Analysing the Social Context of Individual Distress: Celebrating the Pioneering Work of David Smail

David Smail: Clinical Psychologist, Sociologist, Philosopher, and Political Critic

David Smail, clinical psychologist, who has died aged 76

As Karnac Books republish four key works by the pioneering clinical psychologist, his son Alastair reflects on his achievement.

When my father died just over a year ago, the family was unsure what to do with his books. He had said he would like them published on the internet for free; either that or left alone. We did not have the capacity to post them on the internet, although David had put many articles and an internet publication on his website: www.davidsmail.info. The reaction to his death, as for example in The Guardian obituary persuaded us that we needed to do something.

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Andrew Samuels considers how therapy can transform politics

A New Therapy for Politics?

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Andrew’s new book, A New Therapy for Politics?, will be published by Karnac this year. Here he trails some of the ideas that are developed in the book.

Politics in many Western countries has broken down. The early stages of the general election campaign reinforce this perception. Nobody would deny that we urgently need new ideas and approaches that go beyond the traditional ways we think about political activity. In response to the situation, a world-wide move to revitalise politics has emerged. Political theorists, ecologists, economists, sociologists and Russell Brand have all had their say. Perhaps it is now time to consider how psychotherapy might make its contribution to the transformation of politics for which so many people yearn. Some will find this notion provocative or even outrageous – until they recall where our politicians’ conventional thinking has led us.

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In the run-up to the general election Lene Auestad considers the politics of the unconscious

On Psychoanalysis and the Politics of Representation

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Thinking psychoanalytically about a phenomenon involves conceiving of it in a way that takes account of a dynamic unconscious, which can be understood differently within different psychoanalytic paradigms. It means reflecting on how we experience everything on an unconscious as well as on a conscious level, what Bion referred to as ‘bifocal vision’. When the object of reflection is social and cultural phenomena, unconscious representation of experience can be both individual and shared by several people in a social system, unit or subculture. Unconscious symbolisation and patterns of affect are always already marked by external others and by fantasies about these others. Human beings relate to others even when we are alone, as enemies, supporters, objects of desire, rivals and sympathisers. At the same time, unconscious fantasy has a capacity to transcend fixed patterns of identification, thereby challenging established social arrangements. Think of how in our dreams we can be young or old, big or small, or take various animal or human shapes; these rich identifications transcend fixed social categories and hegemonic ideas, thus carrying an emancipatory potential.

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