Media and the Inner World


The Research Network

 

 About Media and the Inner World

Media and the Inner World (MiW) is a research network funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is run jointly run by its Directors Dr. Caroline Bainbridge (Reader in Visual Culture, University of Roehampton) and Dr. Candida Yates (Reader in Psychosocial Studies, University of East London). MiW brings together academics, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists and media practitioners with the aim of exploring the place of emotion and therapy in popular culture. The network reaches outside the realm of the University in order to provide new spaces for dialogue, discussion and knowledge exchange through our public events, CPD and short courses and research publications. A central aim of the network as a scholarly project is to develop a ‘psycho-cultural’ approach to the study of media, culture and the unconscious that combines theories and methods from psychoanalytic and psychosocial studies with those from media and cultural studies.

The network was launched in March 2009 with a symposium at University of Roehampton, which included speakers from the spheres of academia, psychotherapy and media (Prof. Valerie Walkerdine, Prof. Robert Young, Prof. Michael Rustin, Margaret Walters, David Aaronovitch and Brett Kahr). Since then, MiW has organised a number of events in the form of round table discussions for public debate, bringing together familiar names to discuss a wide range of topics ranging from ‘The Reparative Work of Radio’ and ‘Paranoia and Television’ to ‘Taste and Hunger in the Media’ and ‘Advertising, Disappointment and Desire’. The network also held a major international conference on the theme of ‘Psychoanalysis and Television’ in partnership with The Freud Museum in October 2010 and a symposium at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in February 2011 on the theme of  ‘Psychoanalysis and Popular Culture’, where speakers from the spheres of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, academia and the media included Michael Brearley, Jon Adlam, Carol Leader, Suzanne Moore, Krishnan Guru-Murphy, Jeremy Gilbert and John Storey.

In 2012, MiW received AHRC follow-on funding to further develop its impact and reach within the spheres of media, psychotherapy and the academy by holding a number of public events, CPD and short courses and also developing publications in order to foreground a new psycho-cultural approach to media and popular culture.

Psychoanalysis, Media and Culture

The application of psychoanalysis to culture can be traced back to Freud himself. In the academic setting, there are two spheres of interest in psychoanalytic theory. In the humanities, the work of Freud and Lacan is taken up as a methodological tool of textual analysis. In cultural studies, psychoanalysis informs the critical analysis of culture and identity. There has been a concentration in such work on matters related to representation and subjectivity. By contrast, in the sociological context, which sometimes underpins media studies, psychoanalysis is used to illuminate the relationship between politics and society. Some of this work draws on a specifically British frame of psychoanalytic theory embodied in the ‘object relations’ work of Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott amongst others. This network takes as its starting point the idea that academic approaches to popular culture can benefit from a return to psychoanalysis because of the increasingly important role of the media in shaping a sense of identity and culture. The role of the media in the inner world is central here.

With a few exceptions, most applications of psychoanalysis to culture tend to dwell on ‘high’ cultural forms: novels, art, theatre etc; popular culture tends to be ignored. ‘Media and the Inner World’ aims to develop a new psycho-cultural method to analyse current media trends and popular cultural texts. Taking a pluralistic psychoanalytic approach, it examines the fantasies that circulate through media forms and the relationship of audiences to them. It pays attention to the fears, anxieties, pleasures and desires at play in contemporary media contexts. Against a backdrop of ‘therapeutic culture’ and concerns about emotional governance and regulation, the Western media increasingly utilise psychological discourses and images of both emotional suffering and development, manifesting a deeper cultural desire for therapeutic understanding. Such images include scenes of emotional breakdown in reality TV; the depiction of psychotherapy as a tool of the self in TV dramas and chat shows; themes of emotional and psychological development in fly-on-the-wall documentaries and radio phone-ins. The implications of such representations for audiences need discussion, as do the fantasies and cultural responses they are likely to evoke. The participation of psychotherapists in the activities of the network will be central to the discussions, and themes of affect, fantasy and the status of the media in relation to our inner worlds will be explored.

The cultural positioning of audiences is also significant. Despite social and cultural scepticism, the language of psychoanalysis increasingly plays a role in mediating popular images of psychotherapy and psychological discussions about cultural phenomena. Media representations of psychoanalysis arguably also impact on the perceived reliability of therapeutic intervention. In view of this, practitioners in the media industries will be invited to shed light on production processes, ethics and values. They will also provide insight into the costs of working in stressful media environments, thus tapping into issues of emotionality and practice.

Despite the prevalence in today’s media of matters of emotion, psychoanalysis has fallen out of fashion in academic media studies. As a result, it is rarely cited as a way of understanding the cultural scene and charges of universalism abound. Yet paying attention to the cultural and historical specificity of media, it is possible to apply psychoanalytic discourse in a way that takes account of the psychological complexities of contemporary cultural experience. A key focus of the network is to put the case for psychoanalysis in helping to understand the often-irrational emotions, anxieties and desires of everyday life. To this end, it adopts a nuanced approach to academic criticism, establishing the importance of dialogue with clinicians and media practitioners, where the therapeutic processes that shape the fantasies and emotional experience of media and popular culture are explored.

 

To download the MiW Research Network Report 2009-2011, please click here (pdf file).

You can read more about the history of the network by clicking here (pdf file).