Illusions of a Future

Psychoanalysis and the Biopolitics of Desire

Illusions of a Future

Experimental Futures

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: Published: August 2014

Author: Kate Schechter

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Psychoanalytic Theory

A pioneering ethnography of psychoanalysis, Illusions of a Future explores the political economy of private therapeutic labor within industrialized medicine. Focusing on psychoanalysis in Chicago, a historically important location in the development and institutionalization of psychoanalysis in the United States, Kate Schechter examines the nexus of theory, practice, and institutional form in the original instituting of psychoanalysis, its normalization, and now its "crisis." She describes how contemporary analysts struggle to maintain conceptions of themselves as capable of deciding what psychoanalysis is and how to regulate it in order to prevail over market demands for the efficiency and standardization of mental health treatments.

In the process, Schechter shows how deeply imbricated the analyst-patient relationship is in this effort. Since the mid-twentieth century, the "real" relationship between analyst and patient is no longer the unremarked background of analysis but its very site. Psychoanalysts seek to validate the centrality of this relationship with theory and, through codified "standards," to claim it as a privileged technique. It has become the means by which psychoanalysts, in seeking to protect their disciplinary autonomy, have unwittingly bound themselves to a neoliberal discourse of regulation.


“Schechter’s brilliant study combines ethnography and intellectual history to explore how psychoanalysis is practiced today…. Schechter poignantly illustrates arguments about precarity pioneered by scholars such as Judith Butler and Lauren Berlant.  This book is required reading for humanists, social scientists, social workers, and therapists…. Summing Up: Highly recommended.” — D. Stuber, Choice

“Schechter’s text is an interdisciplinary feat that combines ethnography with archival research to chronicle the crisis of American psychoanalysis as it adapts to an industrialized, neoliberal health system, governed by insurability, standardization, ‘flexible specialization,’, and ‘medically necessary’ services.  … Illusions of the Future is a remarkable contribution to the history and anthropology of the ‘psy’ sciences, and Schechter opens up a world of possibility for further ethnographically analyzing this discipline.” — Julia Gruson-Wood, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

‘This book is a multifaceted gem. … Schechter helps us to understand traumatically induced change in the theory, organization, and practice of psychoanalysis in the U.S. Her book is implicitly a stinging critique of the harm managed care has done to analysts and patients alike.”  — Howard F. Stein, Journal of Anthropological Research

“For anybody interested in psychoanalysis, its institutions, history, theory, practices and personnel, this book makes a significant contribution that should have some (possibly even beneficial!) effects upon, and for, contemporary practitioners themselves. More generally, the book also contains incisive and interesting interpretations that bespeak the ongoing impact of biopolitical domination upon the mental health professions more generally — and should therefore also attract the attention of a wider audience.” — Justin Clemens, Society & Space

"Anyone interested in psychological and medical anthropology, psychoanalysis and its history, theories of the unconscious, or the anthropology of neo-liberalism will find this a compelling book." — Adrian Yen, Ethos

"For anyone interested in exploring new angles on the meaning of contemporary psychotherapy or neoliberal subjectivity then this well-researched and intellectually provocative book will be a valuable addition to the debate." — Keir Martin, Anthropological Notebooks

"A keenly observed and elegantly written account . . . A sophisticated and nuanced ethnography." — Silvia Posocco, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"One can read Illusions of a Future as a key interlocutor for Foucault and Derrida, and as a counter to readings of Foucault (Rose and Rabinow are named) that do not allow for the internal divisions and messy historical shifts within psychoanalysis. It will appeal to readers in the humanities, to social workers and psychologists who think dynamically, to science studies scholars (collegiums of expertise, boundary work, trading zones, epistemic cultures), to debates about the repetition compulsions within the creation of biopolitical objects, and to psychoanalysts themselves."
  — Michael M. J. Fischer, author of Anthropological Futures

"Illusions of a Future is not only a careful, fightingly smart account of what happens to middle-American psychoanalysis and its 'crisis' under neoliberal conditions of risk and accountability. It is an argument for a rethinking of biopolitics. Kate Schechter uses a rigorous historical and ethnographic account of twentieth-century and contemporary psychoanalysis in Chicago to address and extend  Foucauldian and Derridean readings of analysis and of Freud at the very point where these readings appear to falter or reverse course. She does so through  empirical engagement with 'local catalogs of resistances,' a project that she terms 'rethinking biopolitics with renovated psychoanalytic resources' and one that makes intense and rewarding demands on its reader." — Lawrence Cohen, author of No Aging in India: Alzheimer's, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kate Schechter is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Rush Medical College, Chair of Conceptual Foundations at the Institute for Clinical Social Work, and faculty at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. She is in the private practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in Chicago.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

Part I. The Slippery Object and the Sticky Libido

1. An Imaginary of Threat and Crisis 19

2. Analysis Deferred (or, the Talking Cure Talks Back) 51

Part II. The Problem of Psychoanalytic Authority

3. Instituting Psychoanalysis in Chicago: Two Pedagogies of Desire 73

4. Professionalization and Its Discontents: The Theory of Obedience and the Drama of "Never Splitting" 95

Part III. Psychoanalysis and the Declensions of Verisimilitude

5. The Plenty of Scarcity: On Crisis and Transience in the Fifty-First Ward 123

6. On Narcissism: "Our Own Developmental Line" 161

Notes 189

References 221

Index 267
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5721-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5708-7
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