Jessica Benjamin, Beyond Doer and Done To (2017)

This blog post was written by Ana Carolina Minozzo, a PhD candidate at the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She has been lecturing on theory and contextual studies at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London since 2013, as well as acting as the culture correspondent for Vogue Brasil and a number of other publications. She is a graduate of Birkbeck MA in Psychosocial Studies and of the CE Psychoanalytic Psychology, as well as having studied Fashion Media at the University of the Arts London.

Jessica Benjamin: ‘Beyond Doer and Done To’
2 November, 2017 at Birkbeck

Considered by many as one of the most significant psychoanalysts of our times, the regular visiting scholar to Birkbeck, Jessica Benjamin, presented her new work Beyond Doer and Done To-Recognition Theory, Intersubjectivity and the Third on the 2nd of November to a full audience of students, researchers and practitioners within the psychosocial field.

Jessica Benjamin is a leading figure in the American school of relational psychoanalysis. Her new book, published by Routledge earlier this summer, develops her theory of mutual recognition through a dimensional space she calls ‘the Third’, linking early processes of child development to later life with moral and political negotiations. Pieces Benjamin has been working on over the last decade have been reworked and updated to fit our current – and turbulent- political atmosphere. She develops her theories (and practice) of ‘intersubjectivity’ whilst also continuing with the feminist perspective of her now classic and widely read late 80s title The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the Problems of Domination.

Benjamin’s work and the talk at Birkbeck focused on the possibilities and conditions for ‘repair’ of both the individual and the political formations of the world. She reads Hegel and Kojève alongside the psychoanalysts Donald Winnicott and Daniel Stern in order to break with the ‘subject versus object’ dyad so marked in some clinical practices of psychotherapy and also seen in the public sphere, especially in relation to power, violence and acknowledgement. Inside the psychoanalytic clinic, Benjamin seeks to politicise the therapist ‘by feelings’, making of this figure a human feeling-being and exploring how to initiate process of acknowledgement and recognition that can really make a ‘change’. The space for such change will be ‘the Third’, when the division between an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, emphasised in recent political happenings, is broken down, allowing for some reparation to emerge.
Exploring what her new work presents in terms of possible entries into the dimension of ‘third-ness’ , the panel chaired by Professor Stephen Frosh, of the Department of Psychosocial Studies, bounced in and out of the individual and public spheres, with presentations from Alan Norrie, Professor of Law at the University of Warwick and Noreen O’Connor, a relational psychotherapist in private practice in London. Whilst O’Connor traced a careful summary of Benjamin’s work and the key elements of her theory both in terms of their philosophical genealogy and therapeutic practice, Norrie questioned the contingencies for opening up the possible Third in a political and legal terrain, and invoked the theorist to try to formulate an answer of what to do if there is a failure in the process of public witness or how to move beyond this ‘failed’ witness or ‘broken’ Third.

Whilst there can be no absolute or general answer to this question, Benjamin argues that mutuality – an understanding that has been, according to her, left out of psychoanalysis and that was evident in the fights for civil and recognition rights – is a powerful potential solution to dividing and violent circumstances. This is what inspired her to write The Bonds of Love and still inspires her in her contemporary work. Beyond Doer and Done To-Recognition Theory, Intersubjectivity and the Third develops Jessica Benjamin’s thinking in a profound way, and looks like a new staple on the shelves of any psychosocial researcher or psychoanalyst invested in a contextual and political questioning of their practice.

The event: Jessica Benjamin, Beyond Doer and Done To (2017) – a Public Panel Discussion, on 02.11.2017, was organised by The Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR) {}. You can listen to the full podcast here. {}


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