Winter investigates the process by which Freudian psychoanalysis became legitimized within modern Western culture and internalized as a kind of "psychological common sense" (4). She argues that Freud's adoption of the Oedipus myth allowed him to draw on the cultural status of classical scholarship and claim the universality of the tragic theme for his own project. She traces how Freud worked to establish an institutional infrastructure for psychoanalysis, to establish it as a profession. His analysis of culture and society represents another strategy in establishing and extending the importance of psychoanalysis: the claim that psychoanalysis powerfully illuminates not only the workings of the human brain (the domain of psychiatry, psychology, and neurology) but also the functions of society (the analytic domain of anthropology and sociology).


Winter focuses on the process of professionalization within the scientific disciplines at the turn of the century, and on Freud's place within the context of Vienna's Jewish middle-class culture, especially in relation to the cultural meaning of the Bildung (the classical curriculum grounding the school culture of a Gymnasium). This set of concerns allows her to bring a fresh perspective to studies of the early Freud, even to the moments when she turns to a gender analysis of his work, which (as she points out) is much-worked ground. One chapter also examines Lacan's revision of Freud's use of the Oedipus myth.

Although she brings a solid knowledge of Freud's life and letters to bear on her argument, Winter's approach is a cultural rather than a biographical one. She draws on the work of the anthropologist Mary Douglas in presenting what she calls "a cultural history of the psychoanalytic thought style" (12) and on Pierre Bourdieu for an understanding of habitus, important to Winter as a way to examine what shaped Freud's efforts to accumulate cultural capital for his project.

Freud's attempts to draw on the status of both humanist (classical, literary) and scientific endeavor are fascinating. While more could be said about the tensions and similarities between scientific and humanistic work at this time, Winter provides a deft analysis of the class politics of Freud's efforts, in particular how "the cultural authority of psychoanalytic knowledge depends on its association with professionalism" (123). In one of her most interesting discussions, Winter shows that Freud, while he wished psychoanalysis to become a science, strove to differentiate it from mere medicine, preferring an academic status for it instead (134-38).

Winter also offers a provocative analysis of Freud's "disciplinary imperialism" in attempting to annex the territory of sociology, anthropology, folklore, and philology. Winter's book represents a valuable contribution to the field of historical epistemology, examining (like Lorraine Daston, Mary Poovey, and Steven Shapin) how particular forms of knowledge--in this case, psychoanalysis--become constituted as knowledge.


Sarah Winter is Associate Professor of English, University of Connecticut, Storrs.


Stanford Univ. Press

Place Published

Palo Alto, Calif.



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