Curing Emotions. The Transnational History of Psychoanalysis in Berlin, London and Calcutta (1910-1940)

Psychoanalysis is crucially important for the transcultural history of emotions in the 20th century. On an individual basis, psychoanalysis could serve as a therapeutic emotional management, which could prove helpful for the dealing with individual crises. Thus, urban elites in different contexts developed unconventional forms of self-curing. Additionally, psychoanalytical knowledge reflected in its popular dissemination different national emotional cultures and their transformation. Finally, psychoanalysis produced a forum for the discussion of different emotional regimes and their implications. Already in the early 20th century the diffusion of psychoanalysis was surprisingly transnational – to the point that this knowledge could influence even non-Western settings like the Bengali urban culture of Calcutta. The research project will explore the significance of this development for the history of emotions, addressing the following research questions:

  • Psychoanalysis as discourse: For the different cultural contexts, the emotional significance of psychoanalytical discourses can be examined. Which emotions (fear, anger, grief) are being discussed with the help of psychoanalysis and how? Are emotions fundamentally addressed as something to be conquered by reason or to be cultivated as such?
  • Psychoanalysis as therapy: The establishment and proliferation of therapeutic cultures created additional questions. Which emotional states are addressed or treated by psychoanalysis? What could be psychoanalyzed and how? What kind of “wild psychoanalysis” was established in everyday life?
  • Psychoanalysis as transcultural communication: Psychoanalysis opened up new possibilities for communication about emotions and emotional regimes across different cultures. Which differences and commonalities in their respective emotional regimes did psychoanalysts discuss? Which consequences did this communication have for their self-perception? Could they sustain an image of their profession as exploring a generalized human nature with common rules and mechanisms – and, thus, a common emotional structure? Did this transcultural communication lead to a relativist stance in the history of emotions or was the psychological universalism of classical psychoanalysis asserted?