The Relational Tradition

Title: The Relational Tradition: Landscape and Canon
Author: Adrienne E. Harris

Abstract: This essay charts the origins, influences, and evolution of the relational tradition in contemporary psychoanalysis. Considering the theoretical and philosophical influences from nineteenth-century Americans like William James and C. S Pierce, and noting the seminal modern work of Steven Mitchell and Jay Greenberg in opening a critique of one-person focused drive theory, the essay follows developments over a quarter century. Hallmarks of the relational approach—social construction, two-person psychologies, multiple self-states, social regulation and construction of identities like gender and sexual orientation, and an evolving theory of clinical practice—are reviewed. New developments in clinical theory, in the study of identity categories, in the work on embodiment and enactment, and in developmental models are also reviewed.

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2 Responses to “The Relational Tradition”

  1. Seth Allcorn says:

    The article underscores the complex, interdependent, non-linear development of theory that is then subsequently defined and used in unique and idiosyncratic ways generating anomalous, new, different and evolving ideas some of which contribute to further thinking.  The psychoanalytically informed study of organizations is naturally dependent on this type of theory building, revision and creative destruction to borrow a capitalist notion.  The relational tradition is an undeniable reality of a workplace where a single executive interacts along a range from constructively to destructively with, in a large organization, a vast number of employees in any given week and as a CEO with all employees all of the time.  This reality requires a vast transcendence from a context of a clinical dyadically limited analysis to one where perhaps the first humble step is that we will never comprehend, know, understand or analyze organizations or conceive of effective and enduring organizational change that improves one’s and everyone’s work experience.  It is from an appreciate of the complex evolution of thought both in terms of analysis and organizational diagnosis and intervention that we come to more fully appreciate the one enduring and unchanging element of this work is that the subject of the work in dyads or large organizations is the unchanging nature of human nature that introduces a true sense of darkness into one’s life, everyone’s life and the workplace.  This darkness is ultimate the energizing force in terms of generating psychoanalytic and organizational theory.

  2. Michael Diamond says:

    Few theorists who take a psychoanalytic view of organizations take an explicitly relational psychoanalytic position. Certainly in our book Private selves in public organizations, we took this position from the very outset. And, as the article implies, it is a contemporary, if somewhat American version, of object relations theory. Yet, it’s philosophical origins can be traced to James and Pierce, and psychodynamically, to Sullivan, Fromm, Winnicott, Ferenzi, Mitchell, Benjamin, among others. The article puts into perspective the not only the contemporary relational psychoanalytic theories but the complementarity with feminist theory and the views of social constructivists. Its contribution to analyzing organizations is the focus it brings to relational and experiential dynamics simultaneously embedded psychologically and socially. Our exploration of transference and counter-transference dynamics in organizations illicits dominantion and submission, oppressive politics, between workers and managers, men and women, superordinatets and subordinates. So power can be front and center in this critical postmodern theory of organizational politics and culture. 

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