Learning from Brisbane: Politics of Identity & the Promise of Empathy

Flora Lazar, PhD LCSW
Psychoanalysis, Self and Context
Volume 15, 2020 – Issue 2

Abstract

Psychoanalysis has no shortage of theorists who see psychoanalysis as unique and who regard efforts to draw from academic disciplines as fanciful. Contemporary self psychology has been comparatively more receptive to adjacent disciplines. This paper discusses what self psychology can learn from the field of literary criticism about addressing the experience of political and social otherness. Using the debates arising from the 2017 Brisbane Literary Festival, it will explore how social, political, and cultural identities might affect our ability to understand the lives of those whose identities we do not share. It explores the historical reluctance of psychoanalysis to address issues of identity and otherness in theory and clinical practice, as well as the importance of the “relational turn” in overcoming these theoretical limitations. The paper will explore aspects of self psychology, including the empathic listening stance and specificity theory, that help the mental health profession avoid the central literary challenges raised in the Brisbane debates and will suggest that some of Kohut’s central ideas about selfobject experience may need to be revised or elaborated more fully to address the clinical and policy implications of engaging with political, social, and cultural otherness especially when it entails devaluation.