Lacan, Jacques

(1901-83)
Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and doctor of medicine who reinterpreted the work of Sigmund Freud in the light of the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure . He trained at the Paris Medical Faculty, in 1963 became Chargé de Conférences at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and founded the École Freudienne de Paris. He is largely associated with the structuralist and post-structuralist movements, and during the 1960s his seminars were a major focus of intellectual life in Paris. His work, which is often obscure and replete with puns and word-plays, has had a considerable influence on feminist theory, because of his argument that Freud's hypotheses must be interpreted symbolically rather than literally; and, in particular, that Freud's controversial idea of ‘penis envy’ should be treated metaphorically.
The unconscious, Lacan argues, is like language because it operates by using metaphor and metonymy-that is, it works symbolically. His refinement of Freudian theory has been seen by many as crucial because it avoided Freud's controversial and arguably contradictory idea that there are biological ‘drives’ that reduce all individuals to identical development patterns. Language, according to Lacan, constructs meaning throughout culture, but language is also mutable, so that change is therefore not only possible but also inevitable, both at a social and a personal level. Lacan's theory thus enables the development of identity and subjectivity to be seen much more as socially constructed than biologically determined.
Crucial to Lacan's overall theoretical system is his idea of the ‘mirror phase’ of infant development. He argues that, at around the age of six months, a baby, who has previously thought of itself not as a separate being from its mother, grows aware of being separate. Lacan uses the metaphor of a mirror to illustrate this process, for the baby, looking at the mother as if looking into a mirror, finds an image reflected back which it regards as a coherent and unified whole. In fact, however, the image it sees is the mother/other and not itself. It is this misinterpretation that splits the human psyche into two, because we all identify with something or someone who seems like what or who we want to be, and yet which is in fact separate and alien. This leads to a false belief in the wholeness and stability of the ego, which Lacan sees as a continually restructured process.
As a baby develops, it falls in love with its mother and begins to see the father as threatening to its desire to have the mother to itself. Lacan argues that it is this longing for the mother, and the denial of it by the father who symbolizes culture and the outside world to the baby, which acts to create the unconscious. This process splits the child, the subject, into consciousness and the unconscious, and the whole process is an essential part of a young child's acquisition of language. Awareness of gender difference and the acquisition of gendered subjectivity are also integral to this process. Indeed, the idea of ‘difference’ is itself fundamental to Lacan's theory.
Lacan is most often referred to by sociologists for his complex decentred conception of the subject and of gender differences. His most accessible works are probably Écrits (1966) and Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1979). Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction, offers a clear and useful account of his major ideas.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lacan, Jacques — (1901 81)    by Alison Ross   Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst most famous for his structuralist interpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis. Despite his structuralist fame his work can be divided into many different phases, including an… …   The Deleuze dictionary

  • Lacan, Jacques — (1901 81)    by Alison Ross   Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst most famous for his structuralist interpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis. Despite his structuralist fame his work can be divided into many different phases, including an… …   The Deleuze dictionary

  • Lacan, Jacques — ▪ French psychologist in full  Jacques Marie Émile Lacan  born April 13, 1901, Paris, France died Sept. 9, 1981, Paris       French psychoanalyst who gained an international reputation as an original interpreter of Sigmund Freud s (Freud,… …   Universalium

  • Lacan, Jacques — (1901 1981)    psychiatrist, psychoanalyst    Born in Paris, Jacques Lacan came to psychoanalysis after his thesis, Psychose paronoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personalité (1932) opened new paths to the study of psychosis. His analysis is of… …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

  • Lacan, Jacques — (1901–1981) French psychoanalyst and intellectual. Lacan was director of the École Freudienne de Paris from 1963, but his influence rested more on the series of seminars that he gave at the university of Paris from 1953, and which decisively… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Lacan, Jacques — See Structuralism (french) and after …   History of philosophy

  • Lacan, Jacques —   (1901 81)   see clones + cloning , cool memories , imaginary , language , psychoanalysis , other + otherness , sign and utopia …   The Baudrillard dictionary

  • Lacan, Jacques-Marie-Emile —    (1901–1981)    The founder of an independent school of thought within psychoanalysis, Lacan was born in Paris into an upper middle class family. As an intern at the psychiatric hospitals of the Seine department (Paris), in 1928 he spent a year …   Historical dictionary of Psychiatry

  • Lacan, Jacques (-Marie-Émile) — born April 13, 1901, Paris, France died Sept. 9, 1981, Paris French psychoanalyst. A practicing psychiatrist in Paris for much of his career, Lacan emphasized the primacy of language as the mirror of the unconscious mind and introduced the study… …   Universalium

  • Lacan, Jacques (-Marie-Émile) — (13 abr. 1901, París, Francia–9 sep. 1981, París). Psicoanalista francés. Practicó la psiquiatría en París durante gran parte de su carrera. Lacan puso énfasis en la primacía del lenguaje como el espejo del inconsciente, e introdujo el estudio… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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