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Psychoanalysis in Global Politics and International Relations

Mandelbaum, Moran; Zevnik, Andreja Z


Andreja Z Zevnik


Critical and poststructural theories were introduced to global politics in early to mid-1990s. Since then there has been a proliferation of critical thinking in global politics with Derridean and Foucauldian approaches being the most popular. While psychoanalysis made its appearance and gained in popularity alongside other critical approaches to international politics in mid-1995, it has never become one of the “go to” theories. However, since 2010 psychoanalysis has been slowly reemerging on the global politics scene. If initially psychoanalytic approaches focused on a number of different theorists such as Castoriadis, Jung, Freud, and Lacan, the most recent thinking draws most significantly on the contribution of Lacanian psychoanalysis and thinkers such as Žižek, Butler, or Kristeva, all of whom heavily rely on Lacan. In postcolonial studies a distinct psychoanalytic account was also developed by Frantz Fanon. This contribution provides an overview of psychoanalytic approaches in the study of global politics with a focus on Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and its derivatives (Žižek, Fanon, Butler, and Kristeva). The reason for the selected focus is simple—this has been the most popular approach since the introduction of this thinking to the discipline. Lacanian theory revolves around concepts such as desire, jouissance (radical/excess enjoyment), fantasy, and drive, and is concerned with explaining the social bond—that is how the subject comes to existence and what social factors determine the subject’s existence in society. Its distinct contribution to the field of global politics is its focus on conscious and unconscious factors. In other words, it focuses on that which can be represented and that which remains unrepresented but still impacts the world. Affects, symptoms, or unconscious material impact the way the subject (and society) behaves. While the theory’s foundations are in psychiatry (and many critiques of psychoanalysis point that out vehemently), psychoanalysis is not a theory of the individual and neither is it concerned with the individual psyche. It is a theory of society; Lacan even characterized it as antiphilosophy. Psychoanalysis has appeared in a number of different contexts in global politics. The presented selection is not exhaustive though the aim was to include the most significant contributions the theory has made to the discipline’s different subfields. Key areas include the state, sovereignty, ontology, Political Subjectivity, law and foreign policy; and subdisciplines such as postcolonialism (the theories of Frantz Fanon), racism, affect, Radical Politics and Cultural Criticism, and development and aid, as well as trauma, populism and nationalism.


Mandelbaum, M., & Zevnik, A. Z. (2021). Psychoanalysis in Global Politics and International Relations.

Acceptance Date Feb 24, 2021
Publication Date Feb 24, 2021
Journal Oxford Bibliographies
Publisher URL