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Mass Hysteria

Mass Hysteria
Critical psychology and media studies

Lisa Blackman
Valerie Walkerdine

© Lisa Blackman and Valerie Walkerdine 2001

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Blackman, Lisa, 1965–
Mass hysteria : critical psychology and media studies / Lisa
Blackman and Valerie Walkerdine.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-333-64781-3
1. Mass media—Psychological aspects. 2. Social psychology.
I. Walkerdine, Valerie. II. Title.
P96 .P75 B58 2000
302.23’01’9—dc21 00–059180
Editing and origination by
Aardvark Editorial, Mendham, Suffolk
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
10 09 08 07 06 05 04 03 02 01

Acknowledgements viii

Introduction: From ‘mass hysteria’ to ‘people power’ 1

People power 2
The ‘making up’ of the self 3
The psychology of the Other 9
Mass-media hysteria 13
1 Communication breakdown 16
The semiotic production of reality 19
Summary 25
2 Mass psychology 26
The psy complex 28
Psychology as a science of population management 30
The oversensitive masses 31
Foucault’s approach to truth 33
Social psychology 34
The psychoanalysis of groups 35
Karl Marx 36
Murderous children 37
3 Studying media consumption 39
Effects research 40
The quantification of media effects 42
Towards a science of media consumption? 44
Opposition to effects research 45
Towards a semiotics of media production 47
Uses and gratifications 49
Further moves to the active audience 51
Problems with identity 54

vi Contents

4 Subjectivity, ideology and representation 59

The Frankfurt School 61
Marxism, ideology and consciousness 64
Louis Althusser 66
The unconscious structured like a language 67
5 Feminism, psychoanalysis and the media 70
Basic concepts of Lacanian psychoanalysis 70
Screen theory 76
Media education 77
6 Psychoanalysis and feminism 79
French psychoanalytic feminisms 82
Catherine Clement and Helene Cixous 84
Women’s pleasure 84
Postmodernity and femininity 86
The nomad, the hybrid and the cyborg 88
7 Postmodernity and the psychological 90
Psychological concepts in postmodernist cultural theory 93
Baudrillard, Lyotard and postmodernity 95
8 Critical psychology 101
Critical psychology – the negation of a realist perspective 102
The crisis 105
The turn to language 108
The decentring of the individual 112
Discourse and the psychological 114
Going critical 116
Institutions, power and ideology 116
The positivity of power 117
Being-in-relation 118
9 Criminality and psychopathology 122
Systems of exclusion 124
Mad, bad and dangerous to know 124
Fear on the streets 126
Ordinary madness 128
All men are rapists… 130
The voice of reason 131
The Hearing Voices Network 132
The materiality of signs 134
Do violent women exist? 138
Rosemary West and Princess Diana 142
Contents vii

The ordinary killer 146

Fascination, fear, loathing and ambivalence 147
10 Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 152
The age of normalization 153
Race and intelligence 155
The colonial subject 158
Black psychology 158
Fear, phobia and fetish 159
The active audience 163
The overdetermination of identity 164
A politics of transformation 165
Different sexualities 167
The age of repression 168
The homosexual stereotype 170
The politics of representation 173
11 Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices
of subjectification 179
The crowd in the age of Diana 186
Hysterical masses and revolutionary crowds 187
Psychological selfhood and self-invention 189
Gender, class and labour in New Britain 191
Bibliography 197
Index 207

Many thanks go to a large number of people who have helped through

the long gestation of this book, not least the students in the Department
of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths College, from 1991 to
1999, to whom this work was first taught. They scrutinised the material
that appears in the book, offering insights, comments and personal
experiences, grounding the theory in some of the individual struggles
people have with the ‘fiction of autonomous selfhood’. Colleagues there,
particularly Sarah Kember, Ian Hodges, Stuart Fincham and Martha
Michailidou, have been a great source of support in teaching this course
and more generally, as have colleagues and students at the Centre for
Critical Psychology in the University of Western Sydney, especially Jane
Ussher and Maria Pini. Numerous other friends, colleagues and signifi-
cant others supported us in many different ways, especially Sanya
Sheikh, Sonita Singh, Chris Blackman, Nigelle De Bar, Heidi Bezzant,
Christopher Rudolph, Nikolas Rose, Ain Bailey and David Studdert.
Thanks for support are also due to Ron Coleman and the Hearing
Voices Network.
The authors and publishers would like to thank the following for
permission to reproduce copyright material: Rex Features, London, for
Figures 9.1 and 9.3; PA News for Figure 9.2. All picture research by
Image Select International, London.
Every effort has been made to trace all the copyright holders but if
any have been inadvertently overlooked the publishers will be pleased to
make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.

This book is dedicated to Myra Blackman, and

all survivors of the psychiatric system.


From ‘mass hysteria’ to ‘people power’

It will be remarked that among the special characteristics of crowds there

are several – such as impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the
absence of judgements and of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of the
sentiments, and others beside – which are almost always observed in beings
belonging to inferior forms of evolution – women, savages and children for
example. (Le Bon 1922: 223)

Le Bon, writing in the late nineteenth century and drawing on ideas

prevalent at the time, introduced a way of talking about individuals in
groups that, through to the twenty-first century, has become a concept
used to dismiss certain behaviours and people as being inferior,
irrational and degenerate. From the idea of the mob, unruly crowd
behaviour, mass hysteria, savage and primitive emotions and so forth,
the concept of the mass mind as more suggestible and open to
influence has underpinned the ways in which certain forms of experi-
ence have been judged and evaluated. The spontaneous actions of the
‘ordinary people’ following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, for
example, were initially pathologized, the intense grief and expressions
of sorrow (including the laying of flowers at Kensington Palace) being
dismissed by the media as signs of irrational emotion, hysteria and
‘crowd behaviour’. The idea of the mass mind as irrational has
underpinned eugenics movements believing that certain peoples have
been positioned lower down the evolutionary scale, being more
inferior and closer to the primitive and savage. These peoples, and
those experiences we find inexplicable (such as cults), are viewed as
being less able to maintain self-control and more at the whim of the
seductive charms of others (including charismatic leaders). The

2 Mass Hysteria

concept of the ‘masses’ is again and again invoked in order to render

certain actions, thought and behaviour as irrational and pathological.

People power

The British newspaper, the Guardian claimed on the 8 January 2000

that: ‘in almost every field of British life – from the games we play to
the work we do, from the movies we watch to the products we buy –
you can spot the greenshoots of a new kind of landscape, less centred
on the self, more collective than before’. It added that ‘after years of
fretting over Me, we might be on the brink of the decade of Us’ (p. 11).
Later in the same article, this new collectivity is claimed to be in the
power of consumption rather than production, as earlier. Instead of
unions, they say:

today’s consumers are uniting, demanding a new kind of collective

bargaining: for lower prices and, increasingly, for good corporate
behaviour. Where once workers threatened a strike, today’s mass
consumers threaten an internet-organised, global boycott. They are
realising that even in that most stereotypically selfish of activities –

It is this that they characterise as a ‘fearsome power to Us’ (p. 16).

The other side of the coin, then, is the notion that people united in
groups have a power – ‘people power’. Following a week marked by
outpourings of grief in relation to Princess Diana, for example, the
‘ordinary people’ were credited with a force capable of challenging the
monarchy, the stiff upper lip of British tradition and even the actions
of the government. The spectre of revolution lay in the hands of the
people, who, through their mourning practices, were instigating
change. In a pendulum-like swing, the notion of the masses and the
‘mass mind’ is used as an example of the potential revolutionary and
political force of the collectivity, united in relation to tradition, or
feeling camaraderie, coming together in large groups to share a
national moment (that is, football events, the watching of the eclipse
in 1999 and so forth).
Ever since the inception of the mass media, concepts about the
masses (as being irrational and stupid) have been central to an
understanding of how the media is taken to work and have its effects, as
well as the manner in which the mass of people consume the media.
Introduction 3

The quote we began with from Le Bon writing in the late nineteenth
century exemplifies the key ways in which the ‘ordinary people’ were
understood in relation to the ‘mass media’ – as being more vulnerable
and susceptible to media effects. The ‘psychology’ of the masses was
found lacking, unable to engage critically or keep a distance, taken in
hook, line and sinker by the media moguls. Although this model of
mass consumption has largely been discredited in contemporary media
theory, as we will see in Chapter 3, the masses are now seen to ‘lack’ the
cultural rather than the psychological resources to engage with the
media rationally, critically and autonomously. Their mode of consump-
tion, is however, still found wanting and creates a vision of the rest of
the audience who are able to actively engage with the media and resist
its effects. This active/passive dichotomy mirrors a more foundational
dichotomy viewing the individual as one entity, ideally separate and
autonomous from the media, which can only ever influence in a
peripheral fashion. This notion of the individual as a bounded entity
existing separately and autonomously from outside influences – known
as the individual/society dualism – has been criticized for the ways in
which it views human subjectivity and psychology as being universal,
created by deep psychological structures that can only ever be
influenced by culture, history and the social. This book will examine
what happens when this approach to psychology, central to media
effects research, is replaced by a more radically social way of theorizing
what it means to be human. What then of the media–psychology
relationship and how should one understand the complexity of
practices of media consumption?

The ‘making up’ of the self

At the beginning of the new millennium, developments in academic

theorizing tend to eschew the universalizing and essentialist approaches
of those modernist disciplines such as psychology that claim to ‘know’
the individual through the application of scientific methods and
techniques. Postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism and so
forth, although different projects asking different questions about the
nature of what makes us human, all start from the position that human
subjectivity is not fixed or precultural, amenable to techniques that
isolate the individual from his or her wider social, cultural and historical
context. Social, cultural and historical processes are therefore viewed as
central determinants in the kinds of experience and understanding we
4 Mass Hysteria

have of ourselves as subjects and the types of language, terms and

vocabulary we use in the relationships that we construct with ourselves
and others. The media, as one such process, is therefore once again
accorded a role in the processes through which we come to develop
particular understandings about who and what we are, and indeed are
allowed to be, at this specific historical and cultural moment.
This book is about the kinds of self-understanding that have prolif-
erated over the past two decades in western cultures, the basis of these
self-understandings and the role that popular culture and the media
play in circulating ‘desired’ and regulatory images of what makes us
human. The argument we will be exploring is how both psychology (as
a body of knowledge) and the media work together to provide a way of
understanding what is normal behaviour. To illustrate and develop our
argument, we will be focusing on those identities or ways of
understanding the supposed normality and pathology of the self that
underpin media representations of criminality, madness, race and
sexual difference. What we wish to illustrate in this book are the ways in
which these representations have an intimate relationship with psycho-
logical knowledge and the kinds of concept used to define the normal,
healthy self to which we are all invited to aspire. This self has a partic-
ular specificity, which takes its content from ideas about humanness
derived in part from the biology and evolutionary theorizing of the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rose (1989) terms this self, so
naturalized in our current conceptions of who and what we are and
could become, the ‘fiction of autonomous selfhood’. It is a way of
understanding selfhood that elevates and privileges certain characteris-
tics as evidence of the self ’s ability to transcend and develop itself into a
strongly bounded entity, less reliant on others and able to make and
exercise choice in the decisions it makes about work, relationships,
leisure and so forth.
This ‘autonomous self ’ has the positive attributes of independence,
autonomy, responsibility, self-control and forward thinking. It is self-
reliant and able to account for the choices it makes in relation to its
own biography of needs, motives, aspirations and desire for personal
fulfilment and development. It is a self that is capable of under-
standing, judging and amending its own psychology. This self is
consumed through the advertisements we watch on television and the
debates and advice given to the myriad of television and radio confes-
sionals made by those attempting to transform themselves; it
underpinned Thatcher’s ideal of ‘going it alone’ and is celebrated in
Blair’s Britain, where we are all invited to be entrepreneurs of our own
Introduction 5

selves and possible achievements and aspirations. But what if this self is
fictional? What if the basis of our self-recognition and self-
understanding is actually the endpoint of a complex process of discur-
sive construction? What does it actually mean to say that the selves we
live ‘as if ’ they are real are actually fictional?
Homi Bhabha has talked about the development of colonial
government and the regulation of the colonial subject as conditioned
upon knowledges that claim to ‘know’ the populations of which they
speak. Scientific discourses, including the psychological sciences,
have, since their inception in the nineteenth century, played a
prominent role in the regulation of the population (Rose 1985;
Henriques et al. 1998). The discourse of ‘autonomous selfhood’
embedded within psychological theorizing and interventions has
become the target and object of wider strategies for correcting and
rehabilitating the population, including the welfare and social services
in addition to schooling and education (Rose 1985; Walkerdine
1998a). As well as being incorporated into wider governmental strate-
gies to administer, target and manage the population, the ‘psy’
discourses have become the basis of ways of understanding both our
own and others subjectivities. We ‘look inwards’ as if there is
something stable about our self-identification and make this self the
object and subject of our diary keeping and of the constant judging
and evaluation we make of our behaviour, thought and conduct. But
what if the entities we construe as being part of the self, such as mood,
emotion, personality, attitude and belief, are in fact highly historically
and culturally specific ways of acting upon and relating to ourselves
(Pfister and Schnog 1997)? How then do we evaluate representations
of those people and behaviours constructed as ‘other’ to this self,
which continually circulate in mass media representation? How is a
different understanding of the place of psychology in relation to the
media possible beyond these dualisms?
In Chapter 1 we will begin to explore some of the different theories
used to study the communication process in the social sciences and
media and cultural studies. We will explore what happens when we
move from a study of communication and language as simply
reflecting what is already there, to more semiotic approaches that view
language as producing the meanings through which we engage with
and understand our social world. If language creates meaning, what is
the status of those stereotypes of race, sexuality, madness and
criminality that continually circulate within the media? If stereotypes
are not simply misrepresentations or distortions, how can we
6 Mass Hysteria

understand their significance and function? Consider the following

example – the criminal is often and repeatedly described as being
impulsive, a loner, maladjusted, deviant, amoral, having no regard for
others, irresponsible, irrational, animal-like, aggressive and violent. In
relation to the ‘autonomous self ’, these characteristics signify a lack
and deficiency of those characteristics taken to define the normal,
adjusted, psychological subject. The criminal is ‘other’ to those
conceptions of selfhood through which we define and draw
boundaries around what we are willing to accept as being part of
humanness. But again what if these boundaries, kept in place by
images of the ‘other’, are actually part of the process through which we
construct relationships with ourselves? What then is the status of
media representations that stake their claim to truth and authenticity
on the wider scientific and psychological knowledges they implicitly
and sometimes explicitly draw on for their intelligibility?
Throughout the book we will be exploring and interrogating the
link between the discursive construction of the normal, rational
subject in psychological literature and the construction of particular
identities in popular culture. We will develop the semiotic concept of
‘intertextuality’ and explore the ways in which media meanings always
contain within them reference to wider systems of meaning. In
Chapter 3 we will argue that the implications of this concept mean
that media consumption is simply one of the aspects through which
we construct relations with ourselves and others. Through a critical
engagement with audience research, we will argue that media
consumption should not be studied as a separate field but as one of the
places in which fictions of the human subject are produced and
circulated. This approach to media production and consumption
constitutes a very different link between the media and psychology,
one in which psychology becomes one of the key knowledges by which
the subject is defined in relation to normative models that always
contain some pathologized Other.
This ‘critical psychological’ approach to the status of psycho-
logical knowledge, which rejects its ‘claims to truth’ as being based in
any real sense on describing and discovering ‘what we are really like’ as
subjects – on locating meaning inside or within the subject, is developed
in Chapters 2, 7 and 8. In Chapter 8 we will develop the rethinking of
the universal subject of psychology as a textual subject, produced in and
through the realm of representation and signification. The assumptions
of the traditional psychological perspective that ‘critical psychology’
refuses are outlined in Chapter 2 and the critiques located within some
Introduction 7

of the wider interdisciplinary debates surrounding postmodernism and

postmodernity that refuse ‘essentialist’ approaches to the nature of
human subjectivity – of ‘what it means to be human’.
Chapter 7 extends some of these debates, exploring how, although
these perspectives are useful for exploring subjectivity as being created
through discursive and signifying processes, they still utilize psycho-
logical assumptions in their theorizing. The crux of our challenge is to
see how we can theorize subjectivity without invoking a ‘mass’ or
individual psychology through the back door. Some of the tools useful
to our challenge will come from arguments in European social theory
and feminism, explored in Chapters 4 and 5, which began various
projects to understand the production of fictional identities in the
media, and the ways in which actual subjects invested and resisted
them. The debates that underpinned these projects were an attempt to
theorize the relations between ideology, representation and subjectivity
beyond an individual/society dualism. These debates underpin
developments in poststructuralism and postcolonialism that are
explored in some case studies of criminality and madness in Chapter 9
and race and sexuality in Chapter 10. These chapters extend and
develop the notion of the colonial stereotype central to Homi Bhabha’s
account of the production of colonial subjectivity in and through the
practices of the social.
Bhabha (1994) has cogently shown how the colonial stereotype (the
ways in which racial difference repeatedly signifies) functions to
confirm and construct the west as being rational and superior. The
constructed object, in this example the colonial subject, then becomes
the container for a set of fantasies and fears that ‘fix’ the colonized in a
particular place. These fears and fantasies do not simply describe or
‘know’ the colonized but work to construct those meanings, desires and
fears through which we make sense of our own and others’ experience
and behaviour. These fears, fantasies and desires circulate, as Bhabha
has cogently shown, within scientific theories, as well as in those
representations of, for example, the ‘essential duplicity of the Asiatic or
the bestial sexual licence of the African’ (ibid.: 18) which tend to
structure film and media representations of racial identity.
Bhabha (1983) proposed an approach to the status of media
representations, which we will adopt in these two chapters, that aimed
to go beyond a notion of judging them for their truth-value or authen-
ticity. This approach, which calls for more positive images or stereotypes
to replace those which are considered negative, still relies upon the very
principle embedded within the psychological sciences – that we can
8 Mass Hysteria

‘know’ different populations through the uncovering of stable and

enduring sets of traits that ‘make up’ a person’s character, personality
and identity. Operating according to a homogenizing impulse, media
representations are judged for how accurately they reflect what it means
to be black, rational, heterosexual and so forth, as Davies and Smith,
analysing Hollywood representations of racial identity, argue, ‘to erect a
definition of authentic blackness, against which Hollywood images
could be judged’ (1997: 50).
In line with traditions in cultural studies and film theory (cf. Davies
and Smith 1997 for a useful overview), we will be examining the
discursive and rhetorical consequences of the ways in which particular
peoples, experiences and behaviours are constructed as Other in mass
media representations. We will particularly be examining those
discourses which mediate these constructions and their relationship to
knowledges such as psychology that have continually offered up
theories to describe, chart, map and ‘know’ the objects of which we
speak. By analysing media representations of madness, criminality,
sexuality and race, we will exemplify the ways in which we need a new
critical apparatus to understand the cultural and psychological signifi-
cance of these representations.
Moving beyond the binary of positive/negative, we will be
examining these film and media images for the way in which they help
to construct what we understand as being normal, rational behaviour.
We will explore the explicit and often subtle, contradictory and
nuanced ways in which, for example, representations of madness and
criminality help to define ‘what we are not’ and, by default, construct a
norm of behaviour, thought and conduct. This norm has its credibility
through the ways in which these fictional representations make claims
to truth, claiming to be based upon a ‘science of the individual’. The
crux of this book will focus upon what happens when such a claim
appears as a discursive and historical accomplishment subject to change
without notice. In the final chapter we will draw together the implica-
tions of the approach we are developing for analysing the
media–psychology relationship. We will use the enduring image of
Princess Diana, representing the necessity of self-invention and self-
transformation in these rapidly transforming times, to highlight the
importance of our approach for understanding the media and
psychology as we begin the twenty-first century.
Let us begin some of this questioning and laying of the groundwork
for the chapters to follow by exploring some of the ways in which the
mass media itself represents those who have transgressed the boundaries
Introduction 9

of so-called normal conduct. We will begin with some examples from

some notorious events in Britain that have threatened the boundaries
by which the distinctions between good and evil, mad and bad, and
rational and irrational are usually drawn.

