How does Freudian Theory help to explain social formation?

Freudian Theory has been criticized by feminists for espousing a patriarchal social formation. The most vocal critique among Second Wave feminists is Betty Friedan, whose cornerstone work Feminine Mystique (published in 1963) took issue with Freudian psychoanalysts. She perceived Freudian Theory to comply with a subordinate role for women in and outside the household. The 1950s was a time when working-class and middle-class women were “suffering from suburban domesticity”. (Rorty, 2008, p.56) Second Wave feminists fought against this view of social formation. They found a natural ally in the cause of black Americans for their civil rights. Hence the 1960s witnessed a strong social movement along the twin axis of race and gender. In the beginning feminists were sceptical – if not antagonistic – to psychoanalysis. They marked it as spawning patriarchy and with it the earlier quiescence of women. But by 1973,

“women psychoanalysts, psychologists, and writers began to demonstrate that the women’s movement could benefit from the thought of Karen Horney, Helene Deutsch, and Melanie Klein, as well as from that of the younger women who were linking psychoanalytic ideas to hormonal, chromosomal, and embryological research, to psychological studies of traits and bisexuality, and so on. New avenues for investigation opened up into the genesis of femaleness, gender roles, and all sorts of cultural influences. Investigators expected to unravel the impact “culture” may have on “nature.”” (Kurzweil, 1995, p. 6)

Freudian understanding of social formation was complemented by the works of sociologists such as Julia Kristeva and Michel Foucault. Kristeva’s analysis of the process of abjection from the maternal inherent in social formation “supplements Freud’s thesis that the social is founded on the murder of the father and the incest taboo.” (Oliver & Trigo, 2003, p. xxxiii) Kristeva interpreted the incest taboo in terms of ‘abjection’ through which we try to ensure the division of culture and nature. This perspective is useful for not only extending Freudian Theory but also for cultural theorists. Kristeva concluded that the process of abjection is never finished. Instead, like all things repressed, it will manifest through other mental mechanisms. In what is a useful insight for feminist theorists, “although language and culture set up separations and order by repressing maternal authority, this repressed maternal authority returns, especially in literature and art, where imagination frees up unconscious fears and desires in a way similar to dream-work.” (Oliver & Trigo, 2003, p. xxxiii) Central to social formation, according to Kristeva, is collective identity formation and by extension individual identity formation. For Kristeva,

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