FALL 2023


Symposium on Critical Theory & Psychoanalysis: Past, Present, and Future

Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

November 2-4,  2023

Download the Flyer Here 

The aims of this symposium on psychoanalysis and critical theory  are twofold: The first is to bring together critical theorists who, despite the Frankfurt School’s turn away from psychoanalysis, have been, on their own, taking up and continuing the project that the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists inaugurated: enlisting psychoanalysis in developing a critical theory of society. Just as Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse, along with Fanon, turned to psychoanalysis to comprehend the catastrophes that were confronting them, this symposium brings together scholars who have been focusing on how psychoanalysis can help make sense of the crises of our own time. The second aim is to foster a resurgence of this kind of work. We hope this meeting will be a space for incubating ideas for further research and collaboration and might even be the first of many more symposia on critical theory and psychoanalysis.


Following an opening lecture by psychoanalyst and critical theorist Joel Whitebook, this symposium is structured around five roundtables, each with four-five panelists giving 10-15  minute opening remarks and then opening up to all for general discussion. 


  • First and second nature
  • Psychoanalytic Engagements with Racism and Colonialism
  • Aesthetics & Sublimation
  • Right-wing Authoritarianism
  • Destructiveness and the Environmental Crisis


Each invited participant will help lead a roundtable discussion. We will conclude with a session planning future research, collaboration, and symposia.


Thursday November 2, Convocation Hall


4-6 p.m. Welcome remarks and Joel Whitebook lecture, “On Being Grown-Up: Loewald’s Concept of Maturity”


6-7:30  p.m. Reception


Friday November 3, Carlos Museum, Ackerman Hall (3d floor)

8:00 breakfast


9 Welcome


9:30--11:30  Roundtable on First and Second Nature

The concept of second nature, coined by Aristotle and developed by Hegel, is one way to think about the relationship between human rationality and desire. Psychoanalysis and the Frankfurt School share the premise that human nature develops historically, informed by both nature and intersubjectivity. Psychoanalysis shows how human nature is informed by unconscious drives and symbolic structures to which the subject may not have conscious access, while the Frankfurt School uses psychoanalysis against itself to criticize repressive social structures, moving the emphasis away from the individual subject.  How is second nature grounded in first nature, namely, in our desires and drives? How does the suppression of first nature risk the corruption of second nature?  Topics such as the influence of repressive culture on human development, the concept of spiritual death, the role of psychic processes and social institutions in blocking or maintaining a good relationship to material conditions, including the body, all might fall under this rubric.

Panelists: Joel Whitebook (chair),  Jeremy Elkins, Jeff Jackson


Lunch 11:45-1:15 (lunch on site)


1:15-3:15 p.m. Roundtable on Psychoanalytic Engagements with Racism and Colonialism

What resources can be found in psychoanalytic theory for black critical theory, postcolonial theory, and decolonial philosophy? While criticizing psychoanalysis’ monolithic focus on Europe and the individual, thinkers such as Fanon and Said nonetheless found inspiration in the psychoanalytic tradition. Topics might include the psychic life of colonial power; colonial subjectivities; the psychic and material persistence of colonialism even in the face of decolonization; the contributions of the psychoanalytic concepts of resistance, transference, identification, and introjection; the political analysis of desire; and the project of decolonizing psychoanalysis itself.

Panelists: Stefan Bird-Pollan (chair), Deepika Bahri, Nancy Luxon, Shannon Sullivan 


3:45-5:45 p.m. Roundtable on Aesthetics and Sublimation

Sublimation is the means by which seemingly illicit drive can be transformed into something that can be taken up in the social world. It may perhaps be the only channel for human beings to avoid misery and find satisfaction and meaning in life, which would be profoundly helpful for political life in contrast to the current situation in which there are few avenues for people to express themselves. But, as Laplanche and Pontalis note,” the lack of a coherent theory of sublimation remains one of the lacunae in psycho-analytic thought.” This panel will explore the deleterious effects of the current situation and possible avenues—perhaps largely aesthetic– that might be opened up for political sublimation.