The psychology of the Other

Rosemary West was, along with her husband, a notorious British

murderer who killed young women in the cellar of their ordinary house
in Gloucester. Mrs Ordinary as a murderer. So ordinary that you could
never tell: your mum or the mother next door. A story that immediately
pulls one in to know more about how she could do it. And if she could,
how could we possibly be safe? We long to understand whether she was
evil or mad and therefore the exception to the norm.
Some of the most eminently newsworthy items of media representa-
tion circulate images of those who have transgressed the boundaries of
normal conduct – those who have killed, maimed and committed
horrific acts of violence. We are all familiar with the chilling accounts of
these crimes depicted in newspapers, television documentaries, news
programmes and the gamut of sensationalized magazines devoted to
uncovering the psychological profile of these individuals, destined to
remain in the public imaginary as a haunting reminder of what some
are capable of doing. The audience is addressed as if they are detectives,
retrospectively looking for the clues that would have led to the truth of
the pathology lurking within the individual(s). One fear continually
played on in such representations is the way in which pathology is no
longer written on the body, existing instead in an ephemeral realm of
voices, visions, emotions and private longings, desires and fantasies. In
the Fred and Rosemary West case, one of the narrative devices continu-
ally drawn on in the media’s portrayal was the apparent ordinariness of
the couple. The House of Horrors, as 25 Cromwell Street was continu-
ally referred to – a seemingly ordinary terraced house in Gloucester,
England, which could have been any house, anywhere – was in fact
harbouring terrible secrets. The socially sanctified space of the home
had been transformed into a torture chamber where the couple enacted
a set of sadistic and fatal desires on a series of young girls and women,
including their daughter and stepdaughter.
Without wishing to condone these acts, we do wish to draw
attention to the way in which Fred and Rosemary West, as well as Ian
Brady and Myra Hindley (the notorious Moors murderers, who
10 Mass Hysteria

murdered a number of children in the 1960s) and Peter Sutcliffe (the

Yorkshire Ripper) to mention but a few of the most salient, have come
to occupy a particular symbolic space in the way in which we establish
the boundaries of normal, rational conduct. Were they evil, lacking in
remorse and guilt, and therefore not to be treated as if they are ‘one of
us’? Or were they mad and therefore to be excused for their actions
rather than to be blamed for their wrongdoing? Either way, these
parameters construct the person or persons as being so very different
from us. The terrifying images with which we are presented confirm
these individuals as socially marginal, Other to the normative image of
personhood that we are constantly invited to see ourselves in relation
to – we are not like that, are we?.
The terms through which their Otherness is established draw upon
sets of divisions marking out the normal from the pathological, the
‘sane’ from the ‘insane’, the ‘adjusted’ from the ‘maladjusted’, terms that
are central to psychological knowledge. The media draws upon psycho-
logical knowledge in the ways in which it constructs the Other,
producing a chain of associations through which we are invited to
recognize their deviant nature, their difference from us. We will be
arguing in this book that these representations do not simply reflect the
person’s psychological state but help to construct an image of normal
psychological health. Thus the terms used to represent the murderer or
criminal tend to be the absence or lack of what implicitly and often
explicitly is constructed as normal. During the Fred and Rosemary
West trial, the following terms were used to signify their inherent
psychological instability: they were described as maladjusted, duplici-
tous, unusually quiet as children, sexually precocious, lacking shame or
remorse, embodying feelings of persecution and inferiority, aggressive,
passive, lacking self-esteem, resilient, experiencing mood swings,
controlling and having an abusive family history.
Although it may seem a moot point to question the status of these
representations as simply concerning the reflection of the psychology
of the individual, we wish to draw the reader’s attention to some of the
wider historical assumptions that make it possible to think about
violence and crime in relation to psychology, personality, mood or any
of the other entities seen to define what it means to be human. The
image of shared pathology, which links representations of the bad with
the mad, relies upon the premise that criminals are fundamentally
different from the rest of society. Although this assertion is largely
commonplace in western culture, as we will see in Chapter 9, it was
not until the mid-nineteenth century that it became common to judge
Introduction 11

criminals and their psychological make-up and motives rather than the
act itself (Foucault 1977). Prior to this point it was the criminal act
itself that was judged and punished according to a system of codes that
were meant to function as grades of severity; that is, if you stole, your
hand was cut off. The idea of the criminal as a psychological subject
emerged with the rise of the human sciences and especially
criminology (the science of the criminal subject) in the late nineteenth
century, human nature becoming understood as essentially comprising
the ability to be rational, autonomous, responsible and self-contained.
Justice and legal judging became concerned with the criminal person-
ality and criminals’ psychological make-up. This image of the rational
subject, which also functions as the marker of legal subjectivity is,
however, gendered, raced and classed. In the case of both Rosemary
West and Myra Hindley, one of the main questions that fuelled the
debate was whether these women were capable of acting in such a way
or whether their male partners and protagonists corrupted them. Their
actions had confounded not only normality, but also gendered
expectations about femininity and whether women are capable of
violence and aggression.
As Foucault suggests in relation to the anxiety of judging, we bring
in a psychiatrist and character witnesses, we ask the little sister if the
accused was nice, we question his parents about his childhood. We
judge the criminal more than the crime (1989: 164). Foucault goes on
to suggest that when we cannot know the criminal, when there appear
to be no motives, when we cannot infer sickness or madness within the
perpetrator, the legal apparatus breaks down:

When a man comes before his judges with nothing but his crimes, when he
has nothing to say about himself, when he does not do the tribunal the
favour of confiding to them something like the secret of his own being,
then the judicial machine ceases to function. (1988: 151)

We can see then that psychology, along with criminology and

psychiatry, has become central to the government of crime within the
twentieth century. With the moral injunction created through the psy
disciplines to understand subjectivity through the concepts of respon-
sibility, self-regulation, independence, autonomy and so forth, differ-
ence from this image was understood as representing sickness or
deviancy. The project for the human sciences, as we will see
throughout the book, was to target, map and rehabilitate those who
were Other to this image. If the basis of their Otherness lay
12 Mass Hysteria

unexplained through these discourses of cure, their difference

remained more disturbing and symbolically threatening. This has been
the plight of those images of the psychopathological Other that
constantly remind us of the impossibility of ‘knowing’ and therefore of
accomplishing an act of social security. As with the case of Myra
Hindley, who maintains that Ian Brady did not corrupt her and that
she is not mad, such people must remain forever removed from society,
condemned to a life of exile.
In the discussion to follow, we wish to unsettle the basis of these
representations and to begin to ask different questions about the
psychology of the individual and its place within media and cultural
theorizing. Such conceptions of Otherness have become central in the
drive to locate, classify and measure those individuals who are more at
risk of media influence. Again those deemed more susceptible to
media influence (especially with regard to violence and sex) are
constructed as being Other to normality. They are more passive,
dependent, emotional, hysterical, rigid and dogmatic. The terms used
to describe their Otherness are remarkably similar to those very terms
that the media deploys to represent the criminal or murderer. The link
or intersection between the media and psychology is twofold:

1. The media relies upon an image of psychopathology to explain

deleterious effects
2. It deploys the same image in its representations of those who have
disturbed the boundaries through which normality is constructed.

In Chapter 2 we will investigate how this image of the mass mind as

being more vulnerable and susceptible to media influence, an image
that is also used again and again to explain actions viewed as irrational
and emotional, as with the descriptions of the crowds giving flowers
following the death of Princess Diana, has a rather recent historical
heritage. It is the naturalness and inevitability of these images we wish
to question in order to develop different ways of understanding the link
between psychology and the media, and the role that both signifying
practices play in the ways in which we relate to, experience and consti-
tute our own subjectivities and identities.
Introduction 13

Mass-media hysteria

The media has, since its inception, been an area of concern among
psychologists, sociologists, educators, broadcasters, government policy
makers and the general public. It is reified as a medium of communi-
cation that has been held responsible for escalating aggression and
violence in society. There are sets of fears underlying the intense
scrutiny, and the medium has warranted investigation over its possible
detrimental effects. The terms of such debates have naturalized a link
that, within a particular set of historical circumstances, made the mass
mind an object that was seen to be easily swayed, influenced and made
suggestible by external forces. The mass mind was the site of
psychopathology and became the key explanation deployed in wider
debates concerning the possible impact of television viewing on the
masses. It is no coincidence then that the main body of research on
media effects within psychology and media studies alike, has investi-
gated the effect of long-term exposure to television on adolescent boys
(cf. Milavsky et al. 1982). Contemporary media and cultural theory,
in an ethnographic move, have rejected the lack of agency accorded to
the audience in these accounts, instead seeking to find and celebrate
the creative activity and intentionality of its subjects. We are told that
even the masses can resist, that they are able to reject the media
message and critically engage with it – that they are not as stupid as we
previously thought.
Fiske (1989), for example, puts it this way:

Popular culture is made by various formations of subordinated or

disempowered people out of the resources, both discursive and material,
that are provided in the social system that disempowers them… If the sub-
cultural commodities or texts do not contain resources out of which people
can make their own meanings of their social relations and identities, they
will be rejected and will fail in the marketplace… Popular culture is made
from within and below, not imposed from without and above as mass
cultural theorists would have it. (p. 2)

This move hides within it a set of contradictions that throw doubt

on the very terms in which these debates are constructed and contested.
Within audience and reception studies, as well as many of the discur-
sive psychologies constructed along these lines, which we will discuss in
Chapter 3, the implicit normative image of the audience is one that is
able to resist and to read critically. The apparent inability of some to
14 Mass Hysteria

read against the grain is located within their social background, which
does not allow them access to the cultural resources with which they
would be able to resist. The mass mind creeps back into these accounts
through the back door, linked less to developmental problems and
more to social experience. This problem, we are told, is the province of
sociology rather than psychology (cf. Morley 1992), but what often
happens is that the socially located subject has to be understood with
recourse to a psychology that assumes a pregiven, rational and unitary
subject (cf. Henriques et al. 1998). There is still anOther within these
accounts who marks out a vision of the rest of the audience as being
more autonomous and less influenced by the media. The media still has
effects; the problem is providing certain groups and individuals with
access to the cultural capital required to engage with the media as critical
and resistant readers.
This active/passive dichotomy in relation to the audience has
generated the various approaches that take the link between the mass
media and the masses and seek either to verify or to reject it (cf. Barker
and Petley 1997). This dichotomy in itself contains a historically
specific set of assumptions about the nature of the human subject and
its relation to the world in which it exists. It also understands the role
of the media through a traditional socialization model viewing the
individual as one entity with precultural attributes (usually located
within its biology), and the media or social context as a separate entity
that can only ever influence the individual in a peripheral fashion (cf.
Henriques et al. for a more detailed discussion of this point). There is
therefore always a tension between the individual and the social,
including the mass media, which may unduly influence those who lack
something prior to their engagement with the media. This approach
fails to engage with the social in any way other than through an
understanding of the personal lack or pathology of certain groups or
individuals. How then to theorize the individual in a ‘radically social
way’ without simply viewing the individual as a passive effect of the
media (ibid.: 21)?
Throughout the chapters to follow, we hope to unpack and disturb
the very terms of these debates in order to learn how to think about
things differently. There are other ways of addressing these relations
that do not view the media as one entity and the human subject as
another in its own right. We do not believe that a move to the active
audience is the way forward in this respect. It is a reaction against what
were taken to be the oppressive assumptions of media effects models,
and, as we will see, reactions are always made possible by the very
Introduction 15

concepts and terms they seek to reject. Most importantly, the idea that
the media has an effect is still thoroughly ingrained within the way in
which we think and debate the impact of the media. We have to look
at how it is that such concepts carry so much validity and credibility.
We may then begin to map out a psychology of the media that can
adequately address the complex relations between the media, discur-
sive practices such as psychology, subjectivity and the realm of the
psychological. This will entail engaging with the very basis on which
questions about the relation between the media and its audience are
posed, as well as with their historical constitution. We need theories
that do not easily reduce to a notion of the individual interacting with
the media but can fully account for the shared understandings
embedded within the media that make it as much part of us, as it is
part of the wider cultural apparatus in which it circulates.
Chapter 1

Communication breakdown

In the contemporary field of media and communication studies, the

student is often introduced to an array of concepts or communication
models utilized to study the mass media and popular culture (cf. Fiske
1982). These models are diverse, ranging from ‘simple’ communica-
tion models (Shannon and Weaver 1949; Gerbner 1956) to more
semiotic and discursively derived approaches (cf. Hall 1997). These
broad approaches to the communication process can be differentiated
in relation to the status they accord language.
‘Simple’ communication models assume that the process of
communication involves the transmission of a message from the sender
to the receiver. The process can be hindered by obstacles and factors that
may be technical – what Shannon and Weaver (1949) term ‘noise’. The
message is assumed to have an inherent meaning that, given a smooth
transmission, will be accurately received by the audience. The meaning
is that which the sender has intended and will be more or less accurately
conveyed given the effectiveness of the symbols’ ability to capture the
intended meaning. This model assumes that language is transparent,
merely reflecting reality in as accurate a form as possible. It is a linear
model of communication that is much more concerned with the process
via which a message travels in order to reach its destination.
The content of the message is given much less analytical attention.
As we stated earlier, it is viewed as a problem of semantics – of the
words or images the sender has chosen in order to convey his or her
intended meaning. This is a common way in which we think about the
nature and function of language as a device for representing our
innermost thoughts and feelings. It follows that there is likely to be a
mismatch between our intentions and the symbols at our disposal to
represent them. Within this view language is restrictive and often
Communication breakdown 17

redundant, leading to communication breakdown. This view is both

romantic and pessimistic, seeing individuals as existing within unique,
private worlds and failing to communicate with each other because of
the constraints of the language at their disposal.
On both an individual and a social level, language is viewed as a
tool for representing a pre-existing, stable reality. This may be the
unique, psychological, private realm or objects existing within the
cultural sphere. Within this account of the communication process,
representations of these objects or the interior realm are assessed for
their more or less real depiction of reality. According to this assump-
tion, ‘breakdown in communication’ will be the result of certain factors
or obstacles that may have hindered the process of transmission and
reception. Reception is usually studied in relation to errors of cognition
or perception that may have prevented the person accurately receiving
the message. Thus problems in interpretation are probable, but given
accurate communication skills these ‘errors’ are seen to be controllable.
These ideas are central to the way in which the communication process
is studied within the social and psychological sciences.
Within media studies the implicit basis of these more simple
communication models is also used to study the media as a site of
communication distortion producing stereotyped information. The
media, through exaggeration or caricature, distort the meaning of
objects in the social world, misrepresenting their supposed true nature.
Stereotyped information is usually viewed as biased and often leading to
prejudiced attitudes and beliefs. Stereotypes are therefore seen to be
based on inaccurate information cultivated through ignorance and
misinformation. Stereotypes are often used to refer to representations
that circulate in the media of those groups in society who exist outside
the mainstream. Because of their marginal status, the assumption is
made that we only gain knowledge about these minority groups through
the media and other forms of pedagogy. Thus more realistic representa-
tions are usually called for to counteract these distortions and provide us
with informed knowledge and an accurate reflection of reality.
We can see then that a stereotype involves a psychological as well as
a social component. Stereotypes are distortions or misrepresentations,
which have psychological effects. They create biases in information
processing, constraining or distorting the ways in which people come
to perceive others. It is also presumed in much of the psychological
literature that particular people are more affected by stereotypes than
others. Eysenck (1970) has made claims that working-class people are
more influenced by stereotyped information than middle-class people.
18 Mass Hysteria

There are many theories that link stereotypes and prejudice with the
lack of particular psychological propensities, such as security and a
strong self-concept or super-ego. The work of the Frankfurt School,
and especially Adorno et al. (1950), has linked particular personality
types with prejudice and the susceptibility of persons to misinforma-
tion. What all these studies take for granted, as we will see throughout
the book, is an assumption that the mass mind or irrational mind is
more susceptible or vulnerable to media (outside) influence.
We can see then that simple communication models presuppose
particular ways of understanding the psychology of the individual. On
the one hand stereotypes are viewed as misrepresenting the
‘psychology’ of certain groups, that is, colonial subjects, people with
different sexualities and so forth, and also as creating prejudicial ways
of relating to these groups in those deemed more susceptible to media
influence. This way of approaching psychology per se again echoes the
‘essentialist’ approach to psychology that we discussed in the introduc-
tion. We are presumed to have a ‘self ’, a core, ‘inner-directed’ bundle of
needs, motives and aspirations linked to more stable entities such as
personality, attitude and belief that ‘make up’ our sense of selfhood.
This ‘psychology’ is integrated into society through the action of
certain ‘agents of socialization’ such as the media, our parents and
schools, which attempt to inculcate particular ways of making sense of
the world. Although sounding like an attempt to bridge the
individual/society dualism, these accounts cannot provide a radically
social way of theorizing human subjectivity. They all presuppose some
conception, which easily reduces to biology, of a pregiven subject, who
is then made social through encounters with significant others. The
content or specificity of the kinds of subject we aspire to be is, however,
never examined for its conditions of possibility. It is simply taken for
granted that rationality, independence and autonomy are the natural-
ized building blocks of human nature, which will unfold given the
appropriate influences (particular kinds of child-rearing practice,
pedagogy and media forms, for example).
As an example, within this model of communication and the
implicit psychological assumptions it makes, social problems such as
racism are made sense of in a particular way. The problem is located
within certain individuals who are deemed to be irrational and more
dogmatic in the ways in which they relate to certain groups. Racism is
a misperception, often related to misinformation, that occurs as the
result of an ‘error’ in a person’s cognitive and information-processing
skills or capacities (cf. Henriques et al. 1998 for a fuller discussion). It
Communication breakdown 19

is assumed that rational individuals (although we all of course

potentially make mistakes) with the appropriate information and
education are not the type of person who tends to be racist. Racism is
therefore linked to lack and error in a person’s cognitive psychological
capacity. Racist ‘types’ are construed as Other to the ideal psychological
self that is constituted as the norm within psychological knowledge –
the rational, democratic subject. In the next section we will contrast
this model of the communication process with more discursively and
semiotically derived approaches.

The semiotic production of reality

We have so far considered how ‘simple’ communication models, based
in the social science traditions, underlie some of the ways in which
media forms are evaluated and judged according to notions of truth
and falsehood (that is, that representation is stereotyped and does not
reflect reality). Within media and communication studies, as well as
traditions in cultural studies and ‘critical psychology’, there are more
semiotically derived approaches that move beyond the binaries of
positive/negative, true/false, authentic/exaggerated and so forth. These
approaches also presume a very different perspective on the production
of human subjectivity and its relationship to signifying apparatuses
such as the media. Semiotics has a longstanding history within the
development of media and cultural studies, as well as underpinning
some of the work in postcolonial theory that has moved beyond
viewing racial stereotypes as simply being misrepresentations (Fanon
1970; Bhabha 1994). In this section we will outline semiotics as a
model of language and communication, and develop its implications
for how we study and evaluate media forms. We will pay special
attention to the markedly different ways in which semiotics rethinks
how we might approach the stereotype.
Based upon the ‘father of modern linguistics’, Ferdinand de
Saussure’s (1974), radical rethinking of the nature of language and its
relation to reality in the early twentieth century, semiotics rejects the
notion that language is merely a transparent transmitter of informa-
tion. The constructedness of experience and meaning is emphasized
over the idea of the unique, private individual using language as a
representational device. Sinha (1988) gives an illuminating example of
how the concept of language as representation is thoroughly
entrenched within a set of western dualisms, that is, the way of seeing,
20 Mass Hysteria

for example, media and mind as two separate things, one acting upon
the other (that is, as two things rather than a single thing). These
dualisms underpin more simple communication models viewing the
mind as an information-processing apparatus separate from the world
in which it exists. Mental processes are the interface between reality
and the accurate representation of it. Sinha argues that it is very
difficult to think of representation as signification, as actually creating
(rather than simply reflecting) meanings and constituting our sense of
selfhood. These difficulties are bound up with the very sense we have of
ourselves as humans and how this humanness is thought of and differ-
entiated from the situation in animals. The sense of being human
embedded within the human sciences, especially psychology, is that the
possession of language and reason enables individuals to develop
morality and a sense of responsibility. This is what makes us human
and distinguishes us from the animals. Language represents our mental
and cognitive processes imposing a structure on an otherwise chaotic
world. Semiotic approaches view language and the structures of
language as creating the very possibility of representing the world to us
in a particular way. In order to understand what it means to be human,
we cannot look inwards but instead need to focus upon the historical
and cultural processes that make our sense of self possible.
Within semiotic approaches, therefore, the media is accorded a role
very different from the one it plays within the communication process.
In the more ‘simple’ models, the media is seen to be one site at which
the object is distorted, hindering accurate reception through the
transmission of stereotypical information. Within semiotic approaches
the media is viewed as a site for the production of meanings – a system
of signification. Instead of distorting the ‘real’ the media is seen to be
one place where particular meanings are constituted, playing a part in
actually producing and framing the way in which people come to
understand their social world.
The media is viewed as part of a wider apparatus, reproducing and
producing, through the particular organization of signs embodied
within the media text, wider cultural values and beliefs. Media texts are
‘intertextual’ (Hall 1997) in that the meanings created within the text
always contain within them reference to wider systems of meaning.
The object of media studies is not to identify a failure in communica-
tion between the sender and receiver but to examine the media text itself
and the particular organization of signifiers (words and images) and
signifieds (concepts) within the text. It is the relationship between the
signifier and the signified, known as the sign, that creates the
Communication breakdown 21

possibility of meaning. This is not simply another communication

model but a radically different way of specifying the relationship
between language and subjectivity. Indeed, Foucault (1982) argued
that the advent of more structural and semiotic approaches to language
was one of the most significant events within social theory.
The model of language as signification was adopted and utilized by
the French semiologist Roland Barthes to analyse the cultural signifi-
cance of media and popular cultural forms. He understood the process
of making meaning as involving the decoding of those relations
established between signs within a media text (Hall 1980). This process
would imply possessing the shared cultural resources or codes by which
to understand the structuring of particular meanings. These codes
could be linguistic or more formal devices directing or signposting the
reader towards a particular reading of a text – what Hall termed the
‘preferred meaning’. Barthes’ (1972) popularization of this process of
encoding meaning (that is, the particular organization of signs within a
text) argued that those meanings structuring relationships within a
media text could not be analysed by studying the media text alone. The
internal relations of a text could be studied by focusing upon what
Barthes termed the ‘denotative level’ of a sign, that is, the way in which
particular signifiers – words or images – and signifieds – concepts or
meanings – were linked together through the organization of the text
(encoding). This is more similar to the concept of communication as
representation or resemblance, although this resemblance is itself
signification. However, we can still see that, at this stage, the practice of
meaning making is still understood as rather cognitive and rational,
connoting as it does the idea of the breaking of codes or cyphers.
For Barthes, however, there is much more to say about the way in
which media texts signify intertextually. Barthes (1972) gives an
example of how washing powders signify within the realm of
advertising and popular culture more generally. Taking the slogan
‘Persil whiteness’, the words themselves work as a signifier for the
product – washing powder. The relation between the two is the sign,
because together they signify the washing powder. The signifier stands
to denote the signified, and in that sense the relationship could be
called representative, although the relation itself is arbitrary – it is a
construction. As we know from the world of endless consumer choice,
it could have been called Daz, Bold, Lux and so on. Barthes was not
particularly interested in the denotative level of a sign, whether
analysing photography, newspaper articles, films and books. He
introduced a second-order meaning into the equation in which the
22 Mass Hysteria

sign was also seen to exist within wider systems of meaning. Barthes
termed this order the realm of myth and ideology. He drew upon
metaphors, which invoked an idea of surface and depth, equating
semiological analysis with dream analysis. The surface of the image or
the text was the denotative level. This surface, however, itself existed to
bring into play or signify wider cultural meanings and values. Barthes
was interested in what lay beyond the signs and how they themselves
were part of wider regimes of meaning. This was the level of connota-
tion, which Barthes argued should be the object of study for semiology.
If we go back to the washing powder example, we know, even on a
commonsense level, that advertising works on the premise that
products do not simply tell you what they are. They aim to reflect back
to the consumer a specific set of cultural values that they attempt to
associate with their product (cf. Miller and Rose 1997). As Barthes
shows in his analysis, washing powders aim to bring into play wider
imagery such as dirt and purification, enemy and friend, effort and
liberation, luxury, hygiene, health and happiness. They attempt to
signify these connotative meanings through fixing the sign within
wider relations of signs that perform this function; white, for example,
as a signifier signifies purity within Christian religious discourse. This
realm of myth works, according to Barthes, because it dresses itself up
as natural, thus concealing its constructed and arbitrary nature.
Another example often quoted from his book Mythologies is his
analysis of the French popular magazine Paris Match. He performed a
semiological analysis of the front cover that bore the image of a black
man giving a salute to the French flag. Beyond the denotative
meaning, Barthes attends to what he feels he is being invited to
understand by this sign – the reader position or subject position. This
issue was produced when France was involved in a colonial war with
Algeria, which it had colonized. In the context of the Algerian war and
the French involvement, he argues that this image is itself bringing
into play second-order meanings such as France’s democracy and
liberalism. It is ideological in the sense that it is constructing a partic-
ular meaning in the face of criticism and concern over France’s nation-
alism and racial prejudice.
One might of course argue that the bringing together of militarism,
with the salute and the colonial subject, signifies France’s liberalism
rather than colonialism. This is a possible reading – and indeed the
preferred reading of the text – given that signifiers can have many
different meanings. They are indexical and polysemic. This means that
signifiers both act as an index, pointing to a particular meaning, and
Communication breakdown 23

