Psychoanalysis, Pedagogy, and Politics in Interwar Vienna, 1918-1938

Phillip Henry

This past quarter, with the help of a SSD short-term research grant, I was able to spend a month in Washington D.C. and six weeks in London to conduct research towards my dissertation on psychoanalysis, pedagogy, and politics in Interwar Vienna.  While the bulk of research for the project was completed over ten months in Vienna the previous year, the fact that the lives and careers I study were interrupted by the rise of fascism necessitated a number of follow-up months in the two countries most exiled Viennese psychoanalysts made their home in the late-1930s.

            The project looks at two entwined developments: on the one hand, how Freud’s followers used psychoanalytic thought to understand the work of education and to inform educational practices and, on the other, how psychoanalysis itself changed in order to make this expanded application possible.  By the mid-1920’s, Freud could state that the child has replaced the neurotic as the main subject of psychoanalytic study.  As psychoanalysts undertook this massive reorientation towards the child and thus towards education, they were simultaneously participating – if obliquely – in the major political questions of their day.  Questions such as the politics of Enlightenment, the crisis of liberal subjectivity, the rise of mass politics, the reconstruction of paternal authority, and the deconstruction of patriarchy were taken up and refracted within the prism of psychoanalytic thought, often revealing an underside that prevailing discourses occluded.

            In D.C. I worked exclusively in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, sifting through boxes of unpublished letters, seminar minutes, and lecture notes.  Some of the most remarkable discoveries came in the form of isolated documents in folders marked miscellaneous – often single letters that individuals had preserved while discarding the remaining correspondence.  For a group of professionals that was often wary of wading into political terrain (for fear of jeopardizing the perceived impartiality and independence of their science) their letters occasionally reveal political dimensions to their thought only alluded to in their published  writings.

            In London my main research site was the Freud Museum and Archive in Hampstead.  While it did not yield quite the same overwhelming quantity of material as the Library of Congress, the Freud Archive did contain a number of vital sources that offered an overview of the activity of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society in the interwar years and others that yielded invaluable insight into the evolution of Anna Freud’s thought at a critical moment in its development.  The photo accompanying this description is of Hampstead Heath not far from where Anna Freud would establish her famous wartime nurseries continuing the work she pioneered in Vienna after exile.