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Politics and Other Works

The Politics of the Family

Politics of the Family 1969
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Massey Lectures, 8th Series
Pantheon (rev.) 1971
Tavistock (rev.) 1971
Penguin 1976

· Summary ·

The Politics of the Family began as a series of talks for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's radio series IDEAS, commissioned by Phyllis Webb, who met Laing in London in 1968. The talks aired and were published by the CBC in Toronto in 1969, and were subsequently re-published, along with "Intervention in Social Situations" and other essays, by Pantheon, Laing's American Publisher, in 1971. As in Sanity, Madness and the Family, Laing was trying to demonstrate the social intelligibility of the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia. And as regards the rest of us, Laing was trying to elucidate the ways in which group pressures and processes promote mystification, or the "holocaust of one's experience on the altar of conformity", as he had previously in The Politics of Experience.

What distinguished this book from its predecessors was Laing's emphasis on the intergenerational transmission of prototypical modes of relatedness within the family. In this grim vision, people are unwittingly conscripted to reproduce a drama whose script is unknown to them, but which they execute faithfully, having been prepared for their roles by the conjoint impact of other members interpersonal stratagems, which are also, perforce, unconscious. Thus, the family reproduces itself by inducing members to internalize certain schemas, or ways of representing relationships, resulting in a nexus of interpersonal transactions that remains invariant across generations, even though the players change.

So contrary to expectation, perhaps, it is no longer a question of us internalizing "good" or "bad" objects, as psychoanalysts contend, but of internalizing the "rules and meta-rules" that regulate the commerce between them all. Laing gives several clinical vignettes in which patients' bizarre symptoms become readily intelligible in light of these complexly internalized relational schemata, and the conflict and confusion they engender. Also new was Laing's move to group the so called intrapsychic defense mechanisms (e.g. repression, denial, projection, splitting) with what he called interpersonal defenses (collusion, mystification, elusion, etc.) under the heading of operations on experience. Though characterized as "defense mechanisms" by the analytic profession, repression, denial and so on are actually things that we do to ourselves, to our own psyches, to alter the texture and content of our experience - of ourselves, and of other people. By stressing the agentic quality of these "operations", Laing emphasized our complicity in our own estrangement, as he had in The Politics of Experience, but now with greater clarity than before. This was the last time Laing attempted to depict these complex psychological and inter-experiential processes with his algebraic notation i.e. his theory of "mapping", and his last major theoretical statement until a decade later, in The Voice of Experience (1982).

· Contents ·

Preface (Revised Edition)


The Family and the 'Family'

Intervention in Social Situations

The Study of the Family and Social Contexts in Relation to 'Schizophrenia'

The Politics of the Family


The Family and Invalidation

Family Scenarios


Rules and Metarules


Return to Politics & Other Works

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