also have multiple meanings. Barthes argues that the ideological

meaning that he makes is possible because this sign changes its
meaning when located within a history of French imperialism. The
reading Barthes himself makes of France’s colonialism, that colonial
masters enforce domination, is not encouraged through the relations
constructed between the image and text, that is, a negro is saluting the
French flag. However, the possible meanings of this text are not literal
and are of an order that is not found within the internal relations of the
signs in the text itself.
In response to this there has been a move within contemporary
cultural studies to explore the decoding of texts rather than their
encoding (the internal organization of signs within texts and their
wider connotations). Hall (1980) argued that if the implications of
semiology are that meaning can never be fixed, it is as important to
focus upon the range of possible readings or interpretations (decodings)
that audiences make of the text. This focus has underpinned the
ethnographic turn in contemporary media and cultural theory. We will
examine this move and its problems in Chapter 3. We would argue that
one of Barthes’ greatest insights was the intertextual nature of texts –
that they always contain within them wider systems of meaning. This is
often referred to as a regime of representation (cf. Hall 1997) and looks
at the continuities and similarities between representations across a
range of social and cultural practices. In recent years Hall and others
(1997) have refocused their analysis on the way in which signs are
organized within regimes of meaning, such as the media, and how they
function to confirm particular identities as normal and natural. The
regulative role of signification and the insights of postcolonial writers
are being used to understand the enduring image of Otherness within
popular culture. There has been a turnback to psychoanalysis as a way
of understanding how these images work at a social and psychic level.
This development of semiotics and the production of fictional identi-
ties will be briefly outlined here and developed in Chapters 9 and 10.
Postcolonial theorists such as Homi Bhabha (1994) have utilized
some of the insights of semiotics to explore the production of colonial
subjectivity. Bhabha’s notion of the ‘colonial stereotype’ was discussed in
the introduction, where we began to differentiate his approach to
stereotyping from some of the more traditional social scientific
approaches we have explored in this chapter so far. Bhabha (1983)
argued that the colonial stereotype should be used to refer to the ways in
which racial difference repeatedly signifies within cultural and scientific
texts as lacking, deficient and pathological, as Other to an imagined
24 Mass Hysteria

norm. These representations neither simply misrepresent nor describe

or ‘know’ the colonial subject in any real sense. The colonial stereotype
is viewed as part of the very process through which we come to gain a
sense of our own subjectivities and those of Others, creating the
possibility of fear, desire, prejudice and so forth. The argument follows
that part of the process through which we gain and construct a sense of
selfhood lies in relation to what or who we are not. This norm is kept in
place and produced as being self-evident, natural and inevitable through
the way in which difference signifies as pathology and abnormality. This
imagined norm then functions as a regulatory ideal, positioning certain
experiences and persons outside its centre and producing them as
lacking in the propensities to be accorded a fully human status. It is part
of the process by which a society draws boundaries around what it is
willing to conceive of as normal and natural, and is central to how we
problematize, act upon and understand ourselves and others.
Bhabha (1983) argued that the way in which the ‘colonial stereotype’
signifies as Other to an imagined norm (that is, white ethnicity; cf. Dyer
1999) is part of the means by which discrimination and institutional
racism are kept in place at a governmental level. This is an account that
moves beyond racist types to explore the kinds of knowledge, fiction and
fantasy of the Other that structure colonial relations:

Racist stereotypical discourse, in its colonial moment, inscribes a form of

governmentality that is informed by a productive splitting in its constitu-
tion of knowledge and exercise of power. Some of its practices recognise
the difference of race, culture, history as elaborated by stereotypical
knowledges, racial theories, administrative colonial experience, and on
that basis institutionalise a range of political and cultural ideologies that
are prejudicial, discriminatory, vestigial, archaic, ‘mythical’, and, crucially,
are recognised as being so. By ‘knowing’ the native population in these
terms, discriminatory and authoritarian forms of political control are
considered appropriate. (Bhabha 1983: 35)

We can see then that, according to these accounts, the divisions

made between the normal and the pathological play a particular role in
ethical and social relations. As Rose (1996a: 192) highlights when
talking about subjectification – the process(es) of subject formation –
to be the self one is, one must not be the self one is not, not that
despised, rejected or abjected soul. This discursive and productive role
accorded to regimes of meaning, such as the media and scientific
theories produced within psychology, accords a profoundly and
Communication breakdown 25

fundamentally different status to language within the communication

process. The postcolonial development of some of the insights of
semiotic analysis focuses upon which ways of being are sanctioned
within media representations and views the media as one aspect in
which those fictions and fantasies of what makes us human, normal,
rational and so forth are constituted.


Underlying those communication models studied within the social

sciences and media studies are some radically different ways of
understanding the role and nature of language. They also implicitly
and explicitly make different assumptions about the ‘psychology of the
individual’. The more simple models view language as reflecting or
describing subjectivity – an essence – which is taken to be always
already there prior to language. Language is merely the tool through
which we describe and reflect upon our internal, subjective domain.
Subjectivity is assumed to be something that is prediscursive, presocial
and usually biological, the raw material through which we are social-
ized into culture. It is this private anterior domain that is usually
believed to be the province of traditional psychology. The more
semiotic and discursively derived approaches view human subjectivity
as being constituted in and through signification and discourse.
Language speaks us, rather than us speaking language. We are born
into structures of language and discourse, which pre-exist us and turn
us into particular kinds of subject. Barthes’ work, which we examined
in some detail, viewed the human subject as an effect of signifying
systems. Cultural and social practices were seen to provide the
linguistic and symbolic resources through which people come to relate
to themselves as subjects of particular kinds.
These radical distinctions in how we understand the subject
underlie the debates between traditional psychology and what have
come to be known as discursive psychologies, which are elaborated in
Chapters 2 and 8. In the next chapter we will explore some of the
historical assumptions embedded within psychological and scientific
theories that have become taken for granted in the ways in which we
theorize media consumption. We will pay particular attention to the
concept of the mass mind and its historical emergence, as well as to
how it provided one of the key preconditions for the development of
both social psychology and media theory.
Chapter 2

Mass psychology

There are many different ideas about human ‘psychology’ that have
been incorporated into media inquiry. Psychology is not a unified
discipline but has a range of models of human nature each specific to
the varying theoretical approaches that characterize it. Despite the
fragmentation and diversity of models, psychology as a discipline claims
that it will one day reach the so-called truth about human nature.
Psychology claims to be a science and constitutes itself as a form of
expertise able to make truth-claims about the nature and form of
human subjectivity. Part of the story underpinning the ‘psy’ disciplines
is that, with more rigorous research and the application of objective,
experimental methods, the general principles and laws of human nature
will one day be discovered. It is these ‘modernist’ ideas about human
nature that structure and dictate mainstream psychological inquiry.
Psychology incorporates this presumption into the story it tells about its
own emergence as a discipline, or what is called its historiography.
One of the most conventional or popular stories about psychology’s
emergence found in most psychology textbooks is that there was a
certain event that can be identified as establishing the origins of
modern scientific psychology. It is usually the founding by Wilhelm
Wundt of the first psychological laboratory in 1892 in Leipzig,
Germany that is viewed as the starting point of modern psychological
understandings. Psychology argues that its subject matter, the
individual or the self, has been around for time immemorial but has
been made sense of in very different ways depending on the worldview
or viewpoint popular at differing historical moments. Thus, prior to
the emergence of psychology, the self or the individual was made sense
of in relation to more supernatural or mystical frameworks of explana-
tion. Psychology, however, differentiates itself from its predecessors
Mass psychology 27

through its appeals to truth, objectivity and reason. The past,

according to this story, was trapped in values and beliefs based upon
prejudice, falsehood and irrational belief. Psychology is not merely
another viewpoint but one based upon the truth of the human subject.
The historiography underpinning this story is one that sees psychology
as a linear development from irrationality to rationality dependent
upon concepts such as progress, continuity and neutrality. It is an
evolutionary conception of history, which presumes that the past has
been superseded and left behind in our progression towards the truth.
Psychology presumes then that it is a science and that its object of
study or subject matter is timeless, stable and ahistorical. Psychological
explanations are invested with status and authority because of its ‘claims
to truth’ and how it differentiates itself from ‘other’ explanations. We
want to question and disrupt both psychology’s ‘claims to truth’ and the
story it tells about itself, through recounting an alternative historiog-
raphy of psychology’s emergence. Pertinent to this story are the writings
of the French poststructuralist philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault
suggested in his many writings that there is no ahistorical human nature
that defines us for all times, in all places, as human subjects. Foucault
was thoroughly sceptical of this way of thinking about the human
subject that is embedded within western society. The view that Foucault
rejects is what we will term a modernist approach to the human subject.
It presumes that we are defined on the basis of a set of enduring, ahistor-
ical characteristics. This is reminiscent of Descartes’ famous saying ‘I
think therefore I am’, in which rationality was taken to be the key
characteristic defining ‘what it means to be human’.
Foucault argued that, in different times and in different places, we
have been very different types of subject. His alternative historio-
graphies of the human sciences, especially the psy disciplines, are
critical of the idea of progress that underpins conventional psychology’s
history telling. Conventional psychology argues that the movement
from the past to the present is a steady continuous progression from
falsehood to truth. Foucault disrupts this by introducing the idea of
discontinuity or rupture into his history telling. He argues that we have
at different times had very different ways of understanding and relating
to ourselves as human subjects. These different formations of the
subject are historically specific dependent upon a set of historical
conditions of possibility that may be theoretical, social, philosophical
and political. The different formations combine and recombine to
produce present forms and are not simply superseded. According to
Foucault the past is thoroughly enmeshed within the present, hence his
28 Mass Hysteria

call for a ‘history of the present’, a use of history that investigates how
the past has mutated to produce the current situation (cf. Blackman
1994 for a more detailed discussion).
Foucault rejects the idea of a universal human nature, looking
instead, as we have seen, at the different ways we have come to relate to,
act upon and understand ourselves as human subjects. For this reason
he was interested in ‘processes of subjectification’, the processes through
which humans come to develop knowledge about themselves. Foucault
argued that the human sciences play a key role in this area in twentieth-
century society. He termed the psy disciplines ‘technologies of subjecti-
fication’ and argued that it is through psy terms, languages and concepts
that we come to develop an understanding about ourselves and others.
These writings have been developed in relation to contemporary
psychology by many of the writers who were involved in the book
Changing the Subject (Henriques et al. 1998). This work is important for
the critical psychological project we are outlining here, and has a radical
implication for how we approach the media, the communication
process and the role that psychology plays in that process.

The psy complex

Nikolas Rose has been one of the key writers who has developed
Foucault’s use of history to investigate the emergence of psychology or
the ‘psychological complex’ (Rose 1985). Lisa Blackman has also
utilized Foucault’s ‘history of the present’ to investigate how present
psy explanations of hearing voices are made possible (cf. Blackman
1994). We will draw on both of these accounts in the following
alternative story of psychology’s emergence in the late nineteenth
century. In this description it is important to have a knowledge of the
socio-political context of the nineteenth century in which psychology
emerged. Rose (1985) talks about debates central to this moment that
were concerned with how to differentiate humans from animals, with
what can and cannot be human. These debates took place within wider
discussions surrounding the nature of civilization and what society was
willing to accept as being part of human and hence as civilized
behaviour. These discussions were pertinent at a time that was seeing a
decline in religious modes of explanation and a move towards more
biological and evolutionary discourses of the individual.
This move is usually charted, as we saw within traditional
psychology’s historiography, as a move from irrationality to rationality,
Mass psychology 29

falsehood to truth. Rose (1985), however, charts this shift in ways of

specifying humanness within a broader move in governmental strate-
gies concerned with governing and managing the population. Gordon
(1992) argues that there was a change in the object of government
strategies and the way in which social problems were conceptualized
from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. In the eighteenth
century problems such as unemployment, vice and crime were viewed
as the result of ‘urban luxury and idle indifference’ (ibid.: 30). The
objects or targets of government strategies, such as sanitary science and
the social hygiene movement, were the vices and habits of the poor and
the moral conditions seen to exacerbate and facilitate these problems of
morality. However, these problems of existence increasingly came to be
understood as ones of degeneracy and idle poverty. In other words
social problems came to be seen as problems of biological inferiority
and incapacity.
Eugenic strategies that incorporated these biological and
evolutionary frameworks of explanation targeted those who were seen
to be ‘other’ to rationality. Charles Darwin, in On the Origin of the
Species, had argued that what differentiated humans from animals was
an organic core of rationality. He also argued that the white aristocratic
male represented the pinnacle of the civilizing process, whereby there
were ‘others’ who were seen to exist lower down the evolutionary scale,
expressing more savage and primitive forms of existence. These
‘others’ – the mad, colonial subjects, women, children and the working
classes – were seen to be endowed with less natural rationality and to
express biological constitutions that were diseased, incapacitated or
lacking in the supposedly natural psychological and moral propensities.
They were ‘other’ to rationality, whereby their difference signified as
disease, illness, lack and deviancy. Thus a quasi-evolutionary model
underpinned how the human subject became specified, people being
seen to differ along an axis that ran from the primitive and irrational to
the civilized and rational. This developmental sequence positioned
subjects along a hierarchical grid in which at least 75 per cent of the
population were perceived to be degenerate.
It was within this socio-political context that psychology emerged
as a discipline. The normative image of the human subject inscribed
within biological and evolutionary discourses of the individual
became embedded within psychological knowledge. Psychology
presumed that rationality was the key definition of ‘what it means to
be human’ and became concerned with all those deviations from this
supposed normality. As Rose (1985) cogently illustrates, psychology
30 Mass Hysteria

emerged as the key knowledge and technique for mapping, classifying,

targeting and administering Otherness. Thus, the mad, the dangerous
classes (cf. Blackman 1996), women, colonial subjects and children all
became viewed as a threat and danger to the smooth running of the
social order. In line with eugenics arguments, it was proposed that if,
for example, the large mass of the urban working class were allowed to
continue breeding at a differential rate compared with the middle
classes, civilization would eventually be threatened. The fear was that
the working classes would supposedly pass on their moral and physical
decay and degeneracy to the population at large, eventually
endangering the nation’s intelligence and causing the nation to revert
to more primitive and savage states of existence.
What we are suggesting then is that, from psychology’s inception, it
became part of a wider social apparatus for governing and managing
the population, the population becoming regulated in relation to a
very specific normative image of what it means to be human. This
regulatory ideal formed the basis of social practices such as schooling
and education (cf. Walkerdine 1998a), the legal system, social work,
psychiatry and the penal system. It was also in relation to this image, as
we saw in the introduction, that the mass media became problematized
in the early twentieth century, its supposedly bad effects influencing
those with ‘irrational minds’, who were viewed as being more vulner-
able and susceptible to outside forces. We have seen how, in the
present, this trope is largely taken for granted, its conditions of
existence and emergence being entirely naturalized. In the next chapter
we will explore how this concept is replete within twentieth-century
media accounts, and how psychology and media studies intersected in
relation to the problem of the mass (irrational) mind.

Psychology as a science of population management

The emergence of psychology as a science was intimately concerned

with the development of techniques by which a newly emerging urban
population in Europe and North America could be governed and
managed. We have argued that, to study the relation of psychology and
the media, we cannot look for some form of application of a disinter-
ested science to the concerns of the day. History tells us that there were
never any white-coated psychologists in academic ivory towers, whose
pure theories and evidence were taken over by scurrilous politicians or
social reformers. However, most approaches to psychology and the
Mass psychology 31

media treat psychology in this way. It is usually assumed to be an

empirical science whose findings can be applied to the study of media
and communication. In taking issue with such approaches, we are
taking a particular position in relation to psychology, a position best
described in relation to a body of theory known as poststructuralism,
which has found its place in psychology in critical, poststructuralist,
postmodern and discursive psychology (Potter and Wetherell 1987;
Parker and Shotter 1990; Kvale 1992 and Henriques et al. 1998 for
example). To understand the position we take in this book, it is
necessary to have a clear understanding of the basic principles of how
we are using poststructuralism in relation to psychology.
The point to be made here is that the scientific study of the mass of
the new urban population always contained a strong psychological
element: the study and understanding of the mind and behaviour of the
masses. That this was understood as a problem should not be surprising
given what we have said about the place of psychology in techniques of
population management. What we want to demonstrate is that the
concern with the mass mind and behaviour was central to political
interest with regard to the threat posed by the masses and their necessary
transformation. It is our contention that such concerns were the central
precondition for the emergence of traditions of study of mass media and
communication in the later decades of the twentieth century.

The oversensitive masses

In the decades following the French Revolution in 1789, a number of
thinkers started to write about ‘the crowd’. The argument was
essentially always the same: that the masses together in a crowd were
too suggestible to outside influences, too easily swayed and led. The
most popular of the exponents of this approach was a French Royalist
called Gustave Le Bon, who wrote a treatise on the matter one hundred
years after the French Revolution. His book, translated from the
French as The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1896), became very
famous and was published in several languages. His central argument
was that of the oversuggestible mass in a crowd:

Crowds, doubtless, are always unconscious, but this very unconscious is

perhaps one of the secrets of their strength. In the natural world, beings
exclusively governed by instinct accomplish acts whose marvellous
complexity astounds us. Reason is an attribute of humanity of too recent
32 Mass Hysteria
date and still too imperfect to reveal to us the laws of the unconscious and
still more to take its place. The part played by the unconscious is immense
and that played by reason very small. (Le Bon 1922: x)

Le Bon calls the crowd a ‘collective mind’, a ‘single being’, and as we

can see above, understands it to be ruled by unconscious instincts in a
manner that he takes to be animal and uncivilized. But he also suggests
that the crowd is sick, with ‘contagion’. Thus the collective is opposed
to the sane and rational, the civilized bourgeois individual. This in turn
built upon earlier formulations about the masses, which understood
them to be overly sympathetic and sensitive – too close to that which
was outside reason (Foucault 1971; Blackman 1996).
Rationality was a central plank of the emerging modern order. The
government of reason placed reason and reasoning as naturalistic
phenomena, with which upper- and middle-class white men were most
endowed. This natural rationality was needed for a rational-liberal
government to work. It required men of reason to do the governing,
and the Others (women, children, the dangerous classes and colonial
peoples) at least to be made to be reasonable even if they could not be
remade into quasi-bourgeois individuals. Indeed, developmental
psychology, emerging at the end of the nineteenth century, was utilized
in educational practice to produce a pedagogy of natural development
towards rationality (Walkerdine 1998a). So theories that explained and
practices that attempted to modify, the taken-for-granted over-
suggestibility and irrationality of the masses, were crucially important
for liberal government, that is, government that was not overtly
coercive but depended upon concepts such as free will and autonomy,
through which pathologized subjects could be managed in order to
remake themselves in a bourgeois image.
This oversuggestibility and irrationality became a central trope in
later media accounts, so we need to pay special attention to them here.
Indeed, as Foucault has argued, the emergence of new systems and
forms of government meant that instead of a coerced and silenced
mass, there were increasingly systems of population management that
sought to mould the characteristics of the human subjects so that they
would accept the moral and political order, apparently of their own free
will. At the same time, what was crucial for the governing classes was to
produce a protorational workforce, because the greatest fear was the
threat of mass irrationality. For example, as voting became more
widespread from the end of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, it
was first of all open only to men of property, later, and only after a
Mass psychology 33

struggle, to women of the property-owning classes and only much later

to the mass of people. The issue was precisely whether or not they
would be able to make rational judgements about government or
might too easily be swayed by their emotions.
So what can we say about the truth of the matter? Was it true that
the masses were oversuggestible and irrational?

Foucault’s approach to truth

In his work, Foucault attempted to go beyond the separation of science

as truth and ideology and pseudoscience as false, to an understanding
of the way in which scientific theories and evidence had the effect of
operating as true in practices of government: they became an effect of
power. Foucault saw modern forms of power operating in what he
called a micro-physics, not as a possession but in the way in which
techniques and practices of government defined the objects of govern-
ment and produced strategies of government and regulation that were
based on an intimate knowledge of the population to be governed.
Now it is a moot point, and a kind of chicken and egg problem,
whether this knowledge mapped an underlying ‘real’ or whether it
actually produced the very qualities that it claimed to be describing.
Oversuggestibility and irrationality, for example, were qualities
ascribed to the masses, for which strategies of correction were devised
to abate the perceived dangers. Because those qualities became
inscribed, literally written, into the practices of regulation of the
masses, they became the ways in which the masses were known and the
data of their mind and behaviour read. Those qualities could not exist
outside a set of discursive strategies through which to produce and to
read them. The issue becomes not whether oversuggestibility and
irrationality were real but how they were created as objects inside
historically created discourses and practices, so that their place meant
that they became utilized as apparatuses of social regulation, in which
they became part of scientific knowledge about the masses, which
could be empirically verified as ‘true’. This is what Foucault means by
veridicality, and it is quite different from truth as a timeless matter.
Truth, in this analysis, is never separate from the power inscribed in
those ‘truths’, through which we are subjected and become subjects. In
this way, Foucault’s concept of veridicality or truth effects replaces the
idea of a transhistorical given and underlying truth.
If the suggestible, irrational and easily swayed mind became
understood as a given, it is not surprising that a number of theories
34 Mass Hysteria

were developed to explain it. We want to focus in particular on three

bodies of work: social psychology, the psychoanalysis of groups and
Marx’s theories of ideology, all of which emerged around the same
historical period – the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the
twentieth century – and all of which emerged out of, and were made
possible by, the trajectory of work on the crowd that was popularized
by Le Bon.

