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Reviewed by:
  • Relationality: From Attachment to Intersubjectivity
  • Adrienne Harris and Melanie Suchet
Relationality: From Attachment to Intersubjectivity. Stephen A. Mitchell. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 2000. xvii & 173 pp. $39.95.

This review, written by two relational analysts closely involved in the theoretical and institutional developments formed around the work of Stephen Mitchell, is, perhaps inevitably, an occasion both for memorial and for assessment. This is the last book written for colleagues and students in which Mitchell develops and broadens his theoretical work begun in 1983 in Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory, coauthored with Jay Greenberg. Mitchell's very prolific career of writing and teaching was anchored by the series of books that followed: Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis (1988), Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis (1993), and Influence and Autonomy in Psychoanalysis (1997). His almost two decades of innovative and muscularly critical work has had a powerful effect within the psychoanalytic world both nationally and internationally. [End Page 102]

There will be a final book, Can Love Last?, in which the key ideas of relational thought are reworked for nonspecialists. So that book still to come will have to do the rather impossible task of standing as a last word, a testimony. Relationality is a work both of maturity and of promise, a summary and a step in new directions. Hence both the pleasure and sadness in writing this review.

Relational psychoanalysis, according to Mitchell, reflects a blending of diverse theoretical contributions into a broad, multilayered, multidimensional vision of intersubjectivity. Mitchell is at his best when integrating these different relational concepts. This book is his attempt at developing a comprehensive theoretical system, a "synthetic relational framework" (115) to house relational concepts. Relationality displays less interest than do Mitchell's previous books in crafting polarities with classical psychoanalysis and offers rather a focused statement of relational theory as an evolved narrative strand in an ongoing conversation within psychoanalysis. This shift in emphasis is perhaps a measure of how much the psychoanalytic world has changed, of the impact Mitchell's work has had on the field, and how the landscape of psychoanalytic theory, including relational theory, is being redrawn and reconfigured.

Mitchell approaches his daunting task of exposition with depth, clarity, flexibility, and a characteristically rich emotional involvement. One of the most striking features of Mitchell's way of writing is its lyrical and personal style. You feel spoken to. You are drawn into thinking about ideas within a conversation or, in other words, dialogically. It was as if, in writing about the concept of relationality, he managed to invite the reader into an experience of relationality, into an intimate engagement with him, without necessarily having known him in person.

A great strength of Mitchell's theoretical work is the heterogeneous nature of the integrations to which he led relational theory. He was a psychoanalyst with a rare ability to grow and change, and an innovator who enjoyed a wide playing field. Relationalists have aligned themselves with self psychology, with Sullivanian interpersonal theory, with object relations, and with the contemporary Kleinians. There is an indigenous pluralism to many relationalists, an interest in [End Page 103] synthesis that is also one of Mitchell's fortes. Relational theory has likewise proved to be a site for integrations with feminism and queer theory. Mitchell was both a thinker and an organizer, and he kicked open a window into the once hermetically sealed analytic space of American ego psychology; once established, however, he envisioned a uniquely capacious landscape, a vista of transitional phenomena rather than an architectural blueprint.

This openness to fresh ideas in theory and clinical practice became a feature of relational theory in large part because Mitchell himself was so open to change and development. This process is visible in Relationality. Mitchell's earlier work, primarily focused as it was on the coconstructed analytic experience, the making of the analytic relationship by two highly elaborated and textured adults, was often quite frankly antidevelopmentalist. He argued against what he termed the "developmental tilt" in object relations theory on grounds familiar to the interpersonal tradition. He was reluctant to court regressions and maintained a deep respect for the integrity of the analysand's subjectivity. Mitchell was worried about...


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