Panelists: Elaine Miller (chair), Gregg Horowitz, Elissa Marder, Kathy Kiloh


7-10 p.m. Group dinner for participants, Cafe Lily


Saturday November 4, Carlos Museum, Ackerman Hall (3d floor)


8 a.m. Breakfast


9-11:00 a.m. Roundtable on Right-wing Authoritarianism

Much of the empirical work of the Frankfurt School was an effort to understand the rise of fascism both at the level of social movements (Neumann’s Behemoth, Pollock’s “State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations”) and at the level of subjective attitude, Studies on Authority and the Family, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility.”  Dialectic of Enlightenment, The Authoritarian Personality, The Psychological Technique of Martin Luther Thomas' Radio Addresses, One Dimensional Man, Eros and Civilization to name only a few. These psycho-philosophical approaches have lost ground compared to more empiricist studies in recent years, yet the failure of scholarship to produce a unified theory of populism suggests that other avenues need to be pursued. What lessons can we learn about how to understand the new wave of authoritarianism of recent years from the successes and failures of these efforts? 

Panelists: Noëlle McAfee (chair) Emily Zakin, Marvin Ester, Claudia Leeb


Lunch 11:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m.


1:30-3:30 p.m. Roundtable on Destructiveness and the Environmental Crisis

Dialectic of Enlightenment had prescient things to say about many things.  One of them was certainly the ecological crisis which threatens the continued existence of the human species as we know it.  And by positing the mutual entailment of the domination of internal nature and the domination of external nature, that text also invites us to examine the psychoanalytic roots of that crisis.  Whereas earlier discussions of that topic have focused on the slippery notion of the death instinct, today, after the preoedipal turn, they often center on the question of omnipotence.  Castoriadis has argued, for example,  that by imposing “the schema of omnipotence” on the external world, we destroy the diversity of the biosphere which is necessary to support life.

Panelists: Elissa Marder (chair),  David McIvor, Joel Schlosser, Ali Aslam, Joel Whitebook 


4:00-5:30 p.m. Where do we go from here?

Co-directors, Stefan Bird-Pollan, Noëlle McAfee, Elaine Miller, and Joel Whitebook,  comment and then open it up for general discussion.




  1. Stefan Bird-Pollan https://philosophy.as.uky.edu/users/sbi223 
  2. Noëlle McAfee http://philosophy.emory.edu/home/people/faculty/mcafee-noelle.html 
  3. Elaine Miller https://miamioh.edu/cas/academics/departments/philosophy/about/faculty-staff/miller/index.html 
  4. Joel Whitebook https://joel-whitebook.com/ 


  1. Ali Aslam https://www.mtholyoke.edu/directory/faculty-staff/ali-aslam 
  2. Deepika Bahri http://english.emory.edu/home/people/bios/bahri-deepika.html 
  3. Jeremy Elkins https://www.brynmawr.edu/inside/people/jeremy-elkins jelkins@brynmawr.edu 
  4. Marvin Ester https://criticaltheoryinberlin.de/en/people/marvin-ester/ mar.est@posteo.de 
  5. Gregg Horowitz https://www.americanacademy.de/person/gregg-horowitz/  horowitzgregg@gmail.com 
  6. Jeff Jackson https://www.uhd.edu/academics/humanities/undergraduate-programs/philosophy/Pages/Jeffery-Jackson.aspx  Jacksonjef@uhd.edu  
  7. Kathy Kiloh https://www2.ocadu.ca/bio/dr-kathy-kiloh KKILOH@OCADU.CA 
  8. Claudia Leeb https://pppa.wsu.edu/claudia-leeb/ claudia.leeb@wsu.edu 
  9. Nancy Luxon https://cla.umn.edu/about/directory/profile/luxon luxon@umn.edu  
  10. Elissa Marder https://french.emory.edu/people/marder-elissa.html
  11. David McIvor https://polisci.colostate.edu/faculty-and-staff/dmcivor/ David.McIvor@colostate.edu 
  12. Joel Schlosser https://www.brynmawr.edu/inside/people/joel-alden-schlosser 
  13. Shannon Sullivan https://pages.charlotte.edu/shannon-sullivan/ ssullivan@uncc.edu
  14. Emily Zakin https://miamioh.edu/cas/academics/departments/philosophy/about/faculty-staff/zakin/index.html zakinea@MiamiOH.edu 


Graduate Research Director: Juliana, Cesar, juliana.de.azevedo.castro.cesar@emory.edu 

Graduate Research Fellows:

Brenton Boyd

Shouta Brown

Mara Cayarga

Elinore Darzi

Hamza Dudgeon

Jaeden Johnson


Graphic Design: Fay Alafouzou


Sponsored by the Psychoanalytic Studies Program. Co-sponsored by the Emory University Psychoanalytic Institute; the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies; the Departments of Anthropology; English; French & Italian; German Studies; Philosophy; Spanish & Portuguese; Religion; and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Additional support provided by the Laney Graduate School and the Hightower Fund.