Social psychology

Le Bon popularized the ideas of other continental thinkers who

presented the masses when together in a crowd as an easily swayed and
oversuggestible mob. His book was enormously influential. Not only
was it translated into English, being widely read and quoted, but it was
also the stated basis both of what became social psychology and of
Freud’s work on the psychopathology of groups. Indeed, while both
claimed to take as their basis the individual in a group, their starting
point was actually not any group but the masses in a crowd as the
prototype of all groups. Thus group behaviour was inherently a
problem and, furthermore, a problem of irrationality. What needed to
be produced was the rational individual away from the swaying power
of the group. In this way, individual/society dualism (Henriques et al.
1998) was enshrined in this account. There was an understanding of a
pregiven human subject – the individual – less able to withstand the
forces of society, imposed from the outside, because of an inherent
vulnerability and oversuggestibility. Rationality, in this model, became
naturalized. It was a state untainted by external forces but the basic
building block of nature itself (Walkerdine 2000).
Thus was produced the modernist concept of the subject. If the
subject was fundamentally rational, it was the external forces that could
render the subject animal and instinctual. What had to be built up was
a psychological model in which the protorational subject was internally
fortified against the threat of external influences and hence invulner-
able to the irrational evil that they represented. It is here that we get the
modern conception of the developing child who is naturally rational
but whose emotional processes have to be fortified into a strongly
bounded and autonomous ego so that irrational forces and processes
can be viewed rationally. And it is this which Freud picked up on in
particular, almost paraphrasing Le Bon and adding his own twists,
attempting to demonstrate that crowds (or groups) bring out infantile
Mass psychology 35

fantasies and lay the easily swayed masses open to the power of the
hypnotic suggestion of tyrants.
For example, Freud (1923) wrote that

if we assume that the most general features of unconscious mental life

(conflicts between instinctual impulses, representations and substitutive
satisfactions) are present everywhere, then we may reasonably expect that
the application of psychoanalysis to the most varied spheres of human
mental activity will everywhere bring to light important and hitherto
unattainable results… the main motive force towards the cultural develop-
ment of man has been real external exigency, which has withheld from him
the easy satisfaction of his natural needs, and exposed him to immense
dangers… This already involved the renunciation of a number of instinc-
tual impulses which could not be satisfied socially. With the further
advances of civilization, the demands of repression also grew. Civilization
is, after, based on the renunciation of instinct. (SE Vol. XIX: 206–7)

The psychoanalysis of groups

We can see that Freud, who wrote the above as a section in an

encyclopaedia, takes the model of animality (although later commenta-
tors argued that Freud used the word ‘drive’ and was badly translated as
‘instinct’) and argues that civilization demands a renunciation of
animality to produce a human being suited to the exigencies of civiliza-
tion. In his paper, ‘Group psychology and the analysis of the ego’
(1921), he developed this argument to suggest that this process was
hindered by the crowd. (Importantly, Freud used the words mass
enpsychologie in German, and the translators note that they have used
the term ‘group’ to refer to both ‘mass’ and ‘crowd’, making it perfectly
clear that all of these writers are talking about the masses.)
This paper begins with a consideration of Le Bon’s book as its
starting point, agreeing that the mass provides a heightened
suggestibility, a contagion and a hypnotic effect. Freud develops this
idea by suggesting that it provides a basis for a group in which the
collective mind produces a ‘group hypnosis, like being in love’ based
entirely on sexual impulses that are inhibited in their aims and puts the
object in place of the ‘ego ideal’ (SE Vol. XVIII: 143). So Freud
develops the whole idea that Le Bon put forward by relating it to his
theory of sexuality. Such thinking was central to the ideas that
36 Mass Hysteria

underpinned the notion of the masses in the twentieth century (and we

can certainly see their resonance in more recent accounts of cults, for
example of football hooliganism, of the banality and triviality of mass
media such as docusoaps and chat shows, and more particularly, as we
shall see later in the book, of the death of Princess Diana). We are
trying to demonstrate that such ideas are not simply given but arise in
certain historical conditions of possibility, which then have real and
material effects in terms of how the masses are constituted, understood
and acted upon.
It is important to note that such thinking was not confined to the
right or the centre of politics. Such ideas held considerable currency
because they were incorporated into technologies of social regulation.
Indeed, followers of the French Revolution were very supportive of the
liberal and radical potential of a rationality based on science. So, for
example, Thomas Payne, the author of the Rights of Man, whose
writings became the basis of the American Declaration of Indepen-
dence, argued that people were fundamentally rational.

Karl Marx

If we move to the example of Karl Marx, it is true that he was also a

man of his time. Psychology was a central component of his theories of
ideology in the sense of his arguments that, in order to transform the
relation of workers to the ownership of production, they had to
develop a politics that constructed the Working Class as a class
conscious of its own history of oppression and exploitation. For the
masses to organize, they had to become that class, this requiring a shift
in consciousness in which they could come to recognize their true and
historic mission and not have their sight and consciousness clouded by
the obfuscating mists of ideology. So, to take a recent example, the
crowds surrounding the death of Princess Diana were understood by
some as a hysterical mass and by others as an example of ‘people
power’. For Marx too then the mass mind was a problem, one that
could only be resolved through a change in consciousness. However, he
of course took the crowd to be a fundamentally protosocial force,
rather than a protoreactionary one. Nevertheless, the state of mind of
the masses was still not considered to be acceptable to make the revolu-
tion in and of itself. The mass mind had to become the object of
transformation through a vanguard of intellectuals who would help
them see the way.
Mass psychology 37

Through all this we can see that the mass mind had become a
heavily contested space, but in no account was that mind ever
presented as anything other than being in need of transformation. It
could then be argued that ‘the masses’ were created as an object with
pathology and the necessity of transformation written across their
bodies and minds.

Murderous children

It is 1993. In Liverpool in the north west of England, a small boy,

James Bulger, is murdered by two ten-year-old boys. Although there is
no evidence to support it, there is much discussion about whether the
two boys had watched a horror video called Child’s Play 3, which
contains Chucky, a murderous and evil doll. It matters not in this
particular instance whether or not the boys had watched the video.
What is far more interesting for our purposes is the way in which,
frightened and angry, the judiciary and others, searching for some
rationale, some way of understanding this horrific crime that shatters
ideas of childhood innocence, and searching for something to blame,
turn to the effects of the media. Once again and oh so easily, we are
transported to a set of explanations that have been in place now for so
long: the over-suggestible and irrational minds of the masses make
them so much more vulnerable to the effects of outside influences, so
much more easily led by the media for example.
What we are pointing to here is not that the James Bulger case gives
us no cause for concern, for we could of course have picked many such
examples from the debate about the effects of the film Natural Born
Killers to the Mendez case (where two brothers in California killed
their parents in the early 1990s), but the recognition that a set of
discourses are already in place through which we can understand what
those boys did as the result of vulnerable working-class minds. The
story that we are signalling is that almost all psychological work on the
media, and indeed most other work that professes to oppose the
psychological models (such as cultural and media theory based in some
way or other on Marxism), depends upon an understanding of the
relation of a vulnerable psyche to a vulturous media. In so much of the
literature that emerges, middle-class rationality as an acceptable way of
viewing and responding to the media is counterposed with the stark
irrationality of the dangerous classes. To be sure, there is a huge
variation between the different schools of thought, from psycho-
38 Mass Hysteria

analysis to experimental social psychology for example. But they,

nevertheless all share something, and that something begins with what
we have outlined in this chapter – the relationship of the emergence of
social psychology to the understanding of the masses as being over-
suggestible and vulnerable. And lest the reader be thinking that the
models in cultural and media studies are thankfully opposed to all this,
it is perhaps useful to point out the obsession in this literature with
whether the masses have been taken in by bourgeois ideology, whether
the media, or particular programmes, are reactionary or progressive
and thus whether, at last, ever, the masses will realize the extent of their
chains and rise up rather than being taken in hook, line and sinker by
the media moguls of Hollywood. Cultural studies may turn to different
theories, but their central concern, the masses, the working class, and
their obstinacy to change, is one and the same. It is to these approaches
which have characterized the study of audiences and the mass media
that we will now turn.
Chapter 3

Studying media consumption

‘Woman knifed sailor after getting idea from video killer.’

A mother lured a sailor into a Portsmouth side street and stabbed him in
the stomach after getting the idea from the sex thriller, Basic Instinct. (The
News, 17 August 1995)

This article, which appeared in a local evening newspaper, is an

example of the common way in which the media (especially violent
and sexually explicit media) are discussed, judged and evaluated. A
‘dangerous woman’ who, as the article goes on to establish, was
‘mentally unstable’ was corrupted by a sexually explicit and violent
video. Psychiatrist Dr John Stone, of Knowle Hospital, Wickham,
said the woman suffered from psychotic depression and that, on
the night of the attack, alcohol had been a factor causing her to stab
the sailor.
This stabbing precipitated a discussion in the Portsmouth Evening
News about ‘sex and violence’ in the media, ‘at-risk’ individuals and
copycat killings. Again the parameters of the debate were discussed
through some of the historically specific constructs central to psycho-
logical approaches to the mass media. The same old assumptions were
made about the mass mind being psychopathological, irrational,
suggestible and contagious. This assumption is largely constituted in
relation to the set of fears underpinning ‘effects’ research, that the mass
media is a central cause in increasing antisocial behaviour in society
(particularly escalating violence and aggression).
The media became an object of psychological study through its
constitution as a main factor that could distort or interrupt individuals’
rational development, making them more open to forms of behaviour

40 Mass Hysteria

now considered precivilized and primitive. The media’s so-called anti-

democratic tendencies could act upon those who were seen to be more
vulnerable to its effects, usually women and children, especially those
from poor families and different ethnic groups (Berry and Mitchell-
Kernan 1982). The concepts of vulnerability and suggestibility
underpin the ways in which human development is understood within
traditional psychology. The endpoint of human development is the
achievement of a particular set of psychological propensities, usually, as
we have seen, independence, autonomy and so forth. The ‘developing
child’ has to go through a process of fortification in order to be able to
control his or her behaviour and remain relatively autonomous from
societal influences. Parental conditions are understood as either facili-
tating these capabilities or thwarting so-called ‘natural’ development
(Schramm et al. 1961). In this view the media is potentially dangerous,
acting upon those who ‘lack’ the moral integrity needed to conquer the
effects produced through demoralizing agents such as television and
other types of media.
The media is seen to have its effects through a process of desensi-
tization, whereby those skills and capacities central to civilized
conduct are eroded and broken down through exposure to particular
media presentations. One of the pinnacles of civilized conduct is,
according to many psychologists, an individual’s capacity for self-
control (cf. Eysenk and Nias 1978). The breaking down of this
capacity is viewed as a regression or reversion to more primitive
modes of conduct and behaviour. Within these accounts violence is
viewed as a pathological response, a display or expression of more
primitive and savage modes of conduct. This quasi-evolutionary way
of understanding human formation also contributes to the notion
that there are always ‘others’ who have not acquired these modes, or
whose acquisition of these particular psychological propensities is
shaky and prone to error. Thus ‘errors’ in rationality and a set of fears
surrounding the media were brought together in relation to a notion
of the vulnerable individual.

Effects research

The psychological literature documents a range of ‘media effects’ in

relation to the ‘problem of the vulnerable individual’, from behavioural
disturbances, including increased aggression and arousal, to a range of
psychopathological symptoms. In some cases the ‘distortions’ in
Studying media consumption 41

thought, feeling and conduct seen to be produced by the media are

explicitly linked to a lowering of self-control or impulse control. In an
article in the British women’s magazine Cosmopolitan, in the April 1996
edition, the ‘psy expert’ Sidney Crown blames the rise of chat shows for
producing addictions culminating in a person losing his or her capacity
for self-control, stating that although ‘most of us can control our
impulses and eventually turn away – or not look at all – there is a danger
that some people get addicted and start wanting it in increased doses’.
He is particularly concerned that such programmes could be a risk if
they helped ‘to produce people who are always watching but never
doing, never interacting, never experiencing’.
Within these kinds of formulation, there are of course always
certain ‘types’ of person who may be more suggestible, unable to
question and critically engage with the content of the media. In the
psychological literature, class is directly implicated, those from
working-class backgrounds being seen, because of the influence of
particular parental styles (seen to differ from those of the middle class)
to have lacked the child-rearing conditions appropriate for the
development of rationality (Hodge and Tripp 1986). Barlow and Hill
(1985) reproduce these differentiations in the following quote
discussing the range of factors surrounding media influence:

The indications suggest that the short-term harmful effects do not last
long in normal, healthy children especially when there is wise parental
support, and a secure family and home environment. Where such basic
security is lacking, the harmful effects may last longer. (p. 165)

Hodge and Tripp (1986) similarly link a ‘lack’ of particular psycho-

logical capacities with those children from working-class backgrounds:

These children (working class) show a lack of complexity and coherence in

their paradigmatic structures. This should lead to less complex and
nuanced judgements, more black and white thinking. They use passives
less often. They are likely, therefore, to show more of what Witken called
field-dependent thinking, or what Bernstein called object-oriented percep-
tion and a restricted language code. (p. 95)

The link between the ‘lack’ of particular psychological capacities,

specific social conditions (including child rearing) and a ‘set of fears’
surrounding the media set the parameters within which the James
Bulger case was debated within the public domain (see Chapter 2). The
42 Mass Hysteria

trial of the two ten-year-old killers revolved around two key questions –
were they victims of ‘video nasties’, or could their actions be explained
in terms of social/psychological factors? A central account created in
the media panics surrounding the killing was that the boys were ‘evil
monsters’ lacking moral integrity and responsibility (The Times, 23
November 1993). The children’s parents came under scrutiny,
condemned for their inability to guard their children from the ‘darker’
instincts once again viewed as part and parcel of childhood. Both the
killers’ families were discussed by Smith (1994) as having histories of
poverty, deprivation and constant emotional turmoil. Within the
context of these backgrounds, the watching of particular videos was also
viewed as being partly morally responsible for their evil actions. We can
see some of the themes we have already discussed setting the parameters
within which the killing and the children’s motives were discussed.
Smith (1994) identified a set of factors, discussed throughout the trial,
that were viewed as being centrally causal and responsible for the
violence that ensued. These included family background, poverty,
emotional disturbances, the boys’ school performances, low achieve-
ment, bullying, truancy, tantrums and self-abuse.
Although the videos were directly implicated as a significant cause
of the children’s later brutal killings (even though nobody was certain
that the boys had indeed ever watched such videos), there was a desper-
ation to find a ‘cause’, a cause that spoke of the present, to explain why
such a crime had happened now. Were they vulnerable, lacking the
psychological propensity to be able to judge between fantasy and
reality, good and bad, falling prey to the media’s distorting effects? Were
they mad, in need of psychiatric help, or were they simply evil? The
courts decided that they were guilty and therefore to be punished for
their behaviour rather than given psychological or psychiatric
treatment. In other words the brutal killings resulted from their badness
and not their madness. Despite the outcome, the meanings given to the
crimes firmly placed the media and its effects on the agenda.

The quantification of media effects

Despite the dismissal of psychological ‘effects’ research by most contem-

porary media researchers as being methodologically and conceptually
inaccurate (cf. Barker and Petley 1997; see also later in this chapter), it is
this mode of explanation that, as we have seen, frames public debate and
still dominates psychological approaches to the media. Thus if one were
Studying media consumption 43

to enquire into the intersection of psychology and media studies, one

would be exposed to a battery of experimental designs all attempting to
measure the effects of the media on particular individuals. The central
question guiding these studies is one of ‘how’ the media influences an
individual’s thought, feeling and action, in which the ‘how’ is taken to
be a quantifiable amount (cf. Eysenk and Nias 1978; Gunter and
McAleer 1990, for an overview of these experimental studies).
There are two methods that are utilized by researchers as measuring
tools within these psychological approaches: experimental and correla-
tional designs (cf. Liebert et al. 1973 for an example of experimental
psychological approaches to the mass communication process). Both
attempt to measure the effect of exposure to television and other media
forms on people’s attitudes, beliefs and conduct. Within the experi-
mental method, the television programme content is construed as the
independent variable, that capable of influencing the dependent
variable, in this case thought, belief and conduct. Through manipu-
lating the independent variable and comparing any change in the
dependent variable with the situation in a control group, the results are
subjected to statistical analysis, and the so-called effects of the media
are rendered tangible. Other researchers may adopt a ‘correlational’
method, which is favoured by those who undertake ‘field studies’ or
more ‘naturalistic’ studies, that is, seeing whether the number of hours
of television watched in the home varies with the degree of antisocial
behaviour. Several studies in the literature have indicated that a heavy
diet of television at an early age is associated with exaggerated stereo-
typing of sex-role beliefs among boys and girls.
One of the most popularly quoted studies in both media and
psychological research that explores the link between media violence
and increased aggression in individuals concerned the experiments
conducted by Bandura in the 1960s and 70s. These were based upon
the premise that the communication process has its effect through a
simple stimulus–response-type learning schedule. In the experiments
the children are exposed to an actor acting aggressively towards a
Bobo doll, a plastic doll that springs down and up again when it has
been struck. The children are then led into another room full of the
props that are at the actors’ disposal. The children’s aggressive
behaviour is then measured. Bandura’s objective was to see whether
children would imitate or model the aggressive behaviour that they
had experienced. The conclusion of these studies was that ‘experience
helps to shape the form of [a] child’s aggressive behaviour’ (Bandura
1963, 1973: 94).
44 Mass Hysteria

Towards a science of media consumption?

Within the frameworks of explanation utilized within these experimental

psychological studies, the aim is to manipulate the independent variable
(that is, the exposure to or amount of time spent watching television
advertisements) and quantify some aspect of behaviour (the dependent
variable) by measuring attitudes using an attitude scale. A control group
should also be employed, both to eliminate rival hypotheses and to act as
a comparison group. Subjects are randomly assigned to one of the two
groups. After the experiment, the two groups can be compared using a
statistical test measuring the probability that the difference between the
experimental and control group is due to chance.
There are, however, many methodological problems with these
approaches, which are a result of the prior theoretical and conceptual
assumptions. The first is that we can locate a clear difference between
those who have been exposed to television images and those who have
not. This assumes that television operates in a vacuum and is not a
meaning system, which is dependent upon and operates within wider
systems of meanings. It also assumes that the social world can be carved
up into a number of discrete units, which are easily isolated and
controlled in this way. This supposes that one can identify ‘cause and
effect’ relationships in which the television message is presumed to
mean the same thing regardless of time, context or the person’s position
in the world, and that people will act on the basis of these cultivated
attitudes and beliefs. It is not merely that it is not possible to generalize
from controlled, artificial experiments to the wider social context, but
that the relationship of media representations to subjectivity is far more
complex than presumed within these models.
This last point relates to one of the most popular criticisms of the
‘effects’ model in which the image of personhood underpinning the
approach presumes that the person is a blank slate, a tabula rasa
waiting to be filled or injected with the media’s values and beliefs. This
is often referred to as the ‘hypodermic’ model, capturing the passivity
attributed to human subjectivity within the communication process.
This approach within psychology is broadly described as a social
learning model in which the social representations constructed by the
media are internalized by the passive recipient through a
stimulus–response schedule, imitation and modelling (cf. Harris
1989). Through this account of the relationship of media representa-
tions to subjectivity, television is construed as an ‘agent of socialization’
accorded a central role in moulding and shaping a person’s values and
Studying media consumption 45

beliefs. It follows that television does not necessarily produce

detrimental effects as it could play a beneficial and pedagogic role
within the socializing process (cf. Berry and Asamen 1993). Within
this model there is often a call for more positive, realistic representa-
tions and images to cultivate and teach us values that will enhance
society. However, when the television message is distorted, stereotyp-
ical, violent and aggressive, it is more likely within this model that it
will foster increased antisocial behaviour within society. Within this
formulation there is a differentiation made between those values and
beliefs which portray reality in a realistic manner, and those which
distort the ‘real’ and the way in which people come to understand and
act within the world (cf. Eysenk and Nias 1978; Cullingford 1984).

Opposition to effects research

In November 1994 a group of media studies academics met in a hotel

near London’s Heathrow Airport. Their aim was to challenge the very
effects research that they felt to be responsible for the media hype
surrounding the Child’s Play video and the young murderers of James
Bulger. Their conference flyer stated:

In June this year, we circulated a considerable number of media academics,

researchers and other people with related interests, to see if they felt as we
did, that the time was right – indeed urgent – for a conference to deal
head-on with the issues being raised by the resurgence of a very dangerous
combination: powerfully expressed fears about the possible effects of
violent films and videos, especially in relation to the James Bulger trial
and, on the back of that, demands for expanded controls of the media.
Alongside these, of course, came the Report from Professor Newson which
restated the now commonplace, but ever untrue, claim that research had
overwhelmingly supported the conclusion that violence in the media can
cause violence in social behaviour. Those of us who tried to combat these
claims were either ignored, or denigrated for questioning the apparent
‘common sense’ of the Newson position.

Note here the reference to an easy, commonsense assumption that the

media must cause antisocial behaviour. This assumption is very deep
seated, as we have tried to show with respect to its history and to the
way in which certain assumptions about the masses have been the
bedrock of so many taken-for-granted aspects of modern forms of
46 Mass Hysteria

government. Certain kinds of psychological assumption are at the

heart of this process. Indeed, not long afterwards, a BBC Panorama
programme condemned British media theorists for not adapting
American effects research seriously, adopting the commonsense
position that no-one in their right mind could possibly believe that
people were not affected by the media.
Throughout the conference, the theme was that effects research was
simplistic and unsound, and while this might indeed be the case, that is
not the issue that concerns us here. We are interested instead in how,
on the one hand, such research functions, in Foucault’s terms (1980:
118), as a ‘fiction which functions in truth’ and, on the other, as the
stick with which to beat ‘liberal research’, while failing to examine the
deep problems existing in the theoretical formulations of British
cultural studies.
At one level of course the Panorama programme cannot fail to be
correct – everyone knows that the media affects us. But, as far as we are
concerned, the answer is not a simple ‘yes’. We need to examine the
taken-for-granted assumptions in our present home truths (that is,
theories of the mass mind) in order to start thinking things differently.
When the MP David Alton put forward a Private Member’s Bill in the
British Parliament in 1994 to limit the availability of videos to
children, he was operating on the assumption of vulnerable minds,
which he had come to understand simply as an unquestioned given. It
did not occur to him that such an understanding was a historically
produced construct through which the masses had been policed and
regulated, so much so that it had become, in so many ways, one of the
things that we take for granted about the ‘developing child’.
The Home Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons
for the session 1993/94 produced a report entitled ‘Video violence and
young offenders’. They concluded that:

We agree that violent videos will normally corrupt only those made vulner-
able by other influences, but we do not accept that, because video violence is
one among the many causes of violent crime, it should be ignored. We believe
that there is some evidence to support the commonsense view that videos do
have some corrupting influence on the young, which may lead some vulnerable
children into crime, and we support steps taken to deal with this issue.
(emphasis in original)

Note how all the assumptions we have been talking about are simply
taken for granted in this quote; this is what is meant by the idea of a
Studying media consumption 47

fiction functioning in truth. The trouble is that what the media theorists
in the London hotel tried to do was to criticize the validity of effects
research, but not to question its basic psychological premises or the view
of validity as timeless. In a later section of this chapter, we will see how
contemporary media researchers are moving away from what is seen to
be a narrow psychological perception of subjectivity, to be concerned less
with media effects and more with how people actively interpret and
make sense of the media. However, the ‘effects’ model, as discussed
earlier, sets the parameters by which the media is debated within the
public consciousness and is also central to decisions regarding the
censorship of violent and sexually explicit films.

