Re: [xmca] Donald Winnicott 1-5

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun Apr 16 2006 - 17:41:34 PDT

Andy-- I am glad you have helped get us moving on the issue of object
relations theory. I have made a couple of comments in red in the text. I
tried to get a recent article called "History and National stupidity" from
the NY Review of Books but they want 20$ for an electronic version and I
figure that is kind of raw given I have a print version, so I'll simply note
that it has some very interesting things to say
on the subject of historical analysis. If I come up with an excuse I'll get
an electronic version and sent it along.

My comment in red.

On 4/14/06, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
> Comrades and colleagues,
> Having completed the philosophical part of my work on The Subject, I am
> now
> turning to psychology. Mike's "Cultural Psychology" turned out to be a
> marvellous exposition of the Cultural-historical approach, so I am now
> turning to Object Relations theory, and I have started reading Donald
> Winnicott. There are some issues I would love to have some opinions from
> you all on.
> 1. Development and the historical method. In "Human Nature" Winnicott
> says:
> "It would be possible to start at the beginning and to work gradually
> forwards, but this would mean starting with the obscure and unknown and
> only later reaching to that which is common knowledge. This study of
> development will start with the child of 4 and will work backwards,
> reaching at long last the individual's beginning." I think there is a
> profoundly interesting observation here, that we have to start - in our
> theoretical investigations, in the study of an individual case, and in
> exposition of our theories - with what is accessible more or less here and
> now, and work backward by a kind of reconstruction, to earlier stages of
> development, before taking the reverse path from beginnings to the thing
> as
> it is. I think this has consequences for how we see the
> cultural-historical
> approach, including the fact that what we know about historical beginnings
> is largely guesswork. Does anyone find this controversial?

Nothing controversial, but a lot that is problematic, as is the entire issue
of what constitutes evidence for past events. My own fondness for a
methodology is because it provides a way to see history from several
vantage points.

e.h. carr:" we can view the past, and achieve our understandin of the past,
only through the eyes of the present" -- with children's development, of
course, we have a different relationship to the past depending upon our age,
the kid's age, whether it is our kid, etc. But we start where we are,
relationally speaking, and it always is relational, even if we forget that.

2. Winnicott's Ontology. Winnicott has a very interesting and different
> "ontology." He makes Psyche vs. Soma the fundamental dualism, not mind vs.
> matter and he says that Mind "must be considered as a special case of the
> functioning of the psyche-soma." And then later he introduces Soul, not to
> mention "the mental" and "the intellect." I am having difficulty grasping
> exactly the distinctions between Psyche, Mind and Soul.
> Can anyone explain his meaning succinctly for me?

No-- I have recently read Winnicott on transition objects, but need to read

3. Emotional Objects and Intellectual Objects. Interestingly, it seems to
> me that CHAT is centrally concerned with the intellect. Mike's "Cultural
> Psychology" does not contradict this, though his "Child Development"
> covers
> the whole range of intellect, morals, values, character, personality,
> temperament, ... So it seems that CHAT and our ideas about activity as
> mediated by artefacts (signs, tools, symbols, or whatever it doesn't
> matter) are very much about culture and intellect. Winnicott's objects
> play
> a similar role to our artefacts, but they are very different - they
> mediate
> emotions and drives, and allow the subject to build character,
> relationships and identity - everything except intellect! In fact,
> Winnicott regards intellect as depending solely on the supply of adequate
> brain tissue and a matter of indifference in regard to emotional health
> and
> good character, and he just takes in as given for his work. That we have
> two theories of mediated activity, one focused mainly on intellectual
> development, the other on emotional and moral development strikes me as
> quite intriguing and full of potential.
> What do you think?

The part of this I can speak to is about the inadequacy of my own theorizing
in "Cultural Psychology" on this point, an issue that Hatano and Inagaki
made in their review of the book. In Development of Children we do, as you
say, include the full range of issues that you list. My own view of
emotional development is some version of the functional position formulated
by Campos, such that emotion and cognition are aspects of a single process
that develops over the course of time(s). And empirical examples taken from
our work, whether in Question Asking Reading or the 5th Dimension are full
of descriptions of the role of emotion in the activities, but the theorizing
is simply mute on this issue.

One observation from fieldnotes from our sites that has always impressed me
is that the undergraduates (anyone who participates, really) cannot
describewhat goes on without mixing emotion and learning and social
terms together. Yet as psychologists we do so routinely. This speaks to a
bracketing with strong
 professional roots. Perhaps I will live long enough to supercede them.

4. Individuality. Winnicott claims that within two weeks identical twins
> will have had sufficiently distinct experiences to have developed quite
> distinct personalities. This kind of insight into individuality, it seems
> to me, would be of great interest for cultural-historical psychologists,
> who, I think we agree, by the very nature of our big-picture approach,
> have
> difficulty grasping individuality.
> Does anyone agree?

See AR Luria on nomothetic/idiographic is my first response. No accident, of
course, that history is considered unscientific in its idiographicness!

5. Freudianism and Emotions. Winnicott's early works at least are full of
> Freudian ideas which I find quite absurd in themselves - eg when an infant
> has only just discovered that her father is another subject, she has
> already acquired a complete knowledge of 1950s concepts of the role of the
> father. Come on! Also, the entire process of development is driven by
> defences constructed by the child to protect itself from threats arising
> from frustrations or pain in relation to a myriad of innate drives and
> instincts. Can someone tell me how much of this stuff about innate drives
> I
> should take as good coin.
> Where are we currently at in terms of the nature/nurture pendulum?
> I guess that's more than enough!
> Andy
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