Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Nancy Chodorow

Nancy Chodorow is an interdisciplinary scholar that describes herself as a self defined interpretive or even humanistic psychoanalytic sociologist and psychoanalytic feminist.

Chodorow has been criticized by sociologists for being ungrounded empirically and individualistic theoretically, for not understanding social determinism, and for underestimating the force of social reality. At the same time, she is criticized by Lacanian psychoanalytic feminists for the opposite approach, for being too empiricist and socially deterministic, and for viewing the unconscious as a sociological phenomena rather than an analytically irreducible and unique register of being and level of analysis.

Chodorow writes of herself in the introduction to Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory:

I part company with most American psychoanalysts in my reliance on object relations theory and in that I have always seen psychoanalysis as an interpretive enterprise (not medical nor scientific). I differ from many academic humanists in seeing psychoanalysis as a social science that is theoretically grounded but, nonetheless, empirically infused study of lives. (18)

Nancy Julia Chodorow was born on January 20, 1944 to Marvin Chodorow and Leah (Turitz) Chodorow in New York, New York. She received her BA from Radcliffe College. She was trained by Beatrice and John W.M. Whiting in a culture and personality anthropology that, in retrospect, could be considered prefeminist, but was, at the time, gender and generation sensitive.

Chodorow received her PhD from Brandeis University in 1975. She studied under the protofeminist psychoanalytic sociology of Philip Slater. It was he who urged Chodorow to focus on unconscious phenomena if she wanted to understand personality. Chodorow sites Slater's book, Glory of Hera, influenced by Whiting and Whiting as one of the most powerful accounts of the psychodynamics of male fear of women and its cultural institutionalization.

Chodorow states that:

The centrality of sex and gender in the categories of psychoanalysis, coupled with the tenacity, emotional centrality and sweeping power in our lives of our sense of gendered self, made psychoanalysis a particularly apposite source of feminist theorizing.

She believes that psychoanalytic feminism has a rather complex history. Personally, Chodorow sees the political and theoretical origins arising out of the work of Karen Horney, a second generation analyst whose early essays on femininity forcefully challenged Freud. She asserts a model of women with positive primary feminine qualities and self valuation against Freud's model of the defective and/or limited female.

She also cites the work of Melanie Klein as a source of inspiration and valid tool to counter critique Lacanian feminist thought. She writes:

Object relation theorists, emerging from and reacting to the work of Melanie Klein, image a course of transactions between self and other(s) that help form our first subjectivity and sense of self, and that throughout life are renegotiated to recreate the sense of self and others in term of connection, separation and in between. These transactions give depth and richness of meaning to experience, by resonating with the past and with constructions of the past. (10)

Working towards a more theoretical psychoanalytic feminism, object relational transformation turned the traditional psychoanalysis from the son and father relationship to a psychology of the relation to the mother in children of both sexes, a reading not as directly tied to the idea of cultural gender as Freudian thought.

She describes her own recent thinking "about the psychoanalytic contribution to our understanding of self, meaning and experience as indebted to [Hans] Loewald." She goes on to describe him as an "insistent synthesizer" within psychoanalytic discourse, "committed and able to maintain himself as a drive theorist, ego psychologist, and object-relations theorist who respects self psychology, while remaining...enmeshed clinically...that provides psychoanalytic truths" (12).

According to Chodorow, contemporary psychoanalytic feminism begins with its dismissal and the feminist challenge of it. Chodorow was active during the second wave of feminism. She began a study in the early eighties of surviving second-generation women analysts, women who had trained from 1920-1940 titled: Seventies Questions for Thirties Women: Gender and Generation in a Study of Early Women Psychoanalysts. It was a contribution to the growing literature in feminist methodology, reflecting upon gender consciousness among 70's feminists and their foremothers, addressing the cultural and psychological context in which different women ask questions. (Chodorow, 17)

Chodorow defines psychoanalysis as "the method and theory directed towards the investigation and understanding of how we develop and experience unconscious fantasies (that form psyche, self, identity) and how we construct and reconstruct our felt past in the present" (5) She linked this at first with Marxist feminist thought during the early period of single cause feminism.

She describes her approach to feminist theory as something more holistic/pluralistic, encompassing a number of organizational axes, but not absolute - more of a multiplex account of gender construction, relation, and identity. It is the focus on relations among elements or dynamics, along with an analysis and critique of male dominance , which define an understanding of sex and gender as feminist.

Chodorow is often cited as a leading theorist in feminist thought, especially in the field of psychoanalysis and feminist psychology. Her essays are included in many books concerning gender roles and construction as well as psychoanalysis. Her academic career started in 1973-74 when she taught Women's Studies at Wellesley, she then became Assistant Professor of Sociology (74-86) at Santa Cruz.

In 1977, she married Michael Reich and has two children, Rachel and Gabriel. For her first published work, she received the Jessie Bernard Award in 1979. She is a Fellow of the Russell Sage Foundation, a member of the NEH, Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences, member of the American Sociological Association, and the National Women's Study Association. She presently teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley.

She has published these books alone, but is included, referenced, and debated in many other works.


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