Thoughts for the Times on Groups and Masses

Freud Museum Vienna conference

10th-11th June 2022

Link to the conference on the Freud Museum’s website

101 years ago, Sigmund Freud published his essay Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego which forms the focal point of the annual international conference “Thoughts for the Times on Groups and Massesat the Sigmund Freud Museum. Freud’s first ideas for this essay, which centers on social or group psychology, date back to spring 1919 – a time marked by the end of World War I and the proclamation of the First Republic of Austria. Political upheaval and economic hardship led to popular riots and a number of mass strikes. In contrast to the descriptive, strongly resentful works of his predecessors, Gustave Le Bon (The Crowd. A Study of the Popular Mind, 1895) and William McDougall (The Group Mind, 1920), Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego is characterized by an analytic scrutiny of the transformation of the individual to a group being: what defines the “group”, what keeps it together, what kind of satisfaction can being-absorbed-into-the-crowd provide, which unconscious mechanisms and psychic phenomena are at work when a multitude of individuals submits to a “leader”?

 Even to-day the members of a group stand in need of the illusion that they are equally and justly loved by their leader, but the leader himself need love no one else, he may be of a masterful nature, absolutely narcissistic, self-confident and independent. (Freud 1921, 123)

Today we live in a world characterized by a multitude of overlapping crises: climate change and the pandemic, forced migration, terrorism, wars, and the rise of authoritarian structures go along with a massive media transformation, a digital change of the structures of public space, and an alarming decline of democratic values as well as the demise of certainties long held to be self-evident. In the course of this social transformation, the citizens of Western democracies as well as their institutions seem to have internalized an individualized notion of freedom that ranks the articulation of the general interests of society below the satisfaction of individual interests.

In addition, a strong rise of mass and group movements is emerging against the backdrop of such efforts towards individualization, privatization, and particularization. Their followers may come from a homogenous, mostly – as in the case of QAnon – alt-right milieu. In most cases, they follow their leaders unconditionally: in pop cultural contexts, we would call them “stans” (a compound of “stalkers” and “fans”). In other cases – as in the German and Austrian Querdenker movement – these communities manifest an enormous ideological heterogeneity: “In groups the most contradictory ideas can exist side by side and tolerate each other, without any conflict arising from the logical contradiction between them.” (Freud 1921, 79)

Taking recourse to his earlier texts Totem and Taboo (1912) and On Narcissism: An Introduction (1914), Freud describes the erotic cathexes underlying the idealization of a strong father figure, which simultaneously results in an identification with the lost inner Ego Ideal. In fact, current crowd and group formations allow us to (re)discover psychic processes and mechanisms that Freud has already described in 1921: compliance, hypnosis, regression, idealization, identification, and fusion with the Other. Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego provides a framework for this conference, which will examine current group and mass phenomena in the real as well as the virtual world, reflecting their numerous interconnections from psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives and putting them up for discussion.

 

PROGRAMME

Friday, 5.00 PM

Welcome by Monika Pessler

Introduction by Jeanne Wolff-Bernstein und Daniela Finzi

Friday, 5.30 –7.30

Panel 1: Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse (1921) (Group Psychology and the Analysis if the Ego) (in German)

Speakers

  • Ulrike May (Berlin)
  • Sama Maani (Vienna)

Responder/Moderation: Helmut Dahmer (Vienna)

German panel that will deal in particular with Freud’s writing within his theoretical development, the concepts dealt with therein as well as the reception in psychoanalysis and other disciplines, especially sociology.

Drinks

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Saturday, 10.00-12.00PM

Panel 2: Dynamics of mass media: Identification and Digitalization

Speakers

  • Giuseppina Antinucci (Milan)
  • Jan de Vos (Ghent)

Responder/Moderation: tbc.

Panel on phenomena such as mass bonding, seductibility, identification and regression in the media platforms to the point of mutual entanglement between the real and virtual worlds.

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12.00-14.00     Lunch Break

Saturday, 2.00-4.00 PM

Panel 3: Politics I: The Social Unconscious Today

Speakers

  • Earl Hopper (London)
  • Lene Auestad (Oslo)

Moderation / Responder: Wolfgang Roth (Vienna)

Panel about current mass psychological phenomena and the strengthening of right-wing populist movements against the background of the progressive fragmentation of social bonds and unsustainable insecurities

Saturday, 5.00-7.00PM

Panel 4: Politics II: Identity-based Violence

Speakers

  • Francisco Gonzales (San Francisco)
  • Ranjanna Khanna (Durham)

Moderation / Responder: Gail Newman (Vienna)

Panel on current mass psychological phenomena, based on contemporary confrontations with the configurations of power, sexism and racism, and current identity politics

Dinner

 

DETAILED PROGRAMME

Friday, June 10 (in German)

17:00 – 17:30 h, Welcome by Monika Pessler, Introduction by Jeanne Wolff-Bernstein and Daniela Finzi

17:30 – 19:30 h, Panel 1: Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse (1921) (Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego)

Ulrike May (Berlin): Sexualtriebe, Eros, Identifizierung – Re-Lecture von Freuds Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse (1921)

Sama Maani (Vienna): Kunst, Identität und die Psychologie der Massen in der Digitalmoderne

Responder/Moderation: Helmut Dahmer (Vienna)

 

Saturday, June 11 (in English)

10:00 – 12:00 h, Panel 2: Dynamics of mass media: Identification and Digitalization

Jan de Vos (Ghent): The Truths of Psychoanalysis: Defying the Lies of Psychology that Fuel the Amassing of Individuals

Giuseppina Antinucci (Milan): Crisis of Representation: Destiny of Identification

Responder/Moderation: Gail Newman (Vienna)

 

14:00 – 16:00 h, Panel 3: Politics I: The Social Unconscious Today

Earl Hopper (London): The Social Unconscious, Traumatic Experience, and the Study of Social Systems: The Borromean Knot and the Mobius Strip of the Tripartite Matrix of Social Systems

Lene Auestad (Oslo): Affects, Groups, and Illusions – Freud’s essay as foreshadowing fascism

Responder/Moderation: Wolfgang Martin Roth (Vienna)

 

17:00 – 19:00 h, Panel 4: Politics II: Identity-based Violence

Francisco Gonzales (San Francisco): The Trouble with Us: Towards a Trans-Mural Psychoanalysis

Ranjanna Khanna (Durham): Mass Death

Responder/Moderation: Ricardo Ainslie (Vienna)