Psychoanalytic Methods and Critical Cultural Studies
- Atilla HallsbyAtilla HallsbyDepartment of Communication Studies, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Within communication studies, critical and cultural scholars will likely encounter psychoanalytic methods by way of rhetoric scholarship, which has made plentiful and recurring use of Freudian and Lacanian concepts. A survey of psychoanalytic methods “before” and “after” the linguistic turn is offered—juxtaposing key concepts with rhetorical scholarship that employs psychoanalytic terms of art. Psychoanalytic theory is foundationally the study of the unconscious. Before the linguistic turn, the Freudian theory of the unconscious informed Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification developed in A Rhetoric of Motives and numerous Jungian analyses of cinematic texts. In the linguistic turn’s aftermath, the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan contributed understandings of speech, identification, and rhetoric that transformed Freud’s original formulations and productively supplemented Burke’s. These contributions, captured in Lacan’s four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, registers of the unconscious, and The “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,’” illustrate a variety of ways that critical and cultural scholars have enlisted psychoanalysis to describe instances of public address, social movements, political and legal discourse, and cinema/film. The unique feature of Lacan’s approach is that the unconscious is structured like a language, which means that the unconscious is received as a speech act. Moreover, contrary to the view that the subject uses the signifier, Lacan maintains that the signifier exercises an organizing role over the subject and its desire. Conceived within the history, theory, and practice of rhetoric, psychoanalytic theory offers conceptually rich insights tethered to the concepts of the unconscious, the signifier, and the drive (among others) that are enabling to the aims of critical and cultural studies.