Towards a semiotics of media production

This approach to media influence and its psychopathological effects is,

as we have seen, one of the most controversial and hotly debated issues
in the literature. We seek not to adjudicate between theories or to judge
the veracity of differing experimental studies, but rather to widen the
debate to consider what is being presumed about the nature of individ-
uals and their relation to the social world in which they exist.
We saw in the last chapter how traditional or mainstream
psychology presumes that our sense of self is produced primarily on the
basis of an underlying human nature. This human nature is defined by
certain enduring characteristics, such as self-control, independence,
autonomy and rationality, as we have seen with some of the assump-
tions made in the literature. In this respect the individual is viewed as
an entity that can be influenced only by the social domain and exists as
a pregiven form prior to discourse, signification and so on. The
individual/society dualism (Henriques et al. 1998) that underpins this
approach to the nature and form of selfhood presumes that the social
domain is merely a context welded on to a pregiven individual. This
split between an essential subjectivity or human nature and the social
domain is in direct contrast to approaches derived from semiotics and
discursively based models (see Chapter 1), which reject the notion of a
pregiven individual and view the human subject as being produced and
formed through signifying and discursive practices.
Rather than discussing these issues in relation to the methodology
and politics of ‘effects’ research, we will in this book be offering a
radically different way of approaching the relationship between
psychology and the media. Within traditional psychology of the
48 Mass Hysteria

media, psychology is merely a set of tools utilized to analyse the effects

of the social context, including the media, on the ‘developing
individual’. The object of psychological studies of the media is to
analyse media influence, which as we have seen relies on two key
concepts – the ‘vulnerable individual’ and an understanding that
certain media contents in some way distort or exaggerate the ‘real’.
This viewpoint does not see the media as a ‘system of signification’,
actually playing a role in producing our sense of selfhood, in conjunc-
tion with wider regimes of truth and meaning. It is a ‘simple’
communication model (cf. Chapter 1), presuming that language
merely reflects or misrepresents reality. The mass mind becomes the
site of this mass media psychopathology.
The contemporary body of critical psychological inquiry we will
be exploring in this book constitutes very different relations not only
between psychology and media studies, but also between the media
text and its audience. The approach we advocate in this book is
derived from poststructuralist views of psychology being not merely a
set of techniques for analysing the effects of the media but a form of
knowledge that is embedded within systems of signification such as
the media.
We argued in Chapter 2 that, from psychology’s emergence in the
late nineteenth century, it has been part of a wider apparatus for
governing and managing the population. We suggested that, from
psychology’s inception, it has been concerned with targeting, detecting,
classifying and administering ‘others’, those whose subjectivities were
understood as being lacking and pathological. Here we will be
proposing that, in contemporary media representations of sexuality,
gender, race, psychopathology and criminality, the ‘other’ exists as a
discursive mechanism whereby the ‘psy’ image of personhood – the
fiction of the autonomous self – is maintained and produced as self-
evident. We are suggesting that these representations and the way in
which they continually tell and retell the same stories are part of the
limits by which we come to understand ourselves and ‘others’, by
which we gain a sense of our own identities. The terms and concepts
central to the way in which psychology constructs the ‘normal self ’
enter into actual subjects’ desires, aims, fears and aspirations. We relate
to ourselves ‘as if ’ we are selves of a particular kind, and representations
of the ‘other’ confirm this form of selfhood as ideal, normal and
natural. In Foucault’s terms it is a regime of truth that forms the basis
of regimes of meaning such as the media, underpinning how it chooses
to represent those who transgress the boundaries of normal conduct.
Studying media consumption 49

This approach views psychology and the media as playing a part in

producing the human subject rather than merely reflecting or distorting
a pregiven subjectivity.

Uses and gratifications

Curran (1996) charts the uptake of ‘uses and gratifications’ research in

the 1970s and 80s in media studies as being characteristic of a more
general trend to go beyond the simple idea of ‘effects’ in order to explore
the function that the media plays in people’s lives. As he suggests,
underpinning this shift was ‘the largely unspoken assumption that, even
if the media do not shape people’s thinking, they occupy a lot of their
time’ (ibid.: 127). These shifts also emerged out of the use of qualitative
research methods to explore people’s relationships to the media (that is,
focus groups and interview methods) rather than the quantitative (statis-
tical) modes of analysis favoured by effects researchers. As Curran notes
‘effects’ research, as we have seen, viewed the media as ‘a powerful
generator of influence in discrete behavioural terms’ (ibid.: 128).
Through the use of qualitative methods, researchers found that the
media seemed to serve several ‘psychological’ functions and was ‘used’ by
the audience in different ways depending upon their pre-existing needs.
Here we can see a very different approach from the ‘psychology of
the individual’ being proposed as a way of understanding the role of
the media in social life. A behaviourist approach to subjectivity was
replaced with a model of psychology viewing the individual as a
collection of needs, wishes and desires that might or might not be
gratified by particular media. McQuail (1972) outlined four
domains, which corresponded to the range of individual needs that
the media could gratify. The first was the use of the media as a form of
diversion or escapism, and the second its employment as a form of
companionship for those who are socially isolated. The third is related
to the use of the media to understand and evaluate one’s own personal
identity. It is used as a reality or reference point to work through
emotional issues and conflicts in an individual’s life. This is remark-
ably similar to the way in which an idea of social fantasy has been
used to explain how audiences consume the media and how different
forms of media can gratify different needs in an audience. In these
approaches the audience is viewed less as a homogenous mass but is
beginning to be socially differentiated according to their gender, for
example (cf. Geraghty 1991, 1996).
50 Mass Hysteria

Within these approaches particular genres, such as soap opera and

women’s detective narratives, provide fantasy spaces that are seen to
meet or reflect the reality of women’s lives. Women’s consumption of
these media is linked to the role that these fantasies play in satisfying
women’s desires, needs and wishes, as Geraghty outlines a move from
focusing upon ‘what an image did to women to what women could do
with women’s images’ (1996: 318). According to this work women had
particular needs, wishes and desires linked to their social roles as
mothers, wives, daughters and housewives – the realm of the personal
and domestic – creating specific competencies or skills. These
competencies are seen to be valued rather than denigrated in the
‘women’s genre’.
The fourth area McQuail terms surveillance; this refers to the way in
which the media are used to provide a ‘window on the world’, providing
people with information about the social world in which they exist.
Although there is a move towards a notion that audiences are more
active in how they use and negotiate the media, there are numerous
problems with this account. The needs and desires of the audience are
discussed in a narrow, psychological way. The media are discussed
either as opposing the expression and satisfaction of these needs, or as
providing a space in which they can be met and gratified. The needs,
desires and wishes that the audience may have are not seen to be
socially produced or derived (it is here that work on female genres
discussed above does attempt to examine subjectivity as socially learnt,
albeit drawing on a traditional social learning model; see Chapter 6 for
further exposition). Primarily in ‘uses and gratifications’ research, a
notion of ‘psychopathology’ underpins the way in which these needs
are conceptualized. Implicit within all of the domains discussed is an
idea that the media compensates for something lacking in the person’s
life. This could be a lack of social contact, a lack of the means to deal
with stress and emotional conflicts, or a lack of other ways in which to
understand one’s own life and identity.
This account of the media has resonances with what Curran terms
liberal-functionalist approaches that view the media as taking up a
central ritualized role in society, replacing concrete group contact. The
media are again seen to compensate for a lack of close group contact
playing a cohesive role in society by fostering a sense of collective
identity. Thus through the televising of ‘media events’ such as sporting
events, state occasions (for example, the funeral of Princess Diana) and
so forth, the media create a ‘we-feeling’ (Curran 1996: 127). This ‘we-
feeling’ is taken to be normative, shaping and integrating people into
Studying media consumption 51

the moral standards of society. As we have seen, however, ‘uses and

grats’ research is more individualistic, focusing upon narrow psycho-
logical dispositions as a way of charting the various uses to which the
media can be put. The use of the media to gratify needs (implicitly
understood as a lack) constructs an Other, maintaining a normative
ideal of persons who are self-contained, autonomous and independent,
choosing not to use the media in this compensatory way. This is
especially pertinent if we consider how television and the mass media
have been seen to have an effect on those who are less autonomous and
independent of its supposed influences.
Although these two approaches seem at first sight to be opposed,
the concept of the ‘mass, vulnerable mind’ makes them both intelli-
gible and possible. This model, although individualistic, had begun to
posit a relationship between ‘need’ and social/psychological circum-
stances such as life position, lifestyle and personality (Bryant and
Zillman 1994). Indeed, McQuail’s (1997) recent work on audiences is
very similar to the work pioneered by Morley (1992) in British cultural
studies, examining the relationship of patterns of media use to subcul-
tural identity and ‘lifestyle concepts’ such as social class, age, gender
and ethnicity. Behaviourist approaches underpinning ‘effects’ research
had failed to consider the ‘psychological interiority’ of individuals,
their minds and experiences (Wober and Gunter 1988), and how this
shapes their interaction with the media. The pendulum-like swing
from psychological effects to an account of media cognition, of what
the audience bring to media texts, was a key condition for the
emergence of audience research committed to an idea of the ‘socially
located subject’ bringing to bear on the media text a range of possible
readings or interpretations (Morley 1992).

Further moves to the active audience

The narrow view of psychological desires and needs studied within

‘uses and gratifications’ research has been superseded within media and
cultural studies by a move towards studying an audience who are
viewed as actively negotiating the media in relation to interpretative
resources – expectations, knowledge, attitudes, values and beliefs –
which are then often linked to their developmental age, gender, social
class and so forth. This has been an important area of debate, which,
rather than assuming that the audience passively and unquestioningly
receives the media message, explores the meanings that the audience
52 Mass Hysteria

differentially understand of, for example, representations of race

(Wetherell and Potter 1993), madness (Philo 1994) and sexuality and
AIDS (Kitzinger 1993). This research has argued that the importance
of negotiating the meaning of the televisual text is dependent upon a
person’s access to cultural resources, which may be constrained by their
class, gender and ethnic background.
Morley (1992), one of the leading British audience researchers, has
argued that, in order to understand the meaning of a media text, it is
important to analyse the cultural background of the viewer. He argues
that an understanding of a person’s identity is integral to
understanding the meaning-making process, but that this should be
studied sociologically. ‘Uses and gratifications’ research and psycholog-
ical approaches more generally are rejected as being individualistic and
reductionist. Although we would agree with this statement, Morley
seems less clear about the similarities between audience research and
more social psychological approaches such as the work of Livingstone
(1990). Indeed, as Curran (1997) has argued, audience research
presents a caricature of its own history of emergence that selectively
omits to discuss its affinities with work in psychology since at least the
1940s, which has always been concerned with the mass communica-
tion process and how groups differ in the ways in which they make
sense of the televisual text. As we have already argued, ‘effects’ research
was concerned with the ‘vulnerable individual’, marking out large
sectors of the population as being capable of withstanding media
influence, able to reject the media message and negotiate the media
content in relation to their own social/psychological circumstances (see
Curran 1996 for a further discussion and references to early psycholog-
ical studies that have affinities with audience research).
As we have already seen with work on audiences and soap opera
(Geraghty 1991, 1996), the approach taken is remarkably similar to
‘uses and gratifications’ research in exploring the ways in which partic-
ular genres meet or reflect ‘women’s concerns’, providing a space
through which their needs, wishes and desires can be met. As Geraghty
argues (1996: 315), ‘Women characters on television were not merely
signs of male desires and fear; there was the possibility (by no means
always realized) of characters representing women viewers’ desires and
fears.’ Although Geraghty is committed to approaching the subjectivity
of the spectator in terms of its being socially located, the approach is
firmly based within a narrow psychological social-learning model,
despite the rejection of more psychological and psychoanalytic models.
Indeed, McQuail’s (1997) recent work on audiences reviews the more
Studying media consumption 53

sociological work of Bourdieu (1984) on cultural taste, as well as on

subcultural identity (Hebdidge 1978), as a way of exploring what he
terms the ‘social and psychological origins of media-use’. He cogently
illustrates the similarities between the psychological ideas about lifestyle
underpinning advertising and marketing and the ‘social positional
variables’ currently drawn on in audience research (ibid.: 95–8).
As we have seen, however, audience research generally rejects
psychology. This is rather premature because, if we examine audience
approaches more closely, different ‘psychological’ ideas about the
nature of subjectivity are implicitly assumed. It is taken for granted in
the literature that ‘effects’ research relies upon behaviourist models of
personhood. With the rejection of effects research and ‘uses and gratifi-
cations’ approaches, it is often assumed, as we have seen, that we have
left psychology behind. However, the image of personhood implicitly
assumed within audience research is remarkably similar to cognitive or
information-processing models of the person popular in psychology
following the demise of behaviourism in the 1960s. Cognitive
psychology draws upon particular explanatory concepts that
understand the mind as a system processing, storing and coding
information (Johnson-Laird 1993). This structure is viewed much like
the hardware of a computer that has particular components to order
and process the software – information – in relation to these cognitive
processes. Within this conception of the relationship between the
perceiver and reality, or the audience and the media, it is the media or
reality that is viewed as a passive object to be actively represented by the
audience. People are seen to generate their own sets of meanings and
ways of understanding the world through which they actively negotiate
the media. Contrary to the situation in effects research, the media are
seen to have a limited role in people’s understandings.
The audience are rational and consciously aware, generating
meaning in relation to their own pre-existing ‘cultural competencies’
(Morley 1992). This is very similar to socio-cognitive approaches
within the discipline of psychology (Fiske and Taylor 1991; Resnick et
al. 1991), which assume a particular ‘psychology of the individual’ –
one who is self-aware, self-reflexive and self-directing. Although
committed to an idea of the ‘social subject’, a subject who is formed
through the social, the problem becomes one of explaining how the
‘outside’ gets in. Morley and many other audience researchers have
drawn on the work of Bourdieu to theorize this link, arguing that the
discourses or linguistic resources available to persons are linked to
their structural positioning, which enables or constrains their negotia-
54 Mass Hysteria

tion with the content of the media. As Morley (1992) argues, the key
concern is to explore:

how members of different groups and classes, sharing different cultural

codes, will interpret a given message differently, not just at the personal,
idiosyncratic level, but in a way systematically linked to their socio-
economic position. (p. 88)

Problems with identity

As Hall and du Gay (1996) suggest, despite the discursive explosion

that has surrounded the concept of identity in recent years, it has, as an
analytical concept, also increasingly become subjected to a searching
critique. The concept of identity first emerged in social psychology in
the 1970s, concerned with the influence of significant others on the
formation of self-identity. Tajfel (1981), a proponent of what is known
as a socio-cognitive approach to identity, explored how group member-
ship involved the categorization of oneself as having certain character-
istics as well as the projection of certain other characteristics onto
groups outside one’s affiliation. These categorizations have been
understood as being biased, responsible for prejudice and stereotyping
(Wilder 1986, quoted in Potter and Wetherell 1987).
The key argument of these approaches is that the social world is
‘fuzzy’ and that only through the imposition of certain categories does
the reception of the world become meaningful. To those working in the
socio-cognitive tradition, the perceptual mechanisms underpinning
such attributions are of interest and are often cast in evolutionary terms.
It is not such a great leap to want to understand how the categories that
people impose on their environments are socially derived (Eiser 1991;
Fiske and Taylor 1991). As Potter and Wetherell (1987: 116) suggest,
this has been one of the main aims of ethnomethodology and discourse
analytical methods: to explore how ‘categories are constituted in
everyday discourse and the various functions they satisfy’.
In other words what is of importance is the linguistic resources at
people’s disposal and the ways in which certain resources are utilized in
order to make sense of the world. This trajectory is not so different from
the moves in cultural studies to study decoding and to link patterns of
decoding to competencies derived from one’s social positioning.
However, the use of the concept of identity to study individuals through
Studying media consumption 55

their attachment to social groups and hence shared cultural resources is

entirely problematic. Social psychologists have long recognized that
people are not consistent beings and cannot be defined on the basis of
any fixed, shared characteristics (Potter and Wetherell 1987). Even if the
psychological landscape is viewed as being socially formed, it is still
problematic to view groups of people as homogenous, defined on the
basis of their shared affiliation and access to particular cultural codes. As
Hall and Du Gay (1996: 6) suggest, ‘identities are [thus] points of
temporary attachment to the subject positions which discursive
practices construct for us’. These are positions constructed within
practices that invite or incite persons to relate to themselves ‘as if ’ they
are persons of a particular kind. Hall and Du Gay argue that the key
question for media theorists is to explain audience investment, why it
invests in or takes up one particular subject position rather than others,
in order to construct ‘a theory of what the mechanisms are by which
individuals as subjects identify (or do not identify) with the positions to
which they are summoned (ibid.: 13).
This formulation has resonances with the ‘critical psychology’
approach we are developing in this book. We are suggesting that we
need a theory that can account for investment, for the production of
desire and hence for a subjective commitment to certain discursive
positionings (cf. Changing the Subject, Henriques et al. 1998). We are
arguing that fictions and fantasies of the Other play a key role in the
processes through which people relate to themselves and others. We are
suggesting that fantasies within media products may re-enact and
reproduce subject-positions created across a range of discursive practices
such as schooling, education, practices of consumption, leisure,
advertising and so forth. We are arguing that central to a critical psycho-
logical project is the development of methods that enable us to explore
how the ‘fiction of the autonomous self ’ is translated into media and
cultural fantasies. If, for example, we are produced as subjects who
desire autonomy and choice, how do fantasy relations in cultural objects
such as women’s magazines map onto the production of these desires?
As an example, central to youth culture are the following sets of
resolutions to conflict that revolve around the individual’s self-
determination – it’s down to you, keep on struggling, keep on trying,
focus upon yourself, keep up the hard work, be resilient, strive to be
independent (see Blackman 1999 for a discussion of these in relation to
magazines). We need to focus upon the practices of self-production in
which people engage across various practices and how media products
map onto these desires. We are arguing that the conflicts produced
56 Mass Hysteria

through the various ways in which the subject is addressed may differ
depending upon how one is positioned in relation to the norm
(cf. Chapters 9 and 10).
With the contemporary focus in British cultural studies upon the
active audience and the patterns of decoding made by a socially differen-
tiated audience, many studies have attempted to characterize the range
of readings of a media text that emerge from reception of the media
(Moores 1993). These readings in some studies are seen to emerge from
particular ‘reader positions’ related to a person’s class, race, gender and
age. The implicit reader norm within these accounts is that readers
should be able to resist or read against the dominant message or
‘preferred meaning’. Although there is a notion of the active reader, there
is also a ‘scale of difference’ incorporating the possibility of ‘readers’
receiving certain messages uncritically and unquestioningly. There are
some readers then who may yield to media influence by accepting the
dominant message of the media text. These differences in reception have
been incorporated into scales that are used to judge and classify readers
according to their relation to media influence. In many cases, such as
that described by Parkin (1971), these readings are related to a person’s
social positioning in relation to the dominant ideology.
There are problems with these accounts and the notion of
‘structural positioning’ seen to underlie readers’ ability actively to
negotiate the media. These problems will be directly addressed in
Chapter 8 where we look at attempts within discursive and critical
psychologies since the 1980s to provide an account of subjectivity in
which there is no split between the individual and the social. Despite
their attempt to move beyond the individual/social dichotomy, we will
see the way in which these still rely upon a pregiven subject – a
‘discourse user’. At this point we do not want to get into a debate over
whether the audience is active or passive, and the degree to which this
process is circumscribed by ‘structural positioning’. Instead, we want to
think about the very terms that structure the debate – the
active/passive dichotomy. As we have seen, broadly speaking within
media studies, people are seen to be either active or passive depending
upon the perspective. These terms accord a very different role to the
media in relation to its ability to influence its audience.
In both of the media accounts already discussed, the human subject
is construed as a pregiven entity. Although the perspectives differ in
how they specify this human nature, they nonetheless credit individ-
uals with certain presocial attributes prior to their immersion within
their social worlds. Broadly speaking, the human subject is either
Studying media consumption 57

viewed as a blank slate entirely shaped and written upon through

cultural processes including media influence or are credited with
certain attributes such as agency, intentionality and particular cognitive
capacities with respect to information-processing models of human
nature. Other accounts draw on more psychoanalytic models of human
nature presuming that persons are born with basic drives or instincts
such as sex and aggression that need to be channelled and moulded
through a civilizing process.
In fact, despite their differences, we will argue that all these ideas
underlie the way in which media and cultural studies investigate the
relationship between the media text and its audience. They all presup-
pose a ‘psychology’ of the human subject prior to media influence that
is embedded within the ‘scale of difference’ used to differentiate
differing reader positions or interpretations. Parkin (1971), for
example, distinguishes between those who are more autonomous, able
to reject and resist dominant media messages, as opposed to those who
may yield to the message uncritically and unquestioningly. This scale
or administering of subjects both builds on the idea of the ‘mass mind’
or ‘irrational mind’, those who are more susceptible to media
influence because they lack rational powers of mind, and retains as a
normative image the idea of the self-contained, atomized individual
who does not yield to outside, external forces. This image, much like
that of the warrior, is a reproduction of the very normative image
embedded within psychological knowledge. As we will see later in this
chapter, it is this very image of the human subject which is entirely
historically and culturally specific, emerging in a particular socio-
political context. These divisions made in media and cultural studies
between those who are influenced and those who are not is contingent
upon a particular ‘psychology’ or subjectivity despite audience
research’s rejection of psychology as reductionist (Morley 1992).
It is apparent then that the media and cultural studies move towards
the ‘active audience’ is very much a reaction against the idea that the
media have the power to manipulate the ‘masses’. This opens up a space
for media studies to consider the media as more than just a powerful
tool of the élite, and as potentially creating spaces for audience
resistance and the subversion of dominant media messages. A discourse
of empowerment, of giving the audience ‘a voice’, underpins some of
the more humanist aims of audience research (cf. Geraghty 1996).
This reaction and rejection of the ‘manipulationist’ thesis has also
been charted in relation to the way in which media and cultural studies
approach the realm of popular culture (Lunt and Livingstone 1992;
58 Mass Hysteria

