Interdisciplinary Workshop: “The Social Subject: Intersubjectivity, Psychoanalysis, and Hegel” (Oxford, 2 July 2022)

We are glad to give notice of the workshop The Social Subject: Intersubjectivity, Psychoanalysis, and Hegel, which will be held on July 2nd, 2022, 9:30 – 17:30 (GMT+1) at the St John’s College, University of Oxford.

The workshop is organized by the Interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Thought Network (International Hegel Workshop Series at the University of Oxford and Oxford Interdisciplinary Psychoanalysis Seminar). The Workshop is kindly supported by the Hegel Society of Great Britain (HSGB).

Please contact Niall Gildea ( if you would like to attend.


Why Psychoanalysis? Why Hegel?

In pursuit of a solution to the problem of how far socialisation makes the individual subject a reflective participant in social life and as receptive to the transmission of social meaning, we have been interrogating Raymond Williams’s suggestive but intractably vague concept of a structure of feeling. So far we may say that, ‘emergent’ but not actual as a social formation, a structure of feeling is a socially created environment of affective relationality between individuals, which produces and is produced by their activity within in society’s structures. However, as a form of consciousness this nevertheless does more than just format, or entrain, society’s members into either conformity or conflict with social norms, since it is both generated by and produces experience that is ‘present’ to the individual herself (and could therefore be thought to have motivational force).

At the same time, the entry of the individual into the realm of ethical responsibility is blocked by Williams’s (Marxian) insistence that the individual’s immediate experience within the social structure is the product of social forces and arrangements, rather than constitutive part of the relations between individuals that are intrinsically affective and reciprocally meaningful. So long as individual experience comes from without, i.e. is determined by others, so long too will it and others themselves determine action in despite of the agent’s own choice or free will. The best that can be hoped for is acceptance and tranquil conformity with social norms and predominating ideologies, sharing which will be felt as an achieved intersubjectivity that at the same time does duty for an individualised social consciousness.

Why Psychoanalysis?

One such ideology is embedded in the advocacy of relations of care in which intersubjective affectivity centres around concern for the other and mandates the subject to praiseworthy norms, attitudes and actions of other-directed benevolence. Definitionally, an ideology’s normative force is such that the individual is unable reflectively to critique its imperative. Insistence on meritorious intersubjectivity paradoxically creates a social norm both permitting coercion and itself coercive in colluding with its own permissiveness. Psychoanalytic critique shows that care and concern for the other are one side of a projective relation (‘projective identification’), the other side of which is coercive control of its object. Hence at the level of social normativity, intersubjectivity does not deliver an adequate account of how meanings and affective relations are experienced within a structure of feeling, nor how they consequently come into play in society as a conscious social formation; what is ‘present’ to the subject in an affective relation is only part of the picture.

Why Hegel?

Hegel’s distinction between social normativity and the normativity of right shows us why adopting and confirming to social norms is not sufficient for a form of consciousness that is ethical, in the sense given the term by the Socratic question ‘how should I live?’. At best, social normativity supplies the individual with a locally workable answer to the question ‘what should I do to achieve my goals?’. Set alongside this Hegelian distinction is that between second nature formed by habit, and character as formed in Bildung. These Hegelian theses come together to address the question of how as a matter of psychology the individual makes the transition from a normatively mandated intersubjectivity to one that is freely recognised as an ethical bond to the other.

Papers are available on the workshop’s website.

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