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New Left Review I/135, September-October 1982


Michèle Barrett and Mary McIntosh

Narcissism and the Family: a Critique of Lasch

A crucial question for feminists is whether the gendered subjectivity of today really does follow the model of patriarchal authority elaborated in psychoanalytic theory. Juliet Mitchell has probably provided the best-known claim for the validity of psychoanalysis as the key to understanding how feminity and masculinity are acquired. In her account of ‘the making of a lady’, she argues that Freudian theory still gives the most accurate description of (not prescription for) patriarchal society, and that we ignore this analysis on pain of ignorance. [1] Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Harmondsworth 1974. In the present article we want to explore this question from a somewhat different angle, by looking at the work of the American cultural critic Christopher Lasch who, from a position sympathetic to psychoanalysis, argues that the family form it describes has now been largely superseded in late capitalism. His work has elicited considerable feminist criticism and provides a useful perspective from which to assess the broader controversy about psychoanalytic accounts of the family and the construction of subjectivity.

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