Walkerdine 1997). Lunt and Livingstone (1992) consider post-Fordist

arguments examining the way in which late capitalism has alienated
the worker from mass consumption to the point at which the current
cultural logic could be described or even celebrated as an opportunity
for choice and freedom for the consumer. Cultural products are now
bestowed with a diversity of meanings that can be appropriated and
reappropriated by consumers in the construction of their own personal
identities. The monetary value of goods is inextricably bound up with
the construction of identity and social meaning. These arguments are
central to contemporary theories of consumption, especially in the
context of postmodernist arguments (Crook et al. 1992; Shields 1992;
Polhemus 1994), and view the individual as one bound by ever-
increasing choice and new-found freedom. The consuming practices of
the ‘ordinary individual’ and the ‘sense-making’ practices of the
‘masses’ have the potential to subvert, resist, contest and challenge the
orthodoxies of the culture industries.
Although we are sympathetic to these moves, we feel that they
overlook the historical basis of the constitution of the masses as an
object of media, psychology and cultural studies. We will develop this
thesis in the next chapter, but suffice it to say that if the very parame-
ters with which contemporary cultural theory approaches the audience
are a reaction against the ‘manipulationist’ thesis, simply replacing
passivity with agency does not avoid the historical basis of this
questioning. It is still firmly trapped within an active/passive dualism
made possible by a particular set of historical and social conditions. It
is a reaction against what were taken to be the oppressive assumptions
of media effects models, and, as we will see, reactions are always made
possible by the very concepts and terms they seek to reject. We have
also seen the way in which this reaction against psychology actually
replaces one particular account of ‘psychology’ with another, avoiding
the question of how it is we actually come to experience and view
ourselves as particular kinds of subject, and what role the ‘popular’
plays in this process of subject formation. We will argue throughout
the book that a redefining of the very way in which the questions we
ask, and the assumptions made about the nature of the human subject,
is crucial to a move beyond an active/passive dualism. This redefinition
will involve examining the very historical basis of the parameters of
contemporary media, psychology and cultural theory.
In the next chapter we will examine some of the developments in
social theory that implied a theory of the mass mind and became
influential in media and cultural studies.
Chapter 4

Subjectivity, ideology
and representation

We have argued so far that psychological issues have been a central

component of all approaches to the study of media and culture, even
when the proponents of those theories have stated their critical distance
from psychology. That is, they always implicate the nature and form of
the subject in their work. Morley (1992), for example, presents an
audience theory resolutely set against what he sees as ‘psychology’ or,
more particularly, a universalistic reading of psychoanalysis. While it is
important and admirable that he attempts to understand the produc-
tion of meaning as a dynamic process, he nevertheless invokes a
pregiven psychological subject in a given social position, one who is
being ‘active’. In other words, like many media theorists who refuse the
terrain of the psychological on the grounds of universalism or
essentialism, those very features in fact return by the back door. Morley
argues, for example:

If we are to theorize the subject of television, it has to be theorised in its

cultural and historical specificity, an area where psychoanalytic theory is
obviously weak. It is only thus that we can move beyond a theory of the
subject which has reference only to universal, primary psychoanalytic
processes, and only thus that we can allow a space in which one can
recognise that the struggle over ideology also takes place at the moment of
the encounter of text and subject and is not always already predetermined
at the psychoanalytic level. (Morley 1992: 71)

But who is this subject who encounters the text? For Morley, who is
well aware of the problems of replacing psychologism by sociologism,
the subject is in fact, a social one, situated in a class location, one who

60 Mass Hysteria

decodes television messages in a particular way related to her or his

social location. This position, however, quite simply not only fails to
solve Morley’s original problem, but also adds to it. Indeed, he not only
has a sociologism, but also relies implicitly on concepts that derive
from a universalistic psychology. The psychologically pregiven
decoding subject is a stock-in-trade of cognitive psychology; the
affective emotional dimension has gone, leaving us with an account
that may appear more situated but fails to solve any of the psycholog-
ical problems, simply replacing them by sociology. Morley is very far
from being alone in this position.
In arguing for the central importance of psychological issues to
media and cultural studies, we are not therefore implying that we seek
a return to the very assumptions we criticized in the last chapter.
Instead, we want to explore those psychological assumptions which are
made, even where they are not overtly cast as psychological assump-
tions, and to start to think about how to do things differently. To begin
with, we must address the issue of the mass mind. In Chapter 2, we
argued that the discourses of vulnerability do not unproblematically
describe a real object. The issue of the regulation and management of
the masses makes it virtually impossible to disentangle the idea of
vulnerability from those discourses which read it as a problem.
Nevertheless, we must address the issue that while the discourses and
practices themselves constitute the object that they claim to be
describing, there is still a process of reading going on. What we aim to
demonstrate is that there is no simple pregiven object that can be more
or less fairly represented, but that what the object is and is taken to be
depends on how it is constituted discursively, which is of course itself a
profoundly social act. Let us take an example.
It is well documented in the psychiatric literature that working-class
people are more susceptible to those forms of psychopathology consid-
ered both less amenable to treatment and more dangerous and
difficult. These are usually described as the psychoses (of which schizo-
phrenia is an example). One aspect of a diagnosis of schizophrenia is
auditory and visual hallucinations (Blackman 1994, 1996, 1998a).
However, at a very different historical moment, St Theresa of Avila, a
thirteenth-century mystic, was famous for her visions. Not only was
she not considered to be mad, but she was also greatly revered for the
beauty of her writings and her spiritual insight and teachings. St
Theresa has been the subject of some deliberation on the part of the
French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, whose work we will consider in
the next chapter.
Subjectivity, ideology and representation 61

But visions in thirteenth-century and in twentieth-century Britain

are simply not the same thing. It could, of course, be argued that St
Theresa was actually really mad, a fact that, with the benefit of psychi-
atric knowledge, we can see more clearly. This is the way in which
mainstream psychology rewrites its own history, with a kind of timeless
ahistoricity. The following example from a traditional psychiatric
textbook illustrates how psychiatry records its own history of
emergence as one of progress, truth and certainty: The ‘evolution of
psychiatry has been a central part of the evolution of the evolution of
civilization itself ’ (Alexander and Selesnick 1966: 3).
As we have pointed out with reference to Foucault, however, such an
interpretation assumes that truth is a timeless matter and that
everything we know now is progress and better than we knew before.
The re-evaluation of mysticism at the end of a twentieth century in the
throes of self-destruction might at least give us pause for thought. In
addition to this, the designation of psychosis is far more likely to be
given to working-class than middle-class people even though they may
demonstrate similar symptoms (Hollingshead and Redlich 1958; Myers
1959). Indeed, for some of those very people, learning to understand
their hallucinations as being benign visions has helped them to stay off
the very medication that psychiatry uses to suppress them in order to
make sufferers more ‘normal’ (Blackman 1998a). In other words, there
is a different relationship to the self and one’s experience set out here.
Let us examine then how developments in the 1960s and 70s in
media studies and later cultural studies paved the way for a change in
thinking about media studies and psychology. We will again be interro-
gating the psychological assumptions made in these formulations even
when they are not cast as overtly psychological ones. We will begin by
describing the way in which the study of ideology and consciousness
came together in Freudo-Marxism.

The Frankfurt School

In an essay in 1927, called ‘The future of an illusion’, Freud wrote that:

the masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual
renunciation, and they are not to be convinced by argument of its
inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in
giving free rein to their indiscipline. It is only through the influence of
individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognise as their
leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the
62 Mass Hysteria
renunciations on which the existence of civilisation depends. All is well if
these leaders are persons who possess superior insight into the necessities
of life and who have risen to the height of mastering their own instinctual
wishes. (SE Vol. XXI: 7–8)

Fascism was already on the agenda in Europe, and Freud felt that
the masses would succumb too easily to dictatorship. For Freud, as for
many others at that time, there were the leaders and the led, each
having their own particular problems. It was the need for strong but
fair and democratic leadership that, Freud argued, was important in
taking the masses away from the easy pleasures afforded by dictators.
To understand this, Freud posited his by now familiar model of
infantile wishes and fantasies, and the move from the gratification of
the maternal breast to the production of a strong ego. For Freud,
infantile fantasies were inevitable and certainly not differentiated by
class. However, Freud stated clearly that the masses did not want to
make the move to renounce the easy pleasures (the oral, sexual gratifi-
cations that harkened back to early infantile wishes) and sublimate
these in favour of higher pleasures.
It is not difficult to see how this prefigures both later work on the
masses in terms of their greater vulnerability, because they have been
maternally deprived (cf. remarks about the vulnerability of the James
Bulger murderers), that is, that they have not received enough early
gratification, as well as the media’s view of this as easy pleasure and
gratification, pandering to early wishes that should be surpassed. The
figure of the infantile working class reappears in countless places, and
we will certainly return to it in relation to the emergence of cultural
and media theory in the 1970s. However, a group of sociologists and
social psychologists, all of them Jewish, who had been working in the
University of Frankfurt before the Second World War, and who fled to
the USA at the onset of war, took up this work in an important and
influential way.
They had been especially concerned with Freud’s ideas about the
masses and easy gratification, taking up the idea that the gullible
masses had been easily swayed by corrupt leadership in the form of the
fascism of Hitler and Mussolini. Having moved to the USA, they
turned their attention after the Second World War to the rise of the
mass market, including the availability of both consumer goods and
cheap entertainment in film and television. Using the same arguments,
they attempted to use various means to produce for social psychology
an empirical verification of what became known as Freudo-Marxism.
Subjectivity, ideology and representation 63

Adorno, for example, produced a measure designed to test authoritari-

anism as a personality type.
The ‘authoritarian personality’ was presented as a threat to the
‘individualistic and democratic type prevalent in the past century and a
half of our civilization’ (Adorno et al. 1950: 256). The authoritarian
personality was defined on the basis of a set of traits (enduring features)
that distinguished him from his civilized counterpart. These traits, to
include political conservatism, anti-Semitism, rigidity, conformity,
prejudice, acquiescence, subservience and so forth, were measured by
psychometric tests – tests constructed on the basis of a series of
statements attempting to differentiate the authoritarian from the
democratic. The following statements, for example, were devised to
measure rigidity:

4 Science has its place, but there are many important things that can
never be understood by the human mind.
26 Some people can be divided into two distinct classes: the weak and
the strong.
29 Some day it will probably be shown that astrology can explain a lot of
things. (ibid.: 256)

The test Adorno constructed was termed the F Scale and was used to
‘produce a sound estimate of the relative amounts of fascist potential in
different sections of the population’ (ibid.: 265). This work in particular
was important in preparing the ground for two of the theoretical and
empirical orientations in research on mass media and communication
already discussed in the last chapter: effects research and uses and gratifi-
cations. In their way, each of these traditions has drawn upon the same
underlying assumptions about the mass mind and its gullibility.
Understood as liberal, if not radical, this work certainly did not hold the
media to be an unqualified good, but what was always far more
important was the understanding of the problem of the masses and the
way in which their very irrationality served as the fertile ground upon
which the seeds of capitalism, Fascism and other evils could take hold.
This work has also been important for the development of person-
ality theory and social psychology, creating a range of theories and tests
into the late twentieth century concerned with measuring those traits
which define individuals as less able to think for themselves and
therefore as more subservient to others (including the media). These
terms include the measurement of ‘voting trends’ (Campbell et al.
1960), the ‘inner-directed’ versus ‘outer-directed’ personality (Rokeach
64 Mass Hysteria

1968) and the anti-authoritarian versus authoritarian personality

(Kreml 1977). The traits are more often than not couched in biological
and evolutionary terms (Eysenck 1967).

Marxism, ideology and consciousness

Marx developed his theories about capitalism and the oppression and
exploitation of the working classes around the same time as the
emergence of psychology as a science, that is, the end of the nineteenth
century. This means that his work belongs to the same moment of
modernity, the same search for grand theories and narratives, that
would, for example, explain the universal workings of capital, the
struggles of capital and labour.
Central to Marx’s theory was that the masses had to become the
Working Class, an historical class conscious of its own historical mission.
Class had first been proposed as a system of classification in Britain by
liberal social reformers such as Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army,
who were part of the movement to map and classify areas of cities as part
of an attempt to chart both the spread of disease and degeneracy, and as
part of the emerging strategy of population management. For Marx,
however, class was not simply an occupational category but a form of
consciousness: the realization of oppression and exploitation, and the
role of the masses in making the revolution, was what was necessary to
understand oneself as part of this universal political movement and
hence become Working Class. It follows therefore that one of Marx’s
central concerns was the fact that many working-class people did not
appear to either want or be able to take part in the revolutionary struggle
that he envisaged. His political project, however, required that they did
so, and he thus had to construct an account both of why workers were
not revolutionaries and how they could become so.
It is not difficult to see that the psychology, the mind and
behaviour, of the masses was a crucial and essential feature of Marx’s
account of working-class political action. To understand this, Marx put
forward an account both of ideology and of consciousness. He used
two different analogies to explain ideology: the first was the idea of a
camera obscura, which blocks vision, thus implying that ideology, the
ideas and beliefs of the ruling class, was something which got in the
way of the workers’ ability to see and recognize the true conditions of
their own exploitation. The model of ideology that we have given here
is, of course, necessarily crude and was refined by many left of centre
intellectuals after Marx, as we will discuss later in this chapter.
Subjectivity, ideology and representation 65

Nevertheless, Marx posits bourgeois ideology as blocking the vision of

the workers. Later he proposed a second account of ideology in which
the issue was not so much sight and perception but consciousness.
Bourgeois ideology gave workers a false consciousness of themselves
and their condition. What was necessary was the production of a true
or revolutionary consciousness.
It is not difficult to see that Marx’s model of the psychological
problems of the masses, while apparently originating with the
bourgeoisie, in practice certainly meant a reluctance and recalcitrance
on the part of workers. It is easy to slip from this notion to the one of
an already existent psychopathology among the masses. This is why we
argue that, at a fundamental level, there is less difference than meets
the eye between effects theorists and Marxists. If Marx posited that
bourgeois ideology obscured the workers’ vision and true consciousness
of their situation, a necessary precursor to their political action, there
was a twin problem – the ideology and their consciousness, another
form of individual/society dualism. It is not difficult to recognize
therefore that cultural and media theorists might turn to a synthesis of
a Marxist analysis of ideology, together with an understanding of
vulnerable working-class minds too easily swayed by the easy gratifica-
tions of the mass media and mass consumption. In other words, what
the Frankfurt School took from Freud and which they adapted to fit
into empirical social psychology, cultural and media theorists later also
adapted and adopted, especially in variants of Screen theory, using the
work of Althusser and Lacan (see Chapter 5) and the work of Gramsci.
We are arguing therefore that mainstream media theory and politi-
cally left media and cultural studies, while claiming to be poles apart,
actually share similar assumptions about the mind and behaviour, that is,
the psychology, of the masses. In order both to critique and to go beyond
both approaches, we need to approach that psychology in a different way.
We will now discuss the way in which developments in the study
of ideology and the take-up of European social theory in Britain in
the 1970s produced a new and different understanding of the media
in which subjectivity held a central place. We use the term ‘subjec-
tivity’ because it signals a body of work, from structuralism to
poststructuralism, that understands the subject not as a pregiven
psychological entity, shaped by social forces, but as constituted in
and through the discursive processes of signification itself, as we will
go on to explain. While this work was antithetical to mainstream
psychology, there were of course significant psychological assump-
tions being made, and this work certainly had an important impact
on critical directions in psychology.
66 Mass Hysteria

Louis Althusser

The late 1960s were years of radical ferment all over the world. On the
one hand there were the civil rights and black power movements in the
USA, and on the other there was the Vietnam War, which produced
protests on university campuses both in the USA and elsewhere. This
led to a wave of radicality and an upsurge of new ideas within the social
sciences, particularly social theory and psychology, because of the way
in which students turned to particular radical thinkers to understand
what was happening to them and, increasingly, to criticize their
education and the old-style politics of the left.
In France, at the same time, there was a massive student revolt, which
led to a huge wave of strikes in France and nearly brought down the
government. However, one of the aspects that so troubled the French
students, who were not straightforward supporters of the French
Communist Party, was that the workers did not respond as well as they
had hoped, and certainly not enough to produce the political change
that they had imagined. It was this sense of failure that fuelled the turn to
the work of the French philosopher and social theorist, Louis Althusser.
The students and others on the left were looking for some way to
understand why the workers had not taken up arms in what they had
seen as a revolutionary moment. After all, we have seen in the last
chapter that Marx had assumed that a psychological problem, a failure
of consciousness, lay behind the failure to become the Working Class.
While the blame was ultimately laid on the bourgeoisie and on the
working of capital, there was nevertheless, as we have indicated, also
taken to be something wrong with the masses. Althusser’s work was
attractive because it united the study of ideology, an explanation of the
‘ruling ideas’, with a theory of consciousness, in a Freudo-Marxist
tradition but going a long way beyond existing accounts. Because it
presented a psychological explanation, presenting subjectivity as
produced in and through ideology, it was seen as very important,
especially because it critiqued the idea of a pregiven psychological
subject, separate from a sociological account of society and a theory of
socialization that brought them together.
We will briefly describe Althusser’s approach to ideology, which is
contained in a paper called ‘Ideology and ideological state apparatuses’
(1977), commonly referred to as the ISAs essay. Althusser sought to go
beyond Marx’s conceptions of ideology described in the last chapter,
arguing that ideologies were systems or apparatuses that did not simply
prevent people from seeing, but instead created subjects, that is, the very
Subjectivity, ideology and representation 67

ways of understanding themselves and their relation to the world in

which they lived. The state, he said, possessed a number of apparatuses,
like the school, which was not just a sausage machine producing factory
fodder, as various leftist economics approaches had suggested, but had
the primary purpose of producing ideological subjects through a process
of subjectification or interpellation. Althusser talked of interpellation as
being like a kind of ‘hailing’, the means through which any ideological
subject is known and recognized inside the apparatus. So for example,
pupils are not simply known by their names, John Smith or Mary Brown,
but by any number of practices through which they are designated as
bright, stupid, fast, slow, well or badly behaved and so forth.
These apparatuses were thus taken to create subjects, identities
rather than just ways of seeing or false kinds of consciousness. Indeed,
Althusser posited that this process of subjectification worked both at a
conscious and an unconscious level, and to explain the latter he
invoked the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan. This was very important
because it presented the media and culture as ideologies that did not
simply get in the way of seeing, for example, or create stereotypes but
actually created identities. The process through which this was
achieved Althusser took to be a profoundly psychological one, one
which acted not only on consciousness but on the unconscious as well.

The unconscious structured like a language

The profound effect of this work for Anglo-American radical and

feminist criticism cannot be overstated. The reason for this is that, in
bringing together the study of ideology as the production of identity,
itself assured through a psychoanalysis that understands semiotic
processes as constituting the unconscious, the split between the
individual and the social is dissolved. For the study of ideology is at one
and the same time the study of the subject, the way in which subjec-
tivity is created, rather than a process that from the outside acts upon
already preformed subjects.
Althusser utilized the work of Lacan to underpin his approach to
ideology. Jacques Lacan was the French psychoanalyst who signalled ‘a
return to Freud’ by arguing that his utilization of structuralism in the
form of Lévi-Strauss and de Saussure rescued Freud from charges of
essentialist biologism and represented an undertaking more faithful to
Freud than the work of other post-Freudians. What is important is that
Lacan’s antiessentialism provided a way of understanding the social and
68 Mass Hysteria

cultural as being profoundly carried within the conscious and the

unconscious, not as some essentialist baseline, but rather what Lacan
called desire actually being created in symbolic systems. This was just
what Althusser needed to demonstrate how interpellation might
produce the identity of the subject in a profound yet fictional way. The
importance of this work for the time cannot be overestimated. Adlam
et al. wrote in the first issue of the journal Ideology and Consciousness in
1977 that:

In this account, the category of the subject is regarded as constitutive of all

ideology, insofar as ideology is defined by the function of constituting
concrete individuals as subjects. This process of constitution is discussed in
terms of two notions. The first ‘interpellation’, refers to the condition of
ideology that it constantly calls upon, ‘hails, concrete individuals as
concrete subjects’. That is to say that the place of the individual within
concrete practices of ideology is always that of subject – individuals are
always-already subjects within the practices that constitute them. The
process of constitution has, for Althusser, a duplicate mirror structure, it is
doubly speculary. The subject recognises itself as a subject only on the
condition that it subjects itself to a Subject which provides both the
possibility of this recognition and the guarantee of the efficacy of the
forms of subjection in which the subject is constituted. These forms of
subjection are accepted by the subject, who takes such acceptance as
freedom – so that the subject makes the gestures and actions of his subjec-
tion ‘all by himself ’. (Adlam et al. 1977: 24)

In other words, we have here the sense that liberal democracy

operates through processes that produce subjects in ideology, who
accept the moral and political order because they believe themselves to
be free and the autonomous author of their own actions. The French
social psychologist Michel Pecheux described this process as the forget-
ting of the constructed nature of consciousness, as Woods (1977) put
it, ‘a forgetting of the source and determination of meaning and the
maintenance of the illusion of freedom’ (p. 64).
Such a position was profoundly important to an emerging critical
psychology as well as to social theory because of the way in which the
dualism of individual and society was critiqued. In other words, it does
not replace a pregiven psychological subject with a pregiven society but
attempts to understand the social and discursive processes through
which our understanding of both the social world and the subject are
constituted (see Henriques et al. 1998 for a more detailed analysis).
Subjectivity, ideology and representation 69

To support his notion of interpellation, Althusser borrowed Lacan’s

concept of the mirror stage. For Lacan there is a point in the develop-
ment of the infant when it begins to look at its image in a mirror or
have its image ‘mirrored’ by its caregiver. It is this mirroring which
provides the infant with a fragile sense of its own unitariness. However,
because Lacan is criticizing the notion of an essential pregiven set of
drives or biological instincts, he prefers to think of this sense of unity as
an illusion, one fuelled by a symbolic system that understands the ‘I’ as
unitary, original, rather than fictional and illusory. It is not difficult to
see the way in which Althusser felt that Lacan’s idea of the mirror
provided a psychoanalytic underpinning to his theory of interpellation,
where the mirroring of the ISA provides an identity for the subject that
is fictional and illusory.
For Althusser then, ideology works through the creation of fictional
subject identities at a very deep level – the level of the unconscious –
which is also the level of the symbolic system, since ideology and
unconscious processes, the processes that constitute both culture and
the subject, are produced through signs, semiotic activity. For
Althusser this approach meant that he envisaged a subject created
through ideological processes, and it was these rather than economic
causality that were important on a day-to-day level. While Althusser
retained the importance of Marx’s conception of the economy, he
opposed a notion of a simple economic causality. He argued that the
economy determines ‘in the last instance’, but that ‘the last instance
never comes’.
This was profoundly shocking to traditional Marxism, but it was
also incredibly important for media and cultural theorists because it
gave pride of place to ideological and therefore cultural processes in the
production of subjectivity itself. If ideology was not either something
that obscured the vision or formed a false consciousness of the working
class, but actually penetrated down to the very unconscious itself, what
was to constitute the political way forward in producing the Working
Class? To understand the answer to this, we have to examine develop-
ments in European Marxism in the 1970s and 80s, as we will do in
Chapter 6. In the next chapter we will examine in more detail the
concepts used by Lacan in his approach to psychoanalysis and their
importance for feminism as well as screen theory in media studies in
the 1970s.
Chapter 5

Feminism, psychoanalysis
and the media

In this chapter we will outline in more detail some of the assumptions

that Lacan was making in his theorizing of the unconscious and
examine their uptake in feminism and media studies in the 1970s. We
will also explore some of the critiques of this work that led to its
rejection by audience research.

