The scientific turn in modern medicine has profoundly transformed its methods, principles and tools. Prior to this transformation, medical practice consisted mostly of religious, magical or sacred actions. The doctor’s position made him a man of authority (in nineteenth-century asylums, high stature and a strong voice were among the qualities required for newly recruited physicians) ; he relied on more or less enigmatic doctrines, in the name of which he nevertheless performed neither without competence nor without success, albeit with no comparison to today’s scientific medicine. These factors are of course not quite absent from today’s medical practice, but they are either ignored or considered a mere accessory, at best as suitable to foster therapeutic compliance. In fact, we could even say that the emergence of psychoanalysis at the end of the nineteenth century coincided with medicine’s abandonment of all that previously constituted the psychotherapeutic basis of the doctor-patient relationship and corresponded to a generic cultural and social function.
As a consequence, we have seen the development of an entire field of research and action concerned with the connections between medicine and psychoanalysis (M. Balint, G. Raimbault). In reality, doctors and their patients cannot be reduced to pure subjects of science. They continue to be deeply affected by their mutual relationships, which also has many consequences for their practice. The fact that scientific medicine depends on such binary reduction — i.e., the scientific subject versus the body as a « machine » — for the greater good of its patients in no way diminishes the importance and the impact of either the subject or bodily experience. This is reflected in the complexity of demands addressed to today’s medicine, as well as in the growing reliance of medical services on psychologists and psychiatrists. The de facto complementarity between medicine and psychoanalysis is evidenced not only by their common history but also by the developments in contemporary practices. The Research Center for Psychoanalysis and Medicine was launched in order to address precisely these issues ; founded in 2001 by Danièle Brun, Pierre Fédida and Alain Vanier, it introduced this field into academic research for the very first time. Since then, research undertaken at the Center has demonstrated the fruitfulness of this field of study and the importance of shedding light on the theoretical and clinical issues that arise today.
Very soon, this research has also produced new questions. The clinical questions that are articulated, again and again, by today’s young practitioners, show us that psychiatry is currently negotiating the same kind of transformation. Although the ethical issues related to the technical progress in medicine have always been part of psychiatry, they have been raised again by the changes in clinical approach and the new epistemological debates.
In addition, the magic-religious aspects of medicine have largely resurfaced in the surrounding discourses, where science and scientific medicine, which have now become true cultural phenomena, produce, often unwillingly, statements that give rise to belief and behaviors which, though founded on hygienist imperatives, nonetheless in essence resemble conjurations based on an economy of superstition. The return of religion that we are seeing today is intrinsically linked with a world in which the progress of scientific discourse defeats and undoes the dimension of meaning, yet without being able to offer a replacement. Legal, ethical and philosophical thought, and anthropological and sociological approaches have made it imperative to approach these issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. Medicine is therefore an exemplary site, a veritable and extensive paradigm, through which we can evaluate the effects of the rise of scientific discourse on the modern subject. These effects become manifest in the field of medical practice and in the modern subject’s relationship to her own body. They are also apparent in psychiatry as a medical specialism, currently confronted with these same questions, which were previously occluded by its delay in trying to base itself on a properly scientific method, something that is clearly visible in the present-day epistemological and clinical debates. These effects also emerge in transcultural phenomena such as migration, where individuals from societies where the cultural impact of science is less marked than in our own are confronted with scientific discourse and this encounter amplifies the subjective effects of contemporary discourses in a particular way. They also show in the psychoanalytic reading of the changes that threaten the field of humanities today, and vice versa, in the way psychoanalysis needs to rethink itself in the context of the currently changing knowledges and savoirs, given that it cannot become a discipline frozen in its past, but instead must reinvent itself to face the challenges of our times.
This means that the motto of our research unit must be : interdisciplinarity. The abundant production of the past years has made us realize the scope of the domains concerned and of the possibilities of further research ; it has also lead us to reorganize our research team, which, in the meantime, has grown significantly, and structure our work around several research axes. Thanks to this positive momentum we have also reached beyond our own group and towards research teams from affiliated disciplines, whose researchers address similar issues using different sets of tools. Based on this, we have formed five internal research teams. These should be understood as research axes defining our research objectives, rather than a strict compartmentalization or a simple distribution of researchers. The latter are encouraged to participate in a single team or in several different teams, depending on their skills and personal research projects.
1. Psychoanalysis and medicine (F. Villa)
2. Psychoanalysis and psychiatry (C. Hoffmann)
3. Subjectivities and the processes of globalization (F. Benslama)
4. The body, social practices and psychoanalytic anthropology (P.-L. Assoun)
5. Childhood and adolescence (F. Richard)
New research axis for 2014-2018 : Gender, norms and psychoanalysis (L. Laufer)