The Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society (APCS) has been established to promote greater understanding of how cultural and social phenomena affect human subjectivity in ways that are socially significant and to promote new, more socially beneficial ways of applying psychoanalysis to social problems. The Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society is dedicated to both the diagnosis of the psychological ills underlying social problems and to the development of a psychoanalytic treatment of these ills at a collective level through cultural criticism, education, and other practices.
Greater understanding of the relations among subjectivity, culture, and behavior is necessary if we are to deal more effectively with our most serious social problems. Addressing the psychological factors that are the immediate causes of destructive behaviors such as drug abuse, irresponsible sexuality, and ethnic, racial, and sexual intolerance and violence can produce results that other social, political, and economic programs cannot produce by themselves. Psychoanalysis offers a unique strategy for dealing with these problems: helping subjects recognize and work through the unconscious conflicts at the root of the problematic behavior.
Moreover, since various elements of culture often contribute to or oppose these psychological factors, understanding the roles that culture plays in either supporting or opposing them will allow us to address the social problems more effectively. Psychoanalysis offers the best model we have for understanding how basic phenomena of subjectivity–love, hate, knowledge, belief, meaning, identity, desire, enjoyment, fantasy, anxiety, and so on–are affected by culture. The psychoanalytic investigation of culture thus constitutes a unique and arguably indispensible means of understanding the role culture plays in producing the motivations at the root of many of our most serious social problems, as well as understanding the psychological and social benefits that culture can produce.
Notes on the History and Founding of APCS
In the summer of 1994 Mark Bracher and I met with lawyers in Washington DC to establish what is now APCS as an interdisciplinary academic organization with ties to the clinical community and ties to the academic community. Two key figures that contributed enormously to our development were Joe Smith then Chair of the Forum on Psychiatry and the Humanities and a Training and Supervising analyst and psychiatrist with the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute and the late Claudia Tate, Professor of African American Studies first at George Washington University and later at Princeton.
All of us involved wanted an organization that would offer a place for academics and clinicians interested in psychoanalysis to gather together, give papers, publish articles and talk about psychoanalytic understanding and psychoanalytic understandings of culture. Many of us had begun our careers with an interest in the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature, and in the relationship between Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. It was our hope then, partly because of the Lacanian influence on psychoanalytic thinking, to expand the horizon of psychoanalytic thought. We hoped we could explore and respond to psychoanalytic grounds of social conflict and social progress.
At our first conference, I have a note regarding a question asked in a large APCS group by the late Claudia Tate. This was a question she asked to a group presentation that was, like my own work at that time, heavily theoretical: Claudia asked, “Will what we do make any difference to real people who suffer from social injustice?” This anxiety about the usefulness of what we do came up in 1995 and since that time the organization has changed a great deal. Can we say that this change shows progress for real people in the world outside our organization?