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Editorial, Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society

Editorial, Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society

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Published by Renee Aron Lertzman

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Published by: Renee Aron Lertzman on Dec 17, 2011
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Original Article
Psychoanalysis, culture, society and ourbiotic relations: Introducing an ongoingtheme on environment and sustainability
Renee Lertzman
Portland State University, 1623 SE Harrison Street, Portland, Oregon 97214, USA.
This editorial introduces a new, ongoing theme-journal feature onenvironment and sustainability.
Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society
113–116. doi:10.1057/pcs.2010.10
environment; sustainability; analytic attitude; psychoanalysis; nature;climate change
In 1992, the Freud Museum in London hosted an event called ‘‘EcologicalMadness.’On this occasion, several eminent psychoanalytic thinkersgathered in dialogue with environmental activists, primarily from the GreenParty. As evidenced by the proceedings published in the
British Journal of Psychotherapy
, there was plenty to talk about (Ward, 1993). It seems thatthe psychoanalytic and environmental sectors, while both concerned with‘reparation,may go about defining it quite differently for example,reparation can refer more broadly to repairing a degraded site or ecologicaltrespass or to a mode for mobilizing concern in the face of our owndestructive and aggressive capacities.Further, the issue of 
, a hot topic in both environmental advocacy andpsychoanalysis, can be seen as either a barrier for engagement (leading todenial and other defenses), as a necessary spur for action, or as a normalmode of development as we face our own capacities. As Ivan Ward, theconvener, delicately noted, an ‘‘analytic attitude’’ has a great deal to offerthose working in the environmental sector, specifically in the emphasis onrelations between what is
– and such an attitudedoes not preclude a politics of agency or action. While this may seem
2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1088-0763
Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society
Vol. 15, 2, 113–116www.palgrave-journals.com/pcs/ 
obvious at first glance, Ward was inviting a radical rethinking of howenvironmental engagement, activism, and reparation are conceptualized; ratherthan focusing first on
people in the service of environmentalreparation, an analytic perspective endeavors to understand and interrogatewhat may mobilize certain practices and behaviors in the service of change.Despite this prescient event, the topic of the environment and ecologicalsustainability never quite made it on the radar of contemporary psychoanalytictheory and discourse. With the notable exceptions of Searles (1960, 1972), Segal(1995), Hillman and Ventura (1993), Mishan (1996) and a few others,psychoanalytic thought has been surprisingly silent on the topic of environ-mental degradation, the destruction of natural resources and the ways in whichhumans persistently override the ecological, biotic boundaries of our planet.Now, almost 20 years later, psychoanalytic thinkers are starting – finally – topay attention to environmental topics. Perhaps we have Al Gores
AnInconvenient Truth
to thank for that; regardless of the reasons, it is a topicwe can no longer afford to ignore. Signs of this shift are evidenced by severalnew initiatives and projects: the Centre for Psycho-Social Studies at theUniversity of West of Englands two recent conferences, ‘Facing ClimateChangein 2009 and ‘INSIDE OUT: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on ourEnvironmental Crisis’in 2010; a web seminar on psychoanalysis and theenvironment convened in the Spring 2010 by the International Associationfor Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy; and several new and excitingresearch projects emerging at the interface of psychoanalytic research, environ-mental concerns and broader socio-political contexts (eg, Randall, 2005, 2009;Bodnar, 2008; Lertzman, 2008, 2010; Hoggett, 2009; Weintrobe, 2009).As psychoanalytic researchers, we have an abundance of theoretical, clinicaland conceptual resources to help us address the increasingly urgent ecologicalthreats we are collectively facing. Generally, there is a concern for unconsciousprocesses, most notably strategies engaged to manage anxieties and distressingexperiences. Kleinian and Bionian perspectives might focus on movement orvacillations between the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position(eg, Segal, 1973), and speak directly to the capacity for splitting, both internalsplitting and compartmentalizing including splitting off awareness of ourdependence on earth systems (Mishan, 1996). This capacity for dissociation isrelated to issues of vulnerability and anxiety, evoked in dependency contextsand exemplified by our relationship with nature and the ecological systems weneed to survive (Searles, 1960). How this relationship is negotiated can be seenin fantasies of omnipotence, patterns of consumption as ‘‘spurious satisfactions’’(Mishan, 1996, p. 62) or substitutes (Randall, 2005), and compulsive forms of activism (Z ˇ izˇek, 1992).More recently, the links between greed, consumption and climate change arebeing addressed (eg, Weintrobe, 2009), as well as issues of grief and loss in theface of the implications of environmental destruction (eg, Randall, 2009).
2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1088-0763
Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society
Vol. 15, 2, 113–116
Relational psychoanalytic work is well situated for thinking through issues of human–nonhuman
and, more broadly, how our relations with ourecological contexts may be more constructive and reality based. The applicationof psychoanalytic work to these relations, however, is far from straightforward;as others have noted, the ‘‘portability’’ of clinical work to the biotic sphererequires careful thought, consideration and creativity (Randall, 2005).An analytic perspective or ‘‘attitude’’ not only is complementary to ongoingdebates in environmental psychology and research, but also is a crucial part of the dialogue on how we can sustain our biotic communities. This issue of 
Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society
inaugurates a commitment of the journal tothese topics. We are pleased to introduce in this issue Peliwe Mnguni’s article‘Anxiety and Defense in Sustainability’as a new addition to this dynamicgrowing body of research. Perspectives such as Mnguni’s take account of therole and nature of unconscious processes and dynamics, the concept of anxietyand defense mechanisms as part of organizational culture, and the role of pastexperiences in the present moment, with an emphasis on collective or socialexpressions and forms of unconscious desires, fears and anxieties. An attitude of inquiry and investigation marks this work, and we invite you to join thedialogue by submitting proposals, ideas, articles, field notes and reviews on thetheme of environment and sustainability to me at rlertzman@igc.org.
About the Author
Renee Lertzman is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Portland State University,with the Center for Sustainable Processes & Practices and the Portland Centerfor Public Humanities. She is the newly appointed Environment andSustainability Editor for
Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society
Bodnar, S. (2008) Wasted and bombed: Clinical enactments of a changing relationship tothe earth.
Psychoanalytic Dialogues
18: 484–512.Hillman, J. and Ventura, M. (1993)
We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy, and theWorld’s Getting Worse
. San Francisco: Harper.Hoggett, P. (2009) Psychic transactions. Presentation, at
Subjectivity, Nature and Politics
6May, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, UK.Lertzman, R. (2008) Love, guilt and reparation: Rethinking the affective dimensions of thelocus of the irreparable. In: B. Willard and C. Green (eds.)
Communication at theIntersection of Nature and Culture: Proceedings of the Ninth Biennial Conference onCommunication and the Environment 
. Chicago: College of Communication, DePaulUniversity, pp. 8–13.
Psychoanalysis, culture, society and our biotic relations
2010 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1088-0763
Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society
Vol. 15, 2, 113–116

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