The Social Envelope: On the psychodynamics of class, mobility, and exclusion

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Psychoanalysis and Politics

04 October 2023

Time: 18:00 - 19:30

Price: £28 - and discounted tickets for artists, freelancers, and students, £15

Location: online


Part of the Psychoanalysis and Politics series Crises and Transmission

Born into a working-class family in Normandy in 1940, contemporary French author Annie Ernaux was the first in her family to study at university. Through education and marriage, she moved upwards in the social hierarchy through the course of her life, leaving behind her modest origins to become a member of the bourgeois elite. Yet as Ernaux’s work documents, her class transition was not without cost. In her acceptance speech after winning the Nobel prize for literature in 2022, Ernaux speaks of the “internalized power relations linked to class, race, and gender” that make it difficult for many immigrants and “class defectors” to accept their new position in society. French clinical sociologist Vincent de Gaulejac describes the psychic conflict experienced in such cases between an inherited and an acquired identity as a form of “class neurosis,” which can be experienced by those moving up or down the social ladder. Why such a conflict should challenge the psyche is the subject of this paper. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Piera Aulagnier-Castoriadis, Didier Anzieu, René Kaës, Jean Furtos and others to argue that social class can be seen as a form of psychic envelope that both protects and contains, and creates a barrier, the rupture of which, even in growth, can be painful.

Cat Moir Wolfe is a critical theorist and former academic, currently retraining to become a psychoanalytically oriented clinical psychologist at the University of Toulouse, Jean-Jaurès, France.

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