Basic concepts of Lacanian psychoanalysis

Lacan’s work was used to critique the idea of individual/society

dualism, that is, a pregiven psychological subject made social. The
subject, said Lacan, is fundamentally split, and we can never ever know
the whole truth about the subject because the unconscious constantly
eludes us. The Cartesian idea of the subject – the cognitive and rational
self who knows that ‘he’ exists because he can think – is, according to
the Lacanian view, an elaborate fiction, or, as Pecheux would have it, a
forgetting. What Lacan is interested in is in how this fiction of an
autonomous self is accomplished.
That notion was of course centrally important to Althusser, who
wished to show the fictional nature of interpellated identities. To do
this he utilized the work of two structuralists, the anthropologist Lévi-
Strauss and the linguist de Saussure. From Lévi-Strauss he took as
central universals of kinship structure, which argued that ‘the law of
the father’ was a structure, fundamental to all cultures. This structure
was expressed in what was called ‘the law of exogamy’, the exchange of
women by men. This is best expressed in our own culture as the giving
away of the women in marriage by the father to the future husband.
For Lacan, this law of the father was founded upon a fundamental
Feminism, psychoanalysis and the media 71

fantasy, the fantasy of patriarchy, of the symbolic power of the penis as

phallus, invested as law, authority. To take this notion further, he used
the structural linguistics of de Saussure, which argued for an arbitrary
relation between the signifier and signified. However, where de
Saussure asserted the primary of the signified (s) over the signifier (S),
usually represented as a fraction,
Lacan inverted the relation, stressing the primacy of the signifier.
Thom (1981) argues that the formula is inverted because Lacan
holds that the signifier has priority over the signified and that the
meaning is constituted through the relation between signifiers
(Thom 1981).
While Lacan argues that this accords with de Saussure’s rejection of
language as a name-giving system, or a theory of labelling assuming
that the signified was a thing in itself rather than a concept, he also
modifies de Saussure by positing that meaning does not inhere in
representation but is produced through the relations between signifiers
and the way in which those signifiers relate to each other in the
unconscious. To understand how this works in further detail, we need
to understand something more about the psychoanalytic conception of
the unconscious and how Lacan modifies it.
Lacan argued that signification carried the universal fantasies that
lie at the heart of culture, such that culture is composed of symbolic
systems of patriarchy, the law of the father, that have cultural reality
but are founded upon the fantasies through which the human subject
is constituted. In this way Lacan claimed to have an account of the
constitution of subjectivity that was also an account of the production
of culture. It was therefore profoundly antidualist. In order to explain
how Lacan achieved this, it is necessary to explain how he reworked
some of Freud’s basic concepts and how he opposed other psycho-
analytic work since Freud that had sought to find psychological
underpinnings for the concept of the autonomous subject.
Freud posited the concept of psychical reality as being central to the
way in which we are formed in and through the world around us. He
argued that everything from birth is shot through with fantasy, not in
the sense of fantasy as opposed to reality, but in terms of a necessary
fantasizing by the infant from the moment of birth. In simple terms
Freud argued that the infant cannot be attended to, fed, held, for
twenty-four hours a day. Inevitably, therefore, the infant experiences,
72 Mass Hysteria

albeit in its body, the distress of absence, of loss. Since comforting the
infant for all of this time is impossible, Freud posits this sense of loss as
an essential part of the human condition. To fill in the gap created by
this loss, Freud proposes that the infant itself fantasizes the object of
absence. He describes this as the hallucination of the absent breast. It is
in this sense that he develops the concept of wish fulfilment and
psychical reality, for if the infant is able to create in its own mind the
satisfaction of the breast, this fantasy defends against the experienced
loss. In that sense, he proposes that all subsequent experiences of
presence and absence are lived through that defensive organization.
So psychical reality becomes the way in which we understand the
world through the lens of our defences. If fantasy is inaugurated as a
defensive structure, it follows that the idea of unconscious defences
against pain, anxiety, loss and so forth are part and parcel of the
necessary way in which the human subject has to operate. Later Freud
posits that the child, as it grows up, tries to master in fantasy the
presence and and absence of the mother. He gives an example of a
child playing with a cotton reel, rolling the reel away and saying
‘gone’, then rolling it back saying ‘here’. Freud understands this as an
attempt in fantasy to control the presence and absence of the mother,
who can after all come and go apparently at will. But in addition to
this there is the issue of where she goes to. It is the sense that there is
another, the father who takes away the mother’s attention that inaugu-
rates, especially for the boy, a sense of rivalry that ends in the castra-
tion and Oedipus complexes (see, for example, Mitchell 1974 for a
fuller introduction).
Lacan reworks these concepts in a number of important ways. To
begin with, using structural linguistics, he reintreprets Freud’s ideas of
manifest and latent content. What Freud (1990) argued was that
dreams present ‘the royal road to the unconscious’ and that the dream
thoughts we remember on waking are the surface or manifest content,
the latent content, or deeper unconscious meaning, lurking beneath.
Lacan reworked this using the linguistic idea of two poles of language,
synchronic and diachronic, arguing that metaphor and metonomy
provided the basis for a linguistic interpretation of the unconscious.
Material was held in the unconscious in chains of associated signifiers
instead of chains of association, which is the idea that Freud had used.
Let us explore this by looking at an example of dream interpretation.
Thom (1981) cites the example of a dream that he argues supports
Lacan’s idea that the unconscious is structured like a language. It is a
complicated analysis and not one that can easily be presented here, but
Feminism, psychoanalysis and the media 73

what is important is that the analysis pieces together fragment held in

the unconscious through their phonological relations. The dreamer,
Philippe, tells the following account of his dream to his analyst:

The deserted square of a small town; it is unfamiliar, I am looking for

something. Liliane appears, barefoot – I don’t know her – she says to me:
it’s such a long time since I’ve seen such fine sand. We are in a forest and
the trees seem curiously coloured, with bright and simple colours. I think
to myself that there must be plenty of animals in this forest, and just as I
am about to say it, a unicorn crosses our path; all three of us walk towards
a clearing that is visible down below. (Thom 1981: 448)

To understand this dream, which was recounted in French, we need

to examine the French phonological relations between some of the
words Philippe splits up. For example, he recalls his aunt, who was called
Lili by her husband, licorne, the French for unicorn, place, the French for
square or place, and plage, the French for beach. What Philippe the
dreamer recalls is a complex web of relations between the fact that he
was thirsty when going to bed before his dream, childhood memories of
relations with his aunt Lili and her jokes about his childish ‘Lili, j’ai soif ’
(‘Lili, I’m thirsty’) on a beach and so forth. Lili is phonologically close to
the French for lolo, a childish name for breast/milk. It is these relations,
Thom argues, that make the links in the unconscious through which the
relations of desire are constituted. It is through the phonological
relations – Lili and Lolo, for example – that layers of meaning are
uncovered. It is this kind of analysis (which is developed by Thom in
enormous detail) that allows Lacan to argue that the building blocks of
the unconscious processes are, in fact, relations of signification.
In addition to this, Lacan reworks Freud’s basic idea about wish fulfil-
ment and hallucination. He proposes that because the infant has to
experience satisfaction (the mother comes, the breast and food are there),
but this is always followed by loss, satisfaction contains loss, producing a
desire that exceeds the demand for satisfaction. Because loss is inevitable,
so is desire. It is desire which, for Lacan, is the motor of culture, that
which drives it along and leads to the inevitable production of the law of
the father in patriarchy. This idea of the unfulfillability of desire has been
understood by many as part of Lacan’s basic pessimism about the human
condition. This is partly because it so strongly opposes humanist
readings of Freud in which satisfaction is possible if, in Winnicot’s terms,
the mother is ‘good enough’, leading to the sense of the bolstering of the
ego against loss and a strong, bounded, autonomous subject.
74 Mass Hysteria

Lacan proposes that the infant deals with wish-fulfilment fantasies

by means of a mechanism that he calls the Imaginary. It is this which
was invoked by Althusser, because Lacan uses the image of a mirror that
the mother metaphorically holds up to the child and in which he senses
control and a feeling of his own bodily unity, that he is a bounded,
whole person. This mirror, which the mother helps to create, is an
illusion, the Cartesian illusion of the rational unitary subject. Althusser
and those following him made much of the mirror stage and the
Imaginary Order because it was here, it could be argued, that Imaginary
identities were created inside ideology. Hollywood films, for example,
became understood as prime examples of the Imaginary in that they
constructed enticing identities. We will return to this later. For Lacan,
however, this Imaginary was the realm of wish fulfilment in which the
infant could imagine that he (sic) had the mother all to himself and was,
in Lacan’s terms, the object of his mother’s desire.
But this cosy dyad was a wish-fulfilment fantasy. There was always
something that took the mother’s attention away. Lacan posited that
this something was the third term, the paternal metaphor. By this he
meant that we are not necessarily talking literally about the child’s
father but about that which, in culture, is paternal, patriarchal. It is
this which takes the mother’s attention, which is destined to break the
intimacy of the fantasy couple, a fantasy that must be broken in order
for the child to be able to fully enter culture, the Symbolic Order.
It is easy to see that cultural and media theorists made much of
ideology as the Imaginary Order, with its creation of fantasy identities.
In this scenario, the post-1968 workers were trapped in the Imaginary
and saw the world around them only through the infantile fantasies of
bourgeois ideology. To succeed they had to progress to the Symbolic
Order, where they could see the fantasies of culture for the fictional
constructions that they were. This approach was central to much of
what then followed as media education, in which children and students
were taught to deconstruct films and advertisements, for example. This
idea was both supremely rational, seeming to forget the underpinning
of desire that was central to Lacan, that is, that while it might be
possible to deconstruct, this did not stop the longing for the loss to be
made good. On the other hand materiality and economic exploitation
have for workers disappeared. Reality, in Lacan’s account, remains only
through that which resists signification, so the workers trapped in the
Imaginary begin to resemble the familiar masses caught in infantile
gratification that characterized, for example, the Frankfurt School’s
earlier take-up of Freud.
Feminism, psychoanalysis and the media 75

To enter the Symbolic Order was for Lacan to enter the law of the
father, which is how he explained the castration complex. The law of
the father is what creates patriarchal culture, itself running on the
motor of desire. As we shall see later, Lacan believed this patriarchy to
be inevitable, so this was not a very revolutionary theory. He also
argued that since all of this rested on a fantasy of power over the
mother, the phallus was the inevitable fantasy, the signifier of
signifiers. Woman then was the central fantasy of all. Lacan was fond
of expounding how the phallus was in fact only the signifier of the
symbolic power invested in the law of the father; the phallus is a fraud,
he said. So the apparently solid power of patriarchy rests upon the
little boy’s defence against the inevitable loss of his mother and his
unfulfillable, taboo, incestuous desire to be the object of her desire.
But Lacan’s critique of patriarchal power is double edged, for the
moment he announces it to be a fraud, he also declares its
inevitability. Because he argues that signification is produced in a
patriarchal mode, with the phallus as the signifier of signifiers, he
takes the signifier, woman, to be constituted only as the object of that
fantasy, hence his infamous proclamation that ‘woman does not exist’
except as symptom and myth of male fantasy, accompanied by his
crossing out of the signifier woman. We will go into this in more
detail in due course.
In some ways the masses appear in this approach to be even more
trapped in infantile wish fulfilment (cf. Walkerdine 1997). And
indeed, as in Freud, only a move to rationality will save them. For
Lacan this means a move to the Symbolic Order, that is, the symbolic
system, a pre-established linguistic order in which all sociality
operates. This idea develops the work of Lévi-Strauss, the anthropolo-
gist who understood all social relations as being contained within laws
that govern all societies and are symbolic in nature. Although of
course Lacan was certainly no Marxist, and Althusser adapted his
theory to fit his needs, the Working Class remains a shadowy figure in
this analysis. For Lacan, all human subjects, and not simply the
working class, had to make the move to the Symbolic Order, but the
fact remains that Althusser’s reworking leaves a strong sense that, as
with Freud, the working class are trapped inside infantile pleasures
and desires (codified as symbolic laws and systems operating as both
ideological systems and unconscious processes) and unwilling to give
them up.
Around this time two important developments occurred in the
approach to media studies: screen theory and media education.
76 Mass Hysteria

Screen theory

What came to be known as screen theory was the use of psychoanalysis

to interpret films, which was made famous by the British film journal
Screen in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Taking seriously Althusser’s
take on the media and popular culture meant that there was a
concerted attempt to understand how particular specular identities
were constructed in films, especially of course Hollywood movies.
Typically, writers would construct Oedipal analyses of movies,
demonstrating how the film produced modes of identification allowing
Imaginary scenarios of wish fulfilment to take place.
Cowie (1997) explains how this is taken to work:

specific to the cinema as visual performance is that all the spectators see
from the same position – everyone sees Garbo’s face as a profile – but the
point of view will be continually changing: now close-up, now long shot,
now from this character’s position, now from another’s. In other words, the
spectators look is aligned and made identical to another look, the camera’s
which has gone before it, and already organized the scene. The spectator
thus identifies with the look of the camera and becomes the punctual
source of that look which brings into existence the film itself, as if it was
one’s own look that the film unfolds before one in the cinema. (p. 100)

Metz (1982) adds:

And it is true that as he identifies with himself as look, the spectator can
do no other than identify with the camera, too, which has looked before
him at what he is now looking at and whose stationing (= framing)
determines the vanishing point. (p. 149)

Cowie argues that, with this statement, Metz locks it all together by
arguing that the misrecognition of the mirror phase is allied directly to
the cinematic signifier in the identification with the camera – hence
the same illusion of control and mastery that presents the cinema as an
apparatus of the Imaginary.
In this sense then what people were talking about here was what
was described as ‘a theory of the subject’. Because what was being
implied was a psychological as well as a social process, the underlying
structure of subjectivity was taken to be universal. It was common to
describe the subject as being constituted or produced in the text. This
was to make a strong distinction between this version of the subject
Feminism, psychoanalysis and the media 77

and the one assuming that a pregiven psychological subject was made
social and that films and texts simply described that subject in a
truthful or stereotyped or distorted fashion. It became clear, however,
that such an account also presented a subject, which was passive and so
deeply determined that there was very little movement outside the
bounds of the text. The masses were still not making the revolution
but this time because they were trapped in the identities created in the
Dream Factory, identities that tied into their deepest infantile desires
and refused to let them grow up. Deconstructing the media texts,
however, still showed little way out except by a process of deconstruc-
tive intellectualization.

Media education

In media education, often represented by the journal Screen Education,

a view emerged arguing that media education should teach students
the workings of the media so that they would no longer be caught up
in the desire of identification (what Laura Mulvey, 1975, called a
politics of passionate detachment). Such approaches, however, often
introduced mass psychopathology by the back door, implying that
students who liked mainstream media must be at fault, a problem
which Judith Williamson (1978) encountered when she was teaching
media studies to a class of further education students. She argued that
although they could deconstruct an advert at five paces, being very
clear about how the particular images, subject positions and so forth
were produced, the students actually liked the advertisements and
identified strongly with them, even though they knew them to be
fiction. How then to explain this? Many cultural theorists began
profoundly to oppose screen theory, as we have seen earlier with the
views of Morley. Others wanted to find the positive aspects of
enjoyment and pleasure rather than understanding the theory as some
kind of central ideological problem that should be overcome, though
even here they usually wanted to understand such media and interpre-
tations as progressive and therefore potentially radical for the masses
(see Fiske 1982; Walkerdine 1997).
However, as we have been at pains to point out, this ideological
problem revolved around a question of psychology – indeed a social
depth psychology – which allowed the bringing onto the stage of
certain important issues concerning unconscious processes, but which
certainly did not move in any way away from the problem first articu-
78 Mass Hysteria

lated in psychology and the social sciences at the end of the nineteenth
century, the problem of the suggestible working class.
British cultural studies deeply opposed the idea of the passive
subject. While this had originally taken as its target effects, as well as
uses and gratification, theories in media studies, Althusser, Lacan and
screen theory also came to be understood as producing this overgeneral
passive subject. Psychoanalysis was being taken up in a big way by
some and came to be an important strand in cultural feminism, to
which we will turn in the next chapter, even if it became strongly
opposed in cultural studies itself.
Chapter 6

Psychoanalysis and feminism

Psychoanalysis is one of the few places in which it is not simply assumed

that women fit automatically into place. (Rose 1983: 19)

In the last chapter we discussed the importance of the work of Jacques

Lacan in the development of work on ideology. In the same period,
second-wave feminism began with American women taking a leaf out
of the civil rights movement, arguing not for a mass movement led by
a revolutionary party, as in Marxism, but for a wide-based political
movement without any clear organization or structure. This form of
political action was crucial to new ways of thinking because it was one
of the first breaks with traditional left, male-dominated party politics.
Central to this early feminism was the concept of consciousness
raising. Groups formed in which women would discuss their situation
and ‘raise their consciousness’ about the oppression they, as women,
were suffering. It is interesting therefore to note the way in which, once
more, psychological transformation was understood as lying at the
heart of the political process. The idea of a raised consciousness was of
course not a million miles away from a true or revolutionary one, but
in placing the consciousness of one’s own situation at the heart of
political change, the recalcitrance of the mass mind once again appears.
It is not that we are questioning here the goals of exploring the
personal effectivity of oppression, but rather that we are inviting the
reader to think about the way in which the key to political transforma-
tion is still understood as a problem of psychological transformation, of
recognition as the key to change, although being, of course, far from
the only key. Without it change would nevertheless not be taken as
being able to happen. Ernst and Goodison (1981) put it this way:

80 Mass Hysteria
One of the key stones of the new and stronger women’s liberation
movement, which reemerged in the radical upsurge of the late sixties, was
the small informal consciousness-raising group. Here women met to talk
and learned that what had previously seemed an individual problem (not
being able to cope with others’ demands, feeling powerless or depressed,
taking anger out on children) was, in fact, a problem shared by many. We
learned that these experiences were the product not of individual failure
but of the contradictory demands society makes on all women… We saw
a clear link between our personal feelings as women and the political
structure we live in. Phyllis Chesler has described how women’s liberation
was, initially, more therapeutic than therapy. Women involved in the
movement were generally happier, more confidently active, braver and
more angry. We believed that direct struggle against oppression, in the
home and outside it, together with the solidarity of other women, would
lead to rapid social change. (p. 3)

The debate soon, however, extended not only to conscious

processes, but also to the unconscious: the place of unconscious
defences, fantasies and desires in the making of the feminine.
Femininity had traditionally been understood psychologically in
terms of the concepts of role and stereotype. Such work usually
assumed that the achievement of femininity occurred through the
imitation of significant women in the lives of little girls; so girls
became women through copying their mothers, and such roles were
susceptible to stereotyping, understood as biased and distorted
judgements about what women were really like (similar to the discus-
sion in Geraghty 1996, see Chapter 3). It would be easy to see why
such accounts could be taken as blaming women, but, more than this,
they did not fit at all with the new work on texts or discourse, which
put forward the idea of the inscription of subjects, in which ‘reality’
became a problematic concept. In addition, it is clear that femininity
is not a simple matter of imitation, nor indeed an area from which
emotional processes are absent.
In 1974 Juliet Mitchell wrote a book entitled Psychoanalysis and
Feminism. The importance of this step cannot be overemphasized,
because Mitchell used Freud and Lacan to examine the place of
unconscious processes in the making of the feminine. This is
especially significant because feminists such as Shulamith Firestone
had been fiercely critical of Freud as patriarchal, rounding on concepts
like penis envy. So here was a feminist actually proposing that Freud
should be taken seriously and was moreover centrally important for
Psychoanalysis and feminism 81

feminism. Indeed, Mitchell’s account stressed that what Freud was

arguing was what feminists had argued all along: namely, that if the
penis is the symbol of male power, women are denied access to this
and are offered, and both have to accept and come to desire, a baby as
a substitute. She argued that woman is restricted by society, neurosis
becoming the symptom of that restriction. In this way then, Mitchell
proposed psychoanalysis as a reading of women’s oppression, or, as
Jacqueline Rose (1983: 19) later argued, ‘psychoanalysis is one of the
few places in which it is not simply assumed that women fit automat-
ically into place’.
In the same year, at of course the time at which screen theory was
in its heyday, another feminist, Laura Mulvey, wrote a hugely
important piece on feminism and film theory – Visual Pleasure and
Narrative Cinema. Her work both developed and critiqued existing
screen theory because she was critical of the masculinist assumptions
of a simple Oedipal analysis of a film. Mulvey argued that women
were not well or badly represented in Hollywood film, but rather that
film was a site of fantasy, a place in which woman as a sign was created
and read. To understand this fully, it is necessary to recall Lacan’s
proposal that woman does not exist except as symptom and myth of
male fantasy. This does not mean that women do not exist but that we
can only ever know ‘woman’ through the signs and discourses through
which she is created as an object.
For Lacan those discourses are shot through with fantasy, the
fantasy in question belonging with masculinity. It is the fantasy of the
phallic order, the defence against the pain of the loss of the mother,
which surfaces as a fantasy that the phallus is omnipotent, self-created:
the fantasy of the law of the father. As part of that fantasy, the woman
is envisaged not as being powerful, having the ability to come and go
at will, leaving the dependent baby, but as herself dependent on the
all-powerful man. This is, in psychoanalytic terms, a clear defence,
because it inverts what is actually happening and turns it into
something defending against the pain of the loss. Mulvey argued that
‘woman’ in Hollywood movies was presented as just such a figure:
defenceless, longing to get her man, the powerful woman usually
being understood as evil and being killed off.
Following Lacan, what Mulvey was doing was to suggest that it was
not ever a question of Hollywood movies simply being a place on
which stereotyped versions of femininity, which did not accord with
the reality of what women were really like, were presented. Instead,
such movies were some of the ideological places in which the
82 Mass Hysteria

Imaginary femininity was created. However, because all subjectivity

was created through the medium of signs, there was no place in the
social world in which there existed a reality that escaped those
fantasies. What followed was that, even for women themselves, there
was no way out of the femininity as a fiction, created through male
fantasy. For Lacan this was the effect of the law of the father, the
inevitable and universal, which meant that there was no essential
feminine, no fantasies specific to women themselves, because such a
concept was unthinkable.
Mulvey was actually not as pessimistic. She opted for a different
solution in which the pleasure that women experienced in these
oppressive fantasies could be replaced with what she called ‘a politics
of passionate detachment’. Mulvey saw that avant-garde film-making,
typical of the 1970s, the kind of film technique that showed how films
were made, made the edits clear for example, would reveal to women
the constructed nature of these fantasies so that they would be able
passionately to detach themselves from the filmic identities so oppres-
sively created. Interesting as Mulvey’s idea certainly was, such a notion
was clearly idealist since for one thing it depended upon an educated
audience who could read such signs, it assumed that the process of
watching tied into emotional and unconscious processes but that
somehow the act of passionate detachment was a fully conscious
process, not invested with fantasies, desires and defences.
It is not surprising then that even though her paper was so incred-
ibly important in raising this issue in a very new way, it was neverthe-
less open to all kinds of criticism. The critiques were of basically two
kinds. On the one hand there were those, mostly French, psycho-
analytic feminists who argued that Lacan was completely wrong about
the possibility of fantasies essential to women, and therefore wrong
about femininity. On the other there were those who wanted to
criticize Mulvey’s ideas about the pleasure of the female spectator or
viewer, arguing that such pleasure was not wrong or to be surpassed. It
is to those two critiques that we will now turn.

