This book is the outcome of a long journey to discover my own thoughts about group analysis—ideas about its claims, how it works and how it relates, beyond the circle of therapy, to the world in which we live. It also reflects dissatisfaction with the relative slowness of theoretical developments within the discipline of group analysis, as I see it.
Writing is an astonishing practice in which, somewhat like the unpredictable generativity of the therapy group, we happen upon unexpected, unbidden associations, the "more than" what we set out with. As I laboured, I found myself drawn by a swirl of connections between group analysis and three loves of old—philosophy, history, and social theory. The result is an interdisciplinary, integrative book that moves between different domains of inquiry, convinced that it is in the borders and interplay of perspectives—clinical, philosophic, historical— that the discipline of group analysis can be strengthened in theory. Of course, Foulkes adapted the models and movements that had made him—psychoanalysis, neurology, gestalt theory, war-time psychiatry, and so on—creating the synthesis which was group analysis. But I am not alone in thinking that we have exhausted the original, founding paradigm of group analysis and that our discipline badly requires paradigm shifts in order to remain relevant in today's world.
The first three chapters explore relationships between group analysis and philosophy, using philosophy as a resource for thinking. The metaphor of philosophy as "therapy" is not new and it is interesting to regard each of us as philosopher in our own right, immersed in a perspective on life, tackling problems of existence, guided by moral themes and seeking solutions to the situations we find ourselves in. Whilst human kinds are seldom philosophers in the grand sense of the word, tackling big questions of Life and Truth, we are nevertheless deeply influenced by implicit "theories" about who we are, models of the world, and stories that help us make sense of living; if we sustain an inquiring, examining attitude, we can revise those models, overhauling received versions of ourselves. Three philosophers—Nietzsche, Gadamer, and Dewey, together with the tradition of intersubjective psychoanalysis— figure large in the first three chapters.
A common component of psychotherapy is to locate a client within the hi(story) that carries them. The past is not inert, but is subject to reinscription, whilst the future is under construction—we are always en route, as Gadamer said. None of us is complete, and narrative lies open, with plenty of commas, but no full stops. The same is true of our psychological theories and therapies, which can be seen as models, both explanatory and ameliorative; importantly, they are historical products, relative to context, time, and place. Contesting any strict separation between theory and practice, I will argue that they grow together, in codependence, and this is particularly so in disciplines which are concerned broadly with the "care of the soul".
Group analysis needs to be placed within a matrix of borrowings, metaphors, dependencies, and breaks, within a field of the "psy disciplines". My interest in such contexts was stimulated through many conversations with that eminently history-wise group analyst, Dr Malcolm Pines. The question explored is, that if group analysis and relational psychoanalysis regard human beings as inescapably social, interconnected creatures, what are the implications of Nietzsche's insistence on seeing human kinds as historical beings, through and through?
Questions of historicity are addressed in Chapters Four to Seven, offering a new formulation of social unconsciousness as discursive, historical production. Numerous historical case examples are used, ranging from shifts in personal and group subjectivity as a result of the Reformation, in Chapters Four to Five, through to nineteenth-century concerns with degeneracy and abject groups, in Chapters Six and Seven. If I take history seriously, this is not for remote, academic reasons: history does not stop, as a process confined to what is "past"; we are carried along by being part of it. We are always in history.
However historical and social we are, there is no avoiding the reality of agency and fact of singularity (what Heidegger called the "ontic" dimension), although these occur within circumstances not of our own making; we are, as Charles Taylor puts it, "self-interpreting animals". Self-interpretation is reflected in our ability to construct and vary narrative accounts of our lives: "We are story-telling animals", says Alistair MacIntyre. This emphasis on story and narrative identity is developed in Chapters Eight and Nine. Our unavoidable immersion in a world of discursively produced stories and values is examined, showing how group analysis dovetails with the highly diversified and plural societies in which we live. However, there is a critical issue in as much as group analysis, like any therapy, is a carrier of ethico-cultural assumptions and regulative ideals. A critical perspective on our own practice is essential; we cannot pretend not to be part of those wider disciplines and practices of self in our modern, therapeutic culture.
Many people have helped my labours, through their interest and encouragement. Some helped without knowing it, through inspiration, as heroes. Paul Hirst, formerly Professor of Social Theory at Birkbeck College, died in 2003, having made a vast contribution to social and political theory. I never formally studied with him, but eagerly consumed his talks and books. He was a friendly and generous acquaintance. A true polymath, I admired Hirst's openness, his rigorous, sceptical pragmatism, and respect for the value of theory, not as an end in itself, but as a mobile vehicle for the development of evermore useful analysis and critique. Amongst other things, it was he who aroused my interest in the Reformation and early modern witchcraft. An interesting aside is that Paul Hirst studied sociology at the University of Leicester, where he was much impressed by the scholarship of that early friend of group analysis and of Foulkes, Norbert Elias. Group analysts have rarely pursued historical inquiry, content perhaps to cite Elias as luminary precedent and co-travellor of the discipline.
Also in 2003, I learned of the death of Edward Said. I had not realised how much this man, whom I never met, meant to me. It was as if he had "been with" me for years, a figure of continuity. In response to grief, I organised a conference, "The West and the Rest—Exploring the Contribution of Edward Said", at the Institute of Group Analysis, London
(Weegmann, 2005a). Said's phrase, "permission to narrate", so apt of his efforts to tell the story of broken Palestinian reality, is equally fitting as subtitle for group analysis, as people talk, listen, exchange, and develop new narratives.
Hirst and Said excelled at traversing disciplinary boundaries, practicing the art of, to use another of Said's expressions, "travelling theory". Both wrote from humanist, worldly convictions, with an eye on the future, as to what might be improved.
It is within such a spirit that I aspire to write ...
To Henry Christian Weegmann, who,
in his quiet way, helped me to notice the world about me, to look in order to see, and to listen in order to hear ...