Object Relations and Social Relations (Book Review)

Author:  Clarke, Simon, Herbert Hahn, and Paul Hoggett
Publisher:  Karnac
Reviewed By:  Louis Rothschild, Volume XXIX, No. 4, pp.39-40

In his introduction, Herbert Hahn describes the manner in which Jody Messler Davis breathed new life into his origins with Tavistock, Karnac, and Winnicott as recently as 2005. The book’s origin is credited to a conference whose point was to encourage dialogues between academics, researchers, and clinicians. What attracted me to the volume is fairly simple. Anyone familiar with the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society is probably also familiar with one of the book’s editors. Simon Clarke a Professor of Psycho-Social Studies is a member of that association’s board of directors and edits (with Lynne Layton) the association’s journal. The other two editors, Herbert Hahn and Paul Hoggett are also working in the Center for Psycho-Social Studies at the University of West England. Past conferences have left the impression that the title of the Center is apt, and that it is a special place. Missing last fall’s conference afforded a healthy appetite for the book under review. Some may well consider such an appetite a bias. If so, it is revealed.

What at first left me wondering if I had mistakenly found a primer to relational psychoanalysis, fortunately changed into something remarkably different once I let myself sink into volume. With chapters on working with disenfranchised clients in the welfare system, research methodology, and the organizational culture of the workplace this collection of papers engages relational theory in an innovative manner that is worthy of the attention of clinicians, academics, and researchers of either stripe—including graduate students.

Lynne Layton’s opening chapter may be read as an introduction to relational psychoanalysis. Taken as a primer it works quite well. Fortunately, it also does more. True to the book’s title, "Object Relations and Social Relations," Layton emphasizes the cultural focus found in the White Institute in general and in the particular work of Edgar Levenson’s perspectivism in its capacity to frame "mutual enactments." Layton traces this thread through the contemporary work of Donnell Stern in a satisfying manner, and situates this with her own work on identity which she notes is informed by Jessica Benjamin’s writing on recognition. Here Layton non-reductively focuses on splitting at the cultural level and the often traumatic manner in which such splits are internalized in the individual.

Susie Orbach follows Layton’s embedded stance in social movements and feminism to approach democracy in the consulting room. Here Orbach notes the danger of interpreting a patient’s desire in a manner that perpetuates a patient’s experience as unacceptable. The theme of Otherness is taken up throughout the book in regard to the manner in which the strangeness of the other may evoke a defensive dehumanized orientation.

To that end, Paul Hoggett addresses the paternalistic fashion in which the liberal welfare subject is too often engaged in a disempowered fashion that skirts a shared vulnerability. Hogget furthers this line of thinking in his critique of contemporary identity theory’s inability to render a living and feeling subject. Here Hoggett argues that Judith Butler is unable to grasp the difference between identification and internalization. Following what appears to be a theme, he then turns to Loewald to illustrate his point. What I like most about this line of argument is that it follows Lynne Layton’s paper in which Butler’s work is supported without such critique. Such diversity among chapter is most welcome especially as the book is simultaneously able to sustain a central flow while allowing such variance. In accord with Layton’s chapter and Butler’s work, Hoggett also asserts that suffering is the Other to modernity.

Lynn Froggett continues an engagement with the welfare subject in work with the youth justice system where she argues the importance of seeing the other as an equivalent center of subjective experience. In this regard, she critiques a behavioral model that assumes all subjects are rational while simultaneously noting the danger of idealizing a young artist and the importance of engaging both the destructive and creative aspects of clients in the youth system. From a clinical perspective, Froggett’s work in using the co-creation of poetry as a route to self expression warrants attention in regard to the use of art and as an example of a qualitative research program making good use of relational theory.

It comes as no surprise given his position in Psycho-social research that Simon Clarke makes use of the Frankfurt School’s critique of positivism. He focuses on the capacity for self reflection in regard to its lack as a factor in stereotyping that leads to prejudice. Yet, ink has been spilled in Adorno’s wake, and Clarke evokes Fanon and Foucault to flesh out his Kleinian frame in explaining his qualitative research program.

Wendy Hollway notes the power of the hyphenated psycho-social as it avoids a reductionist frame of an individual who is somehow separable from society. To this end, her research program entails engaging the question: Are African and Bangladeshi new mother’s different sorts of mothers than "black" and "white" Western mothers, and does this vary by class. Her use of Bion’s skepticism of knowledge that is stripped of emotion as a pillar of her empirical research program is notable, and her writing on her research program is recommended for anyone with an interest in psychoanalytic research especially in regard to the use of interpretation and researcher subjectivity.

Karen Izod’s use of Klein and Bion in her consulting practice and work with the Tavistock Institute’s Advanced Organisational Consultation Society, where being an agent of change at the organizational level is her charge, makes for additional good reading of psychoanalysis outside of the consulting room. Here splits in departments and organizational meaning in general are understood pace the paranoid/schizoid position and the consultant’s capacity to surface and manage tension. In this spirit, Margaret Page draws on feminist and post-colonialist management literature to situate her co-inquiry methodology in a subsequent chapter whose goal is to bridge divergent expectations. Her case illustration on an enactment with a group of college students around gendered issues illustrates the manner in which defenses shift contextually. Both Izod and Page highlight the manner in which ritualistic behaviors may lead to an agency reducing rigidity in which a protected space may afford a capacity to think and thereby regain a sense of agency.

Maybe it’s the frequency in which we evoke the third, but that’s where I’m perseverating in a polysemous if not concrete fashion in moving toward an ending. It is in the third chapter of the book under review that Paul Zeal finds an intercontinental playfulness worthy of an ending (and I might add, a beginning). Here Heidegger and Freud are the seeds found in Mitchell’s use of Loewald and set in conversation with Lacan on jouissance. Picture the Socratic Greeks hanging around with R.D. Laing and Nietzsche. One fortunate outcome of reading an Englishman’s take on Continental thought, especially jouissance, is that I’ll never again be able to hear "mind the gap" in a train station as a concrete statement. Indeed, zeal for Zeal. For this reviewer, one sentence is worth quoting: "There is a cluster of European traditions here, deeper than all of us, and in which we participate even without knowing it" (p. 48). On multiple levels, it is the task of psychoanalysis to render participation known. To that end, I find that Zeal and his co-contributors to this volume are preaching to an intercontinental choir. Hallelujah.

Well known to those affiliated with Division 39, and noted by Karen Izod in the eighth chapter of the volume under review, relational psychoanalysis is American in origin. Writing from her side of the Atlantic, Izod gently reminds that this American outcropping has roots in Winnicott, Fairbairn, and the British Independent Group. Possibly owning to the emphasis on a shared relational context, such a history has been explicit for some time (Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983). The collection of papers reviewed here affords an interesting relational matrix. Is it that the English now get relational, or that we on American shores get traction from looking to the English? Clearly the dichotomized quality of "or" is wrongheaded here. This work is an illustration of the mutuality of "both/and." The authors of this volume are hopeful that relational psychoanalysis could allow transparency in regard to practices among colleagues and critique what is taken for granted. It is notable that such issues have also been explicit for some time now (cf., Moscovici, 2008/1961). Given that, it may come as a mild surprise that there is much herein that is downright refreshing.


Greenberg, J. & Mitchell, S. A. (1983). Object relations in psychoanalytic theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Moscovici, S. (2008/1961). Psychoanalysis: Its image and its public. David Macey (Trans.). Malden, MA: Polity Press.


Reviewer Note


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