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‘Media and the Inner World’: From Candida Yates

 

What is the Media and Inner World Network?

 Media and the Inner World (MIW) is a research network run jointly by Dr. Candida Yates (Psychosocial Studies, UEL) and Dr. Caroline Bainbridge (Cultural and Media Studies, Roehampton University). It was funded between 2009-11 by the AHRC and the directors have applied for ‘Follow-on funding’ in order to extend the life of the network. MiW brings together academics, psychoanalysts and media practitioners with the aim of exploring themes of emotion and therapy in popular culture. The network reaches outside the realm of the University in order to provide public spaces of exchange and discussion. Its’ virtual community provides a wiki forum for further debate: (www.miwnet.org).

 The network was launched in March 2009 with a symposium at Roehampton University, 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 we have organised a number of events, in the form of round table events 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.  The conference included academic speakers (Candida Yates and Caroline Bainbridge); psychotherapists (Carol Leader, Brett Kahr and Valerie Sinason); television producers and filmmakers from Blink Films and Love Films and Channel 4, journalist and broadcaster Tom Sutcliff and award winning TV comedy writer Laurence Marks.

In February 2011, the MiW Network held an international symposium at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust on the theme of ‘Psychoanalysis and Popular Culture’. The symposium attracted a packed audience with speakers from the spheres of psychotherapy, academia and the media including ex England cricket captain and president of the institute of Psychoanalysis Michael Brearley; group analysts Jon Adlam and Chris Scanlon; journalists and broadcaster Suzanne Moore and Krishnan Guru-Murphy; academics Jeremy Gilbert, Prof. Michael Rustin and Prof. John Storey.

A Psycho-Cultural Approach to Media and the Inner World

 A central aim of the network has been to develop a ‘psychocultural’ approach to the study of media, culture and the unconscious that combines theories and methods from psychoanalytic studies with those from media and cultural studies. The application of psychoanalysis to culture can be traced back to Freud himself. In cultural and media studies, the work of Freud and Lacan often 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, 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 relationship between 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, examining 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.

 Despite the prevalence of emotion in today’s media, psychoanalysis has fallen out of fashion in academic media studies and charges of universalism abound. Yet paying attention to the cultural and historical specificities of media, it is possible to apply psychoanalytic ideas in a way that takes account of the psychological complexities of contemporary cultural experience. A key focus of the MiW psycho-cultural project 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.

 A number of publications will emerge from the work of the network, including a MiW Special Edition of the online journal Free Associations: Psychoanalysis and Culture, Media, Groups, Politics in August 2011.

(www.freeassociations.org.uk)

 There will also be a Media and Inner World book series with the international publishers Karnac Books. If any readers would like to submit proposals for inclusion in that book series, please contact Candida Yates, c.yates@uel.ac.uk

 For further details of the network and its activities, please contact

Dr. Candida Yates: c.yates@uel.ac.uk

 August, 2011.

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