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Jessica Benjamin

Birth:
1946

Training Location(s):

PhD, New York University, (1983)

MA, Goethe University, Frankfurt, (1971)

BA, University of Wisconsin, (1967)



Primary Affiliation(s):

Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, New York University



Media Links:
Interview

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript

Podcast

Jessica Benjamin on The Politics of Apology

Professional Website

Jessica Benjamin at NYU

Video

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Becoming a Feminist

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Putting Psychoanalysis into Practice


Biography:

 

Career Focus: Gender; psychoanalysis; intersubjectivity.


 

Jessica Benjamin’s identities as a Jewish feminist psychoanalyst intersect to inform her work and politics.  When asked to describe the development of her feminist identity, Benjamin recalls being political since childhood. Long before the women’s liberation movement she had a strong sense of social injustice and what it meant to be an activist. She recalls being involved in the Civil Rights movement as a “young kid,” picketing Woolworth’s segregated lunch counters with her friends. 

 

During college, Benjamin became active in anti-war organizing at the University of Wisconsin.  At this time she began talking with other women about political issues.  Since women were not actively resisting the draft, they wondered if there was something else they could do, “something in particular to think about as women.” In thinking about issues particular to women, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was an important starting point. Drawing upon texts, Benjamin participated in one of the early American women’s groups of the second-wave movement.  These groups were known for their “consciousness-raising”, as women developed a political analysis through conversation with other women and connected their personal experiences to political issues. The group read together on the topics of oppression, domination and patriarchy, connecting these readings to their lives and experiences as individual women. 

 

Following her involvement with this group, Benjamin studied in Frankfurt, Germany. She was active outside of the classroom, fighting for the legalization of abortion in Germany (a fight not yet won). This experience highlighted for her the importance of and need for gendered politics.  Specifically, she noted that people’s palpable discomfort with the concept of ‘woman’ as a political identity.  Benjamin sought to understand this discomfort by incorporating the political and the psychological.  She continued to explore questions of oppression, domination and patriarchy in developing her own understanding of women’s issues. This process was pivotal in developing the arguments of her first book, The Bonds of Love. Benjamin cites consciousness-raising as the most important political tool. She believes that consciousness-raising has the ability to empower people to make meaningful change on levels ranging from the individual to the societal. 

 

Benjamin completed a Master of Arts degree at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany on social theory. This education allowed her to explore her interest in psychoanalysis. While the degree was technically awarded through the Department of Sociology Benjamin is quick to note that she was never involved with sociology “as an empirical practice.”  Benjamin’s critical thinking was also responsible for her originally choosing not to study psychology.  She explains:

I didn’t go into psychology because the work being done at that time, except for a few places, had very much to do with behaviour [and was] much too influenced by the quantitative positivistic tradition to be of much interest to me.

In contrast to much of psychology, Benjamin was interested in interdisciplinary perspectives and qualitative inquiry.  During her graduate training in Frankfurt she became familiar with the work of psychologists outside of the mainstream that inspired her. It was the work of psychoanalysts such as Dan Stern that allowed Benjamin to see a space for herself within psychology.  Thus, Benjamin began drawing upon attachment theory and psychological research on infancy. These bodies of knowledge have allowed Benjamin to develop her own contributions to feminist psychoanalytic theory.  She further developed her feminist psychoanalytic analysis while completing a PhD at New York University.   

 

Given her critique of positivistic psychology, Benjamin notes that “research is an incorrect word for me.”  When asked what it is she does, she responded, “I think, I read, I observe.”  Much of her theory is informed by her clinical practice as a psychoanalyst.  As a psychoanalyst Benjamin believes that, “Unless we are tremendously honest about our own way of being, we cannot understand, we cannot create a safe enough environment to understand what is going on.”  Thus, as a psychoanalyst she teaches the importance of practitioners having an “awareness of [their] own areas of pain and dissociation and how [their] pain and dissociation are part of the work.”

 

Benjamin’s work demonstrates the importance, power and contribution of integrating the personal into the political, the psychological, and the professional. Although some may find this candidness difficult or a struggle, Benjamin describes the integration of these aspects of the self as a process of living with integrity and love. She describes this as central to resolving the life-work conundrum that plagues many and comments that those who can integrate the personal into the professional are indeed “lucky.” 

 

by Jenna MacKay (2012)

To cite this article, see Credits

 


Selected Works:

 

Benjamin, J. (1988). The bonds of love: Psychoanalysis, feminism and the problem of domination. New York: Panthenon.

 

Benjamin, J. (1995).  Like subjects, love objects: essays on recognition and sexual difference. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

 

Benjamin, J. (1997). Shadow of the other: Intersubjectivity and gender in psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.

 

Benjamin, J. (2004). Beyond doer and done to: An intersubjective view of thirdness. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, LXXIII.

Benjamin, J. (2005). From many into one: Attention, energy and the containing of multitudes. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 15, 185-201.

Benjamin, J. (2009). A relational psychoanalysis perspective on the necessity of acknowledging failure in order to restore the facilitating and containing features of the intersubjective relationship (The Shared Third). International Journal of PsychoAnalyisis, 90, 441-450.

Benjamin, J. (2010). Can we recognize each other? Response to Donna Orange. The International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, 5, 244-256.

Benjamin, J. (2010). Where’s the gap and what’s the difference?: The relational view of intersubjectivity, multiple selves, and enactments. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 46, 112-119.

Benjamin, J. (2011). Facing reality together discussion: With culture in mind: The social third. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 12, 27-36.


Video(s):

Interview with Jessica Benjamin: Becoming a Feminist

Interview conducted on July 7, 2006 by Leeat Granek in New York City, New York, USA.

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Interview with Jessica Benjamin: Putting Psychoanalysis Into Practice

Interview conducted on July 7, 2006 by Leeat Granek in New York City, New York, USA.

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