The illusion of autonomy: Locating humanism in existential-psychoanalytic social theory

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This article assesses a realm of psychoanalytic social theory that is relatively under-discussed – existential psychoanalysis – in order to gain further insight into the relationship of psychoanalytic ideas to humanism. I offer a reading of certain influential thinkers in this tradition, namely Jean-Paul Sartre, Ludwig Binswanger and Medard Boss, presenting conceptual clarifications while highlighting a cluster of important aspects of their respective repertoires relevant to humanism. I do so with the intention of teasing out how contributing voices to existential psychoanalysis negotiate humanism’s foundational ideas, specifically the notion of ‘the individual subject’, with the bed-rocks of psychoanalytic thought, namely the unconscious. Finally, I conclude with critical commentary on the existential-psychoanalytic project drawn from what is often thought of as the anti-humanist tradition, with specific attention paid to Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. © 2014, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-83
Number of pages18
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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