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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8.1 (2001) 17-19

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A Kleinian Contribution to the External World

Robert D. Hinshelwood

Radical feminism overstates its case and ignores the importance of individual psychology; at the same time, an individual psychology like psychoanalysis lacks a broader perspective that feminism might supply. Sarah Richmond's paper advocates a mutual enhancement of both psychoanalysis and feminism by combining the two perspectives. It is a version of the old controversy over social influences versus innate influences--nature versus nurture.

Richmond's thesis places a stress on the kind of psychoanalysis that might be most amenable to a reconciliation between social and psychological causations of individual attitudes. Interestingly, she argues that Kleinian psychoanalysis, which, by reputation, gives the greatest emphasis to the internal world of individuals, is the most suited for any reconciliation with the social--an argument that I would in fact endorse. It is simply because Kleinian psychoanalysis dwells on the internal world as a little society of internal beings that it may be most suited to bringing into contact with social explanations.

One important dimension of this kind of reconciliation is that the world of internal objects (a kind of internal society) and the world of social persons could be seen in some correspondence, and indeed in the Kleinian view, there is a real correspondence between the two. That correspondence is actively and continuously mediated by phantasies of internalizing or externalizing persons and internal objects. The interchange can profoundly alter an individuals' internal objects, an influence determined by the external world of other persons and vice versa.

This kind of correspondence between internal and external worlds (the individual and the social) can accomplish a mutual influencing of perceptions of other people and of the self. It can be the mechanism for the development of sets of attitudes on a social/cultural basis--including attitudes to gender. Similarly, the internalization of actual relations that exist between persons becomes the individual's accepted expectations of relationships, including sexual and erotic ones.

The whole exchange process of internalization and externalization involves a primary evaluation of persons/objects and of the relations between them. Kleinian psychoanalysis argues that a primary function of the earliest ego in the individual is to evaluate objects as good or bad. Gendered persons are then internalized as objects having high or low values.

Richmond exemplifies the necessary convergence of social and individual/personal points of view by considering the personal experiences that occur in anorexia. Clearly, the incidence of eating disorders varies between the genders, and the implication is that this is in part socially aroused--especially through the use of slender female bodies [End Page 17] in advertising and fashion. But also it is clearly mediated through individual agency (albeit probably the unconscious motivations known to psychoanalysts). Two Kleinian authors are examined to explore the possibilities of this kind of analysis.

Richmond's thesis is applicable to gender relations in important ways, enriching both the psychoanalytic and socio-economic approaches that she is concerned with. However, where more work needs to be done, it seems to me, is in terms of power relations. Power relations are not theorized in psychoanalysis. There is thus little from the individual point of view that can contribute to a feminist analysis of power. And indeed this might be one significant point that Richmond refers to, where psychoanalysis can learn something from the social point of view.

Elsewhere I have tried to conceptualize what a Kleinian view of power relations might be. 1 The account of Kleinian psychoanalysis above and in Richmond concerns the interchange of persons and internal objects, but we must also take account of Klein's descriptions of the paranoid-schizoid position (Klein 1946). There, the exchange of parts of the self with other persons is central. As an example, the study of institutionalization as an interpersonal process indicates an exchange between certain sub-groups within an institution of active and powerful parts of the self, as well the interchange of weak and submissive parts of the self. In a mental hospital, for instance, this ends...


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