Agency in Psychoanalytic Theory

Title: Agency as a Psychoanalytic Idea
Author: Joseph Caston

Abstract: Competent agency is a basic assumption of psychoanalytic change. Yet as an aspect of health, personal agency has in the main been only intuitively addressed and remains clinically unsystematized. Here experience-near and observer-centered criteria are developed that assess a personas-agent’s competence in particular domains. These ideas, clinically illustrated, stand as an operational framework that helps thinking and talking about agency in everyday clinical events and psychoanalytic outcomes. Three specific criteria are proposed: reversibility, self-observation, and appropriateness. The first is descriptively polar; together the three apply to each given context of action. They can also serve to ground future research. In this regard, several empirical psychoanalytic studies of adults and children that exemplify measurable aspects of agency are reviewed. Once clinical markers of personal agency are articulated, it will not be necessary to resolve the free will debate: pragmatically, we need only put such distinctions to work.

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2 Responses to “Agency in Psychoanalytic Theory”

  1. Michael Diamond says:

    At CSOC we find the concept of agency to have great value in the psychoanalytic approach to studying and intervening with organizations. It’s research papers like this one that have value in their application to organizational research and consultation.

  2. csoc says:

    “The concept of agency is important to more fields than psychoanalysis. In particular, I have always thought that the notion of agency, which I discussed if only briefly in my book The Unconscious Life of Organizations, is an important idea to a psychoanalytic organization theory of change. The notion of claimed action and assumed responsibility are critical to this idea. Moreover, the notion of an intentional and conscious sense of self derived from reflective practices and attention to unconscious processes, would seem to support the idea of agency not only for patients but for proactive citizens in a democratic society and responsible administrators and civil servants in public organizations.” -Michael Diamond

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