French psychoanalytic feminisms

Lucia Irigaray is a French analyst whose work was first translated into
English in the pages of Ideology and Consciousness. In the light of the
above argument, it is her objections to Freud’s account of feminine
sexuality that are most illuminating. In her two volumes, Speculum of
Psychoanalysis and feminism 83

the Other Woman (1985a) and This Sex which is not One (1985b),
Irigaray famously opposed Lacan’s use of semiotics to understand the
primacy of the phallus as the signifier of signifiers. She proposed an
entirely Other semiotic, based not on the single phallus or the single
male orgasm but on a multiplicity of orgasms, lips and sexual organs.
Some of Irigaray’s comments are clearly tongue in cheek, but in terms
of a swingeing critique of phallocentrism, they are deadly serious.
Indeed, if Lacan can propose that the whole of language is founded
upon the phallus, from which woman is excluded and can be only the
object rather than origin of discourse, why should Irigaray not posit an
entirely other feminine language based on the duality of the lips of the
labia. Women, she says, have sex organs just about everywhere. For
women then, language and pleasure are not contained or understood
singularly, in terms of one zone. Instead, language and pleasure are
multiple and fluid, fluid like mother’s milk and menstrual blood.
Women’s pleasures and fantasies are thus not described by an Oedipal
analysis or by a singular linguistics.
In this analysis women can have fantasies of their own, and it is this
which breaks the patriarchal law of the father because it constructs
those fantasies in anOther, forbidden language, a language that we
barely know how to speak yet which is written over the body of
woman. The feminine in this analysis is not simply a matter of
deconstruction to reveal the constructed nature of the fantasies
through which femininity is formed; it is the potential construction of
anOther way of thinking: a different metaphysic. It is this that Irigaray
discusses at some length.
Her opposition to Lacan was to propose not that women were
trapped within the patriarchal Symbolic Order but that there was
another possible basis to signification, that of multiplicity and fluids
rather than the single phallus and single orgasm upon which Lacan
bases his entire theory of both language and the unconscious. This
approach sounds very attractive because it presents women with a way
out of the conundrum that Lacan presents. It was, however, strongly
opposed by many women, who understood it as being essentialist
(Plaza, 1978), not solving the problem but simply substituting one
body for another. This move towards an account favouring women’s
bodies and attempting to problematize the masculine has characterized
the work of many, but by no means all, women within psychoanalysis
(see Mitchell and Rose 1982 for a very partial review.) However, the
theme of women’s bodies was continued by other French work, which
we will discuss below.
84 Mass Hysteria

Catherine Clement and Helene Cixous

Clement and Cixous together wrote a book called The Newly Born
Woman (1986), in which they develop the concept of écriture feminine,
or feminine writing. It can again be seen how this acts as a critique of
Lacan’s assertions about the phallocentrism of language. Clement and
Cixous base their analysis on the idea of the girl’s experience of her
mother’s body as a positive force, allowing the possibility of ‘writing
woman’ and therefore of a different account of representation.
The debates about this work surfaced most forcefully in relation not
to film but to fine art. While Lacanian-inspired artists such as Mary
Kelly (1983), for example, argued that, because of the male gaze, it was
possible for feminist artists not to present women as objects of art but
only to portray them as the fetishes of ‘woman’, others, such as Nancy
Spero (1989), were hailed as producing an artistic version of feminine
writing – feminine painting. Spero did not desist from presenting
images of women and indeed, in one piece of work, she copied figures
from Greek friezes in which women carried huge phalluses, as if to make
a clear statement about what she thought of Lacan and all his talk of the
phallus. Thus, the debate came to consider whether it was possible to
present women’s bodies in a way that could not be recuperated through
a patriarchal gaze. Some artists and film makers, for example, argued
very strongly that women’s bodies were so fetishized that it was
impossible to show them, while others tried precisely to invent new
ways of writing, presenting.
Again and again these women try to specify a difference from Lacan
in terms of the issue of the possibility of femininity. And in each case,
they conclude that femininity is multiple, dispersed and non-unitary. It
does not take long to recognize that these characteristics are the very
ones ascribed to subjectivity in postmodernity. Such concepts of
femininity then blow open the phallocentrism of European rationality.
They offer a profound challenge to a Lacan who, while claiming that
the phallus was the biggest fraud and fiction of all, could not counten-
ance that there could be anything other than the law of the father, even
given its profoundly fictional and defensive status.

Women’s pleasure

It is not surprising that, even given Mulvey’s intentions in producing

passionate detachment for women, many women in media studies
Psychoanalysis and feminism 85

wanted to find another way to talk about women’s pleasure, one that
did not understand it as a reactionary force that had to be gone
beyond. Such was the antipathy to psychoanalysis that developed in
response to Mulvey and Lacan that some women wanted a return to
sociology, to clear ethnographically based empirical work, which
related to textual analyses of film and televisual texts. To look at
women’s pleasure, they argued, it was necessary to examine what
women actually did, what they watched and the meanings that they
created, actively, through interaction with the texts. In this work then,
there was a rejection of the idea that subjects were created in textual
relations themselves, and a movement towards a critique of the idea
that such overdeterminism could actually describe what happened to
all women when watching. This view has a lot in common with the
position of Morley, which we described in Chapters 3 and 4, and, more
generally, with the anti-psychologism of cultural studies.
It is, however, important to note that this work attempted to engage
with specificity in that it tried to read off the subjectivities of actual
viewers from the film or television text. In that sense it was very
important. In addition to this it attempted to counteract the pessimism
of the pro-Lacanian position that all representations of women were
necessarily a problem for women. In that sense it could also be argued
that it moved away from a grand totalizing theory of femininity towards
the idea of specific gendered subjectivities within cultural locations.
This move is extremely important and cannot be overestimated in
its critique of overgeneral theories. However, as we have been at pains
to point out, the rejection of screen theory does not mean either that
psychological issues become redundant or that psychological theorizing
is absent from the assumptions made by these writers. They are at pains
to construct a social subject, but they are in danger of bringing back
the pregiven psychological subject by the back door. The work is both
important and voluminous, and cannot be adequately covered in a
volume such as this. Nor would it be fair to suggest that all of the
writers neglect the realm of the psychological. It important to point
out that screen theory allowed the crucial exploration of socially and
culturally located subjectivities, a necessary step, but that the hopes of
these writers cannot be accomplished without an understanding of the
psychological discourses and practices within which psychology is
inscribed, which aid the production of those situated subjectivities. It is
this baby that these writers tend to have thrown out with the bathwater
of screen theory. We are at pains to begin to point towards a way in
which that psychological work might be accomplished.
86 Mass Hysteria

It might, however, be useful to summarize the different positions

that have been adopted since the concerns over Mulvey’s. Geraghty
(1996) provides a very useful summary, and it is on this that we will
rely. The pro-psychoanalytic work tended to concentrate on different
ways in which the problem of the male gaze could be overcome. So, for
example, Mary-Ann Doane et al. (1984) concentrated on the fact that,
for a girl or woman, there was no point in denying the reality of her
lack of penis, so that the need for voyeurism was absent. The female
spectator’s desire, they suggested, could be characterized by narcissism
and overidentification. The female spectator wants both to become the
image and weep in identification with the predicament of the women
in the narrative (Geraghty 1996: 314).
Alternative work in particular wanted to place in the frame a
number of other extra-cinematic factors. In other words, what these
writers were trying to bring to the debate was an understanding of what
female viewers brought to the practice of viewing as well as the domestic
location of the practices themselves. There is now a great deal of work of
this kind that uses various theoretical frameworks to understand these
issues, for example Geraghty, (1991) on soap opera, Gray (1992) on
video, Stacey (1994) on female fans, Hobson (1990) on office viewing
and Ang (1985) on Dallas fans, as well as work focusing on other media,
such as Radway’s (1987) study of women readers of Harlequin novels
(the US equivalent of the British Mills and Boon books).
This body of work is important in being able to specify the particu-
larity of viewing practices and therefore in moving away from a
monolithic and overarching subject produced solely within one (film)
text. However, all the same criticisms we made earlier about audience
research can be lodged at the door of this work. There was another body
of work that began to emerge which also questioned this monolithic
view of psychoanalysis, and it is to this that we will now turn.

Postmodernity and femininity

Another critique of the psychoanalytic work relates to a postmodern

rejection of depth explanations. It is necessary in this context briefly to
review the work of a number of writers, notably Rosi Braidotti, Donna
Haraway and Judith Butler. Both Braidotti and Butler use psycho-
analysis but in a completely different way from the early work.
In their own way each of these writers attempts to rework an
understanding of femininity in a manner that goes beyond grand
Psychoanalysis and feminism 87

metanarratives of modernity. By this we mean that femininity is to be

understood not as a transcultural and transhistorical concept but as a
mode of subjectivity or embodiment that is created in very specific
situations and very specific ways.
Judith Butler (1990, 1993) develops the concept of performativity,
which views gender as a performance created in discourse. In
attempting to understand this, Butler uses a blend of poststructuralism
and psychoanalysis, specifically reworking concepts of identity and
identification, which, as we have seen, have been so influential in
screen theory. She particularly discusses the relationship between the
identity woman as a phantasmatic site, that is, one that invests a great
deal in the possibility that all women are exemplars of woman and that
while this may indeed be a fantasy, it is a necessary one in terms of a
unity necessary for feminist struggle.
For the Lacanians too, of course, woman was a fantasy, and a
patriarchal one at that. But for Butler the issue is more about how
fantasy operates in particular ways. She refers to the work of Zizek
(1989) on ideology. He utilizes Lacan but is interested in
understanding how the masses can follow a leader or an ideology while
cynically recognizing that this is not the truth. While Butler is not
interested in the masses, we can see that the role of consciousness
within a political movement, feminism, has been displaced by a more
complex psychological project. No longer will the raising of conscious-
ness be enough to recognize one’s oppression as a woman; the category
woman itself has to be open to scrutiny. We need therefore to
understand how fantasy operates within her schema.
The position Butler articulates blends psychoanalysis with
poststructuralism and has some affinities with the position taken by
Henriques et al. in Changing the Subject (1998). Butler is keen to point
out that psychoanalysis as metatheory reproduces that false coherence
in the form of story line about infant development where it ought to
investigate genealogically exclusionary practices conditioning that
particular narrative of identity formation (Butler 1990: 334). She
argues that identification is defensive: we take up identifications not
only to receive love, but also to deflect it and its dangers; we also take
up identifications to facilitate or prohibit our own desires. In each case
there is an interpretation at work, a wish and/or fear as well, the effect
of a prohibition and a strategy for resolution (1990). Butler adds that
one does not have fantasies, and neither is there one who lives them,
but instead the fantasies condition and construct the specificity of the
gendered subject with the enormously important qualification that
88 Mass Hysteria

these fantasies are themselves disciplinary productions of grounding

cultural sanctions and taboos. If gender is constituted by identification,
and identification is invariably a fantasy within a fantasy, a double
figuration, gender is precisely the fantasy enacted by and through
corporeal styles that constitute bodily significations.
It is here that Butler blends psychoanalysis with Foucault,
suggesting that psychical processes are not about originary stories of
development but about fantasies embodied within particular discursive
formations. It is in this sense that Butler is able to understand gender as
being performed through corporeal styles and bodily significations.
While this has some affinities with earlier psychoanalytic work on
femininity as a masquerade, there is sometimes a temptation, within
‘performative’ work, to understand gender as only surface performance
and to ignore the complexity of the psychical, body and cultural
relation that Butler proposes. Indeed, there is also sometimes the view
that, because gender contains performative elements, we can be
whatever we want, that gender is something you can choose to take on
and off, much like the choice of clothes one makes in the morning.
Such voluntarism misreads the complexity of what Butler is saying. She
makes it clear that, following Foucault, fantasies are not internalized
but incorporated.
Here the use of Foucault connects the fantasies with discipline and
regulation, through which the subject is constituted. There is no
central psychical process that presents the underlying psychical core of
the subject. It is instead the complex fashioning of desire through
regulatory processes, which produce subjects, that is at stake here.
Butler exemplifies this by reference to work on drag, arguing that drag
fully subverts the disjunction between inner and outer psychic space
and effectively mocks the expressive model of gender and the notion of
true gender identity. Female impersonators appear to be saying on the
one hand that while their appearance is feminine, they are masculine
underneath, whereas they can also be understood as making the
opposite statement – that they appear underneath to be masculine
while being feminine inside.

The nomad, the hybrid and the cyborg

There are a number of concepts used by Butler, Braidotti and

Haraway that are an attempt to move away from essentialism: the idea
of a natural and essential femininity as well as a fixity of place.
Psychoanalysis and feminism 89

Haraway (1991) uses the concept of the cyborg in opposition to the

idea of woman as goddess. She wants to draw our attention to the
constructedness and monstrousness of femininity, making this a
virtue, by arguing that it is only by being a hybrid, a mutant, that we
can begin to think up other possible ways of being. Braidotti uses the
concept of the nomad to understand the metaphorical placing of
women, as in the writing of Virginia Wolf, of having no country. It is
by recognizing the impossibility of roots, of fixity, of belonging in a
culture riven by movement and migration, that something new can be
built on the basis of that absence. In addition to this Haraway
understands the possibility of producing knowledges that are situated,
local and counter to the metanarratives of patriarchal modernity. It is
the local, the specific, the subject created in distinct practices which
these writers all favour. We take this to be an important direction in
terms of how a different kind of critical psychological media work
might be undertaken. In the next chapter we will begin to explore the
impact that some of these wider debates had on the academic
discipline of psychology. We will also review the theorizings of
postmodern writers who, although useful to our argument, still make
psychological assumptions in their theorizings.
Chapter 7

Postmodernity and the psychological

While these developments were happening in social theory and cultural

and media studies, what was happening in academic psychology? It
might seem that we have been describing developments in psychology
all along, but it is important to note that academic psychology, in the
Anglo-American tradition at least, had taken a very antipsychoanalytic
path, as we shall see later. Therefore, the developments we discussed in
the last chapter, for example, happened largely outside the framework of
psychology and indeed had more impact on sociology departments than
on psychology. However, like everything else, psychology was not
immune from the politics of the time. During the 1960s, and during
the civil rights movement, there were debates about intelligence-opposi-
tion to right-wing views that intelligence was inherited and that black
children’s intelligence was inferior, there were debates about mental
illness, with RD Laing’s classic work on schizophrenia, and there were
radical psychologies, typified by David Ingleby’s chapter in Trevor
Pateman’s Counter Course in 1972.
There were in particular different versions of what ‘radical’ meant,
ranging from making psychology more in line with basic and essential
human needs (humanism), which were liberationist in inspiration in
the sense that they wanted to liberate the ‘real and essential’ psycholog-
ical subject. Counter to this were the antihumanisms, which sought to
explain psychology as being the product of social forces. Marxist
psychologies were often of both varieties. A common theme was to
understand psychology as a pseudo or false science, to suggest that its
pronouncements were ideological and not scientific, and thus the aim
of a radical psychology was to expose such falsehoods and work for a
true and revolutionary science.

Postmodernity and the psychological 91

Althusser’s work on ideology, however, made this position much

more problematic because he was arguing that ideology was not simply
a set of falsehoods but a system of meanings through which human
subjects were created. If we compare the implications for psychology
with, for example, Martin Richard’s volume The Integration of a Child
into a Social World (1974), the differences become obvious. This is how
Henriques et al. (1998) characterize them:

Given the virtual impossibility of thinking outside the terms generated by

dualism, clearly the relation between the two – how society socialises the
individual – is a crucial theoretical and practical question. The two terms
are mutually indispensable to each other. The individual, as a concept
could not exist without its opposite number, society. In the social sciences
their relation is almost universally theorized as some sort of interaction.
Given that one of its major areas of study involves newborn infants,
developmental psychology is particularly sensitive to the problem of how
to think about the starting point of development. For Richards, the infant
is not fully social, as he is not yet a competent member of a social
community. He is, rather, a biological organism with biological propensi-
ties and organisation who becomes social through his encounters with
social adults. So throughout development there is an essential tension
between the biological and the social (p. 1). This extract illustrates well
how, once the terms individual and social are brought into play, the two
entities are necessarily thought of as antithetical, as exclusive, (although
interacting), as separable and even pulling in opposite directions. It also
demonstrates how the individual reduces inevitably to the biological
essence once its opposite number, the social, has been posed to explain the
rest. (pp. 14–15)

Turning to Foucault’s work, the differences are even more profound

because Foucault was arguing that there was no simple division
between science and ideology as scientific statements themselves were
‘fictions which function in truth’ (1980: 118). As we shall see, this
paved the way for the variety of discursive psychologies that followed.
The developments proposed by Althusser seemed particularly
important to a group of young psychologists and sociologists who
began to produce a journal called, appropriately enough, Ideology and
Consciousness. This was a moment in Britain in which the new ideas
sweeping the left and feminism were being taken up in self-published
journals by young academics in a way that seems almost unthinkable
today (although publishing on the Internet may in fact be taking up
92 Mass Hysteria

this previous idea of self-publication). Around at the same time

journals such as Radical Philosophy, Critique of Anthropology, Economy
and Society, m/f, Feminist Review and Working Papers in Cultural
Studies (from the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural
Studies) sprang up. Almost all of these journals were published and
paid for by the editorial groups themselves, being distributed by a
radical publishing and distribution network, Radical Publishing
Group and Publications Distribution Co-operative.
Ideology and Consciousness was one such journal. We would like to
quote here from the first issue of that journal to give a clear sense of the
critique of both mainstream and radical psychologies that was being
proposed. In a section in the first issue on contemporary psychology,
the editors end with the following conclusion:

A psychology that stresses man cannot be countered, in the name of

Marxism, with a sociology that stresses society, a sociology which places
the human subject, untheorised as a simple effect. It is for this reason that
we would suggest that the issue for a Marxist intervention in this area, for
a materialist intervention in this area, is the development of theory, which
recognises that the relations between the subject and social formation are
those of absolute interiority. Such a theoretical recognition might avoid
the twin pitfalls of a psychologism grounded in speculative humanism and
an anti-humanism grounded in a form of neo-Kantian idealism. (Adlam
et al. 1977: 34)

This comment is important in relation to the points that we are

making also about media and cultural theorists’ opposition to Althusser
and screen theory. We are arguing that their rejection of psychoanalysis
cannot be countered by ‘a sociologism (or culturalism for that matter)
that places the human subject as a simple effect’. Failing to theorize the
‘interiority’ of the relations between the social and the subject is what
we are countering, whether it is found in psychology or equally in
sociology or media and cultural studies.
This work signalled a profound criticism of the critical work in
psychology that had gone on before, and as time went on the Ideology
and Consciousness group moved away from Althusser and towards
Foucault, being in fact the first publication in Britain to publish
Foucauldian work. So what did this love affair with French theory have
to tell us about the state of radical politics and psychology in Britain?
And how did such work have any impact on academic psychology?
Postmodernity and the psychological 93

French theory was very important to the British left but, in this
case, particularly to psychology because, among other things, it stressed
the importance of theoretical work. Critical psychology in the Anglo-
Saxon tradition had struggled with the consequences of a strong
equation between scientificity and empiricism, and a scepticism in
relation to theoretical work. This work was profoundly theoretical (and
could indeed be criticized for its lack of attention to empirical detail)
and, what is more, took theoretical debate seriously. At that time it was
simply not possible to publish a theoretical discussion in a mainstream
psychology journal. It is important to note therefore that one of the
impacts of this work was that, fifteen years later, journals such as
Theory and Psychology actually make theoretical work the object of
psychological work, which is itself a huge advance. However, the
continental tradition also challenged the enormous Cartesian
influence, the dualism of which we spoke earlier.
The impact of psychoanalysis was perhaps equally spectacular.
Unlike the case in France and indeed the USA, psychoanalysis was not
a strong influence in Britain, and it was certainly not taught on
psychology courses, except only very marginally. Yet Althusser’s use of
Lacan produced a huge burgeoning of interest in psychoanalysis, which
not only led to screen theory, but also related to feminist interest
following Juliet Mitchell’s famous Psychoanalysis and Feminism in 1974.
Sociology and social theory courses started to teach psychoanalysis, and
there was an unprecedented interest in psychoanalytic training among
left and feminist academics. Latterly, many postgraduate degrees in
psychoanalysis have been set up, and psychoanalysis is now taught on
at least some undergraduate psychology courses.
This is of more than academic interest because it has meant taking
very seriously the kinds of critique of the rational unitary subject that
were mounted in the 1970s, and it means that the sorts of question we
are addressing find a wider and more informed discussion. Before we
move on to consider the relationship between postmodernity and
psychology, we will explore some of the more general assumptions
made by postmodern theorists, who on the surface appear to take issue
with traditional psychology.

Psychological concepts in postmodernist cultural