Hegel?

Hegel’s distinction between social normativity and the normativity of right shows us why adopting and confirming to social norms is not sufficient for a form of consciousness that is ethical, in the sense given the term by the Socratic question ‘how should I live?’. At best, social normativity supplies the individual with a locally workable answer to the question ‘what should I do to achieve my goals?’. Set alongside this Hegelian distinction is that between second nature formed by habit, and character as formed in Bildung. These Hegelian theses come together to address the question of how as a matter of psychology the individual makes the transition from a normatively mandated intersubjectivity to one that is freely recognised as an ethical bond to the other. 


The Protestant Dose Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: Hegel and the Economy of Self-energizing Consumers

Ward Blanton (University of Kent)

Questions about religious tradition, secularizing reframing of religious belief, and the cultural afterlives of Judaism and Christianity remain stubbornly important for psychoanalytic reflection. In recent years, thinkers as different as Christina von Braun (for example, Gibt es eine ‘jüdische und eine ‘christliche’ Sexualwissenschaft?) and Eric Santner (The Weight of All Flesh: On the Subject-Matter of Political Economy) have encouraged us to be creative in our understanding of the ongoing significance of earlier therapeutic distinctions between Judaism and Christianity. My presentation will argue that a retrospective look at Hegel opens up a new way to frame wonders about how religion continues to make itself felt under the auspices of the secular. Neither a sexual subject per se, nor a political one exactly, Hegel’s subjects of historical psychology are often brimming over with examples of differently energized, and even differently self-amplifying subjects. His philosophical histories are a cabinet of competitive curiosities which includes drunken bacchants, coffee drinkers, tobacconists, wine-sippers, and opium smokers, all of whom make their play for the production of world-history. Taking our leave from Jewish and Christian versions of sexuality or political revolution, we should begin to reflect further on whether there is (with a tip of the hat to Max Weber) a Protestant dose ethic pulling the strings behind intimate aspects of our personal and professional lives.

Dia-gnosis and Dialectic: Freud and Hegel as Each Other’s Other?

Louise Braddock (University of Oxford)

Brought together, these two figures of the long 19th century of German intellectual thought provide fertile ground for claims about the relation of psychoanalysis to Hegel’s thought. That many links and conceptual connections have been detected is unsurprising once Freud’s place in the descendance of German idealism is conceded. But while such comparisons are intriguing and at times offer to illuminate Freud’s thought, or at least to explain some of its otherwise un-grounded moves, and can also provide some intuitive purchase on Hegel’s, an expository genre in which Hegel either ‘anticipates’ or augments Freud should be resisted, as failing to take into account the philosophical consequences of Hegel’s thinking about the mind for an empirical psychology such as Freud’s. My title is a device positioning the two thinkers as each of them in the other’s place. This doesn’t make Freud a philosopher, or Hegel a psychoanalyst avant la lettre. Rather, it raises the question: if Freud, and psychoanalysis, take over ideas from Hegel, can these be understood on the terms allotted by psychoanalysis?   

Antigone’s Body: Ethics, Embodiment, and the Conceptualisation of Consciousness

Katie Fleming (Queen Mary, University of London)

This paper seeks to address certain questions about the sensory or physical body prompted by Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. While it can be argued that Hegel’s work does give an account of a kind of dialectical embodiment insofar as self-consciousness is by necessity an embodied selfhood, it is also curiously uninterested in somatic experience. Through a re-examination of the paradoxical figure of Antigone in Phenomenology of Spirit and the ideas of desire and the body which arise in that central section of the text, and in a kind of dialogue with the psychoanalytic body and/or body in psychoanalysis, this paper will reflect on some of the strange ways in which both Hegelian phenomenology and psychoanalysis attend to different types of drive, desire, life-force, and so on, while maintaining a peculiarly ascetic somatophobia. 

Can Hegel’s Philosophy of Spirit offer a Methodological Blueprint for the Humanities?

Susanne Herrmann-Sinai (University of Oxford)

Hegel offers different notions of both the social and the individual, and while care must be taken not to mix them up, the strategy and its distinctions lend themselves to understanding how different disciplines today have their own notions of the subject and so, of the social, which in turn are taken to define the discipline itself. Hegel’s different notions are, then, useful for making interdisciplinary articulation possible. The paper looks at the way Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Spirit’ can provide such a methodological reflection.

Submissive Individualism as a Structure of Feeling

Christopher Newfield (Independent Social Research Foundation)

This paper continues the exploration of what I take to be a central mystery of U. S. culture: the failure of its official creed of democratic individualism. By this I mean that the culture is uneasy with or downright hostile to both elements – both to deliberation among relative equals, the hallmark of theoretical democracy, and to self-determination, the hallmark of non-conformist individualism. I’ve argued elsewhere that the influential American idealist thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, established a compromise formation that has remained a structure of feeling that shapes U.S. social life. I called this “submissive individualism,” in that both self-determined freedom and collective life are regularly subsumed by an invocation of a higher authority that the supposedly self-reliant individual obeyed. The social consequences have been important, and two are persistent ambivalence or hostility on the part of the white majority to cross-racial equality, and a politically and economically passive professional middle class (Emerson’s core demographic).  Here I will focus on the question of whether Freudian and post-Freudian group psychology offers some theoretical leads for moving out of the impasse of submissive individualism.

On Ethical Subjects and Aesthetic Objects: Simmel’s Hegel

Michael Uebel (University of Texas at Austin)

This paper takes as its starting point the artist Patrick Heron’s observation that “ethics are the aesthetics of behavior.” I wish to consider how aesthetic objects mediate ethical subjectivity. Can it be said, for example, that the aesthetic and social spheres appear to converge from the standpoint of Simmel’s Hegelianism? If they do superimpose, what’s left for subjectivity? Of course, Simmel is not in any strict sense a Hegelian (though his contemporary Max Adler rightly pointed to what he termed a “great affinity” between Simmel’s philosophical project and Hegel’s). Yet his social theory, predicated upon the tensions between subjectivity and objectivity, is nothing other than one extended thematic riff on Hegel’s subject-object dialectic. What interests me is Simmel’s radical revision of this duality as tragically unbridgeable, and so I will consider some implications for contemplating social interaction and lived experience in the shadow of Hegel’s notorious postulate of the “end of art” in Aesthetics (1828). For it is in relation to Hegel’s patterning of the final subsumption of art in philosophy that Simmel’s most radical sociological ideas concerning the necessity of ongoing vital flux emerge. What, finally, are the implications of such ideas for building or enhancing an ethics inseparable from aesthetics?

Please contact Niall Gildea if you would like to attend.