A Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Workshop Series celebrating 30 years of PPS
In her highly influential essay The Commons (2016), social theorist Lauren Berlant addresses the brokenness of the world. She describes a social state in which life is inhibited. It fails to reproduce itself and instead leads to social fragmentation and to different forms of mental suffering. In ‘crisis times like this one’, she writes, when the transition or reproduction of life is interrupted or troubled, it is paramount, Berlant argues, to repair or replace the broken infrastructure. By this she means to generate new forms for thought and action in which life can be lived in a reparative, communal and caring way. A crisis in society and structure is thus an existential challenge for both individuals and communities, but according to Berlant every such failure or rupture also ‘opens up the potential for new organisations of life.’
Berlant wrote these words in 2016, yet today, in 2023 things seem to have gotten worse. Our times are troubled as they are marked by economic and ecological crisis, by international and military conflicts as well as by an increasing casualisation and commercialisation of everyday life. New concepts and ideas for understanding such complex and troubling developments are urgently needed.
For 30 years, the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (PPS) has focused on troubling feelings and troubled structures. It has brought together researchers and clinicians who study psychoanalysis, who work with the conundrums of unconscious feelings and who have increasingly started theorising the entanglement of psychic and social phenomena. Examining today’s troubled times from a psychosocial and psychoanalytic perspective means knowing that a crisis of the mind is often deeply interwoven with ruptured or neglected infrastructures, whereas troubled infrastructures are often an expression of repressed or disintegrated psychic worlds. It also means being aware that when seeking to understand a crisis work on both the mind and infrastructure is needed.
The aim of the department has therefore been to develop interdisciplinary and creative frameworks for approaching what troubles individuals and groups but cannot be addressed by established disciplines or traditions of thought. To celebrate this trajectory of three decades of psychoanalytic and psychosocial research in Essex, we have designed a workshop series which examines some of the most central concepts that define the work of the department. As such, the workshop series will bring together leading researchers from PPS and other departments to discuss the meaning of health, dreams, trauma, fantasy and memory. Each workshop starts with a simple question such as ‘What is health?’ or ‘What is trauma?’ and then allows for the question to be explored in an open and colourful way. While linked through an interest in the same question, panellists will approach this question from different disciplinary backgrounds and use different theoretical and cultural languages to formulate answers. This will allow for the respective concept not to be fixed by a one-dimensional or disciplinary discourse but come to life through an interplay of contrasts and connections in a collaborative and playful exploration.