Psychoanalysis and the phenomenon of transference: A study in the sociology of knowledge

Donna Lynn Doty, Fordham University


The theoretical perspective of the sociology of knowledge provides the framework for this study of the social and historical development of the concept and the phenomenon of transference within psychoanalysis from Freud's and Breuer's first formulation of it in 1895 to Freudian and post-Freudian reformulations of transference today. The study draws upon the sociological propositions outlined by Peter L. Berger (1965; 1966) for a sociology of knowledge analysis of psychological phenomena and the various bodies of knowledge about these phenomena generated by psychology and psychiatry. This perspective views all theories including psychological theories as being dialectically related to the forms of social life (society and culture) and the ways individuals within a society experience and perceive themselves and others. Based on these premises it is argued that psychoanalytic concepts and theories like transference have--of necessity--undergone changes corresponding to changes in society and self that have taken place since the classical era of psychoanalysis, 1900-1939. After tracing the development of transference and counter-transference in Freud's writings throughout his lifetime, this study finds that transference underwent conceptual and technical changes within the Culturalist and Object-Relations schools of psychoanalysis. The findings also indicate that the move away from a Freudian drive/structure orientation towards the more interpersonal and ego approaches also coincided with the emergence of newer, briefer psychotherapies in contemporary U.S. society. It reveals that these non-psychoanalytic therapies are the prevailing psychological models in America today, since they appear to more directly reflect the subjective experiences and ideas of the self of most Americans. Conversely it finds that psychoanalysis (whether classical or the contemporary object-relations school where the classical notion of transference remains close to its orthodox formulation) no longer addresses the therapeutic and personal needs of most Americans. Psychoanalysis, once the dominant school of psychological thought, is utilized by only a relatively small and select segment of the population. Sociological reasons for these changes in the theory and practice of psychology in post-war America are discussed with reference to two different, but interrelated developments: the "Americanization of psychoanalysis" and the growth and diversity of "therapies for the normal".

Subject Area

Social structure|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Doty, Donna Lynn, "Psychoanalysis and the phenomenon of transference: A study in the sociology of knowledge" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8904647.