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“Social contemporary” approach

Coordinators: Professors P. Mercarder, J.P. Durif (Lecturers/Thesis supervisors)

Sociological and psychoanalytic speeches – or at least some of it, especially on the public stage – are often in confrontation. Our works aim to an authentic articulation in clinical opinion, first based on the consideration of intrapsychic, intersubjective and constructivist processes and then centered on the criticism of thinking categories in their context of identity assignment likely alienating. This problematic need to be approached through the notion of asymmetric relation that seems to have a heuristic significance insofar it condense a whole problematic compound with multiple articulated dimensions both at a social or political level and through inter-individual connections.

Relational asymmetry is first seen in its mathematic, structural meaning, as a dissimilarity of places and functions. It is the idea that reciprocity between connections neither implies the similarity of subjective and institutional positions, nor implies the similarity of the exchanges. Intergenerational transmission is one example among others such as direct effects of sexual dimorphism (dissimilar functions of men and women in a reproductive process), or helping, caring relations, etc. Saying that this dissimilarity is structural means that it works as an abutment point, a limit: sexual dimorphism limits desire polymorphism… and this structural limit is also patterning. Therefore, a study may be conducted concerning the conditions within which the limit is neglected, and concerning the effect the negation products (for instance, the absence or the transgression of fundamental prohibitions of murder and incest, with subsequent phenomena of body and identity confusion, may be theorized in that way).

However, it is not common that this structural asymmetry be interpreted in economic, ideological, politic terms. The dimension of power, recognition – or not – of the other, legitimacy of different places must be taken into account. In that perspective, the asymmetric relation is conceived as essentially marked by inequality. Either seen as an ineluctable effect or as a perversion of places dissemblance, this dimension assembles reflections related to hierarchy (in the organizations, in social groups…) and to social and political inequalities with their psychological effects, more and more preoccupying in a context of generalized poverty at an economic level (collapse of the middle classes for example) and weakening of social and inter-subjective bonds (from divorce to “new poverty”…). Based on normativity criteria, these inequalities contribute to produce, reproduce and validate a definition of the norm: there is always a narrow relation between normality (and the structuring and restricting effects, in some contexts mutilating) and the belonging to a recognized and legitimate group.

However, we can go further: the relations asymmetry is not only a consequence of the way society and subjects interpret dissemblance, but it is also a factor originated in processes of differentiation, categorization, and identitary construction. In this perspective, we state and study social construction of categories working as identificatory models. The spectrum of thoughts brought by this problematic is broad, ranging from reflection on the functioning of stereotypes and cognitive means (informing social representation), to the idea that gender or race, just as social class, are not evidenced and eternal differences, but instead – in a universalistic perspective – the product of social processes of differentiation with identifiable functionings articulated around the question of power: it is always a matter of recognizing alterization process (when a social group is relegated to the position of the “other”): in the gender area, ideas such as “masculine general, feminine particular” or “person dominating, group dominated” may be quoted. In another perspective, our objective will be to avoid building a cultural identity as a clotted, irreducible, unequivocal difference. This approach helps understanding the conflictuality of identifications of subjects in all cultures.

The study of institutional speeches and practices, especially in justice and medias, is a very basic line of investigation that help understanding the construction of relevant categories in our society.

Asymmetric relations are characterized both by a dynamic of conflictuality and by the omnipresence of inter-subjective bonds crossing them. The dimension of conflictuality implies both inter-group conflicts – in public and private scene- and internal conflicts of the subject, divided in his/her identifications and desires (the issue of violent solution of the conflict and the conditions allowing or not the subject to live his/her conflictuality at an intern level, is obviously a crucial stake of the question). Correlatively, the inter-subjective bond dimension implies in one hand the study of interactions, above all the study of negotiation, listening, alliance or pact, co-construction theories or action processes between social actors – above all seen as human subjects- and in the other hand it implies a questioning on psychopathology of the bond to the others, and on the disconnecting processes threatening the subjects. Obviously, love, friendship, or family relationships are a particularly striking example of the complex movements that could also be developed through the caring relationship or through the hierarchic relationship.

Finally, this approach also carries – in a most basic way – the dimension of ethics. This psychosociology corresponds to a certain conception of the psychologist function in the world: serving men rather than the economy, serving the organization only when useful to men, serving the liaison processes, being the less dupe or accomplice to the ascendancy, domination, alienation, governing the essential of social relationships and affective relationships, etc. In other words: an essentially critical position.

The notion of asymmetry is then essentially a reading grid helping articulate sociological and clinical analysis rather than opposing them.

Updated April 28, 2016


Directrice: Magali RAVIT,
Coordinatrice de recherche: Eliane GASTALDO,
Gestionnaire financier: Farida MARTINEZ,
Université Lumière Lyon 2