Historisk Tidskrift. Utgiven av Svenska historiska föreningen
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Historisk tidskrift 133:3 • 2013

Innehåll (Contents) 2013:3

Uppsatser (Articles)


Psykoanalysen som metod inom historieforskningen. Joan W. Scott och tanken om en psykoanalytisk läsningspraktik

Jonas Ahlskog

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Psychoanalysis as a method in historical research: Joan W. Scott and the idea of a psychoanalytic reading practice

In recent writings, the historian Joan W. Scott argues that psychoanalysis can contribute to critical historical research. Although history and psychoanalysis have different conceptions of time and causality Scott claims there can still be a productive relationship between them. Psychoanalysis can force historians to question their assumptions about rationality, causes and facts. With the use of psychoanalysis the historian can introduce disquieting notions about unconscious motivations and fantasy in the making of history. According to Scott, history and psychoanalysis are in fact incommensurable and the latter poses a critical challenge to the very concept of history itself. However, only by embracing this incommensurability can we begin to appreciate how psychoanalysis can enrich historical research.

This article is an assessment of Scott’s arguments. I focus on two issues that are central to Scott’s claims. Firstly, I discuss the idea that psychoanalysis provides an alternative version of history itself. I argue that there is no such thing as a psychoanalytic version of history and that a psychoanalytic interpretation presupposes that we already have a historical understanding of the evens that we interpret. Hence, the critical challenge of psychoanalysis cannot be that it provides an alternative conception of history itself.

Secondly, I discuss the idea that psychoanalysis can be used as a critical tool for exploring the human subject’s experiences when reading testimonies from the past. By using different empirical examples, I argue that in this case psychoanalysis should not be used as a scientific theory, but rather as form of hermeneutic tool in the historian’s descriptions of the past. This is due to the fact that it remains unclear how psychoanalysis, conceived as a scientific theory, can be used to deepen the historian’s understanding of social and historical phenomena.


Historical method, psychoanalysis, testimony, hermeneutic interpretation, Joan W. Scott