Psychoanalysis and Our Cultural Crisis

by José Saporta, MD


This paper is a response to Salvatore, Picione, Bochicchio et al’s. (2021) application of psychoanalysis to understand and remediate current socially destructive processes. The authors conceptualize current ant-social tendencies as due to primary process thinking and meaning making brought about by the dominance of affect in the social field. I present some questions and challenges, including: revisions of Freud’s concept of primary and secondary process, the ubiquity of affect links and primary process associations in all social life, the notion that affect is not discharge but is the link to the other and to meaning, a qualitative analysis of prosocial emotions in contrast to the authors’ apparently quantitative and mechanistic analysis, and some alternative psychoanalytic formulations of social problems and of the relationship of the individual and the social. I propose that some destructive social phenomena prevalent today, rather than being manifestations of primary process-affective meaning making, are due to failure of social institutions to cultivate the right emotion in the right measure and failure to cultivate prosocial attitudes, values, and capacities, subject to qualitative analysis.

Cover Image of Vol. 1, No. 1: From Crisis to Desire: Psychoanalysis for an Ethical Response to Current Social Scenarios

Subject, Action, & Society: Psychoanalytical Studies and Practices, 1(1): 91-109, June 2021.

Link to Online Publication [in open access and can be downloaded from the publisher web site].

About the Journal

Subject, Action, & Society: Psychoanalytical Studies and Practices aims at promoting a deeper understanding of the psyche-society bond and at analyzing and interpreting current times in their cultural, socio-political, institutional, and economic facets. Formerly published as International Journal of Psychoanalysis and Education (IJPE), 2009-2020.

About the Author

José Saporta, MD is a Candidate Member and ATP/Fellowship Faculty of BPSI, Clinical Faculty at the Department of Psychiatry of Harvard Medical School, a former book review editor for the Journal of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in China and reviewer for Neuropsychoanalysis, Culture and Psychology and The Journal of Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Sciences. He is the author of several papers on psychic trauma, including Synthesizing Psychoanalytic and Biological Approaches to Trauma: Some Theoretical Proposals awarded the BPSI Deutch Prize in 2001, as well as book chapters on Mikhail Bakhtin, Chinese thought, and teleanalysis. Dr. Saporta is interested in semiotics, cultural psychology, intersubjectivity, and psychoanalysis. Among his many book reviews are essays on Michael S. Gazzaniga’s The Mind’s Past (2000) and Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made (2017).

Previous Posts:

Elsa Ronningstam, PhD, Mark Goldblatt, MD, Mark Schechter, MD, Benjamin Herbstman, MD (2021). Facing a patient’s suicide—The impact on therapists’ personal and professional identity. Practice Innovations, 6(2), 89–106.

Anton O. Kris, MD (2021). Love Is the Great Educator: Response to Richard Frank and Mel Bornstein. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 41(4-5), 289-291.

Alex Hoffer, MD (2020). Psychoanalysis as a Two-Person Meditation: Free Association, Meditation, and Bion. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 80(3): 331–341.

Nancy J. Chodorow, PhD. (2021). Women Mothers Daughters: The Reproduction of Mothering After Forty Years. In Bueskens, P., ed. Nancy Chodorow and The Reproduction of Mothering: Forty Years On. Palgrave, pp. 49-80.

Anthony D. Bram, PhD. (2021). Introduction – In-Session Use of Digital Material in Child Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 74(1): 304-307.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD. (2021). Toward an Ethic of Play in Psychoanalysis. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 90:3, 373-397.

Diane O’Donoghue, PhD. (2021). Amnesias of a Freudian Kind. Part One. American Imago 78(1), 55-77.

Charles Levin, PhD and Dawn Skorczewski, PhD. (2020).The Poetics of Boundary Violation: Anne Sexton and Her Psychiatrist. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 30(2), 206-221.

Andrea Celenza, PhD (2020). Embodiment and the Perversion of DesireThe Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89(3), 369-398.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD (2021). Donald Winnicott and Stephen Mitchell’s Developmental Tilt Hypothesis Reconsidered. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 31(3), 355-370.

Elsa Ronningstam, PhD (2021). Cultural Function and Psychological Transformation of Silence in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. In Dimitrijevic, A. and Buchholz, M.B., eds. (2021). Silence and Silencing in Psychoanalysis: Cultural, Clinical, and Research Perspectives. Routledge, pp. 105-127.

Paola M. Contreras, PsyD (2021). The Magical and the My-Person in Psychoanalysis During the Covid Pandemic. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 68(6): 1113-1126. Open Access, DOI: 10.1177/0003065120981733

Don R. Lipsitt, MD (2020). In Freud’s Pocket: A Totem of Medical Ambivalence? American Imago, 77(4): 738-751.

Rachel Brier, EdD and Anna Ornstein, MD (2020). Tracking Changes in the Disruption/Repair Sequences: Important Aspects of Clinical WorkPsychoanalysis, Self and Context.

Rodrigo Barahona, PsyaD (2020). Living the Non-Dream: An Examination of the Links Between Dreaming, Enactment, and Transformations in hallucinosis. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89:4, 689-714.

Sarah Ackerman, PhD (2020). A Diagnosis for Psychoanalysis in the 21st Century: Freud as Medicine. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 89:4, 667-688.

Lora Tessman, PhD (2020). Review of Ghost in the Human Psyche: The Story of a ‘Muslim Armenian’ , by Vamik D. Volkan. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 56(2-3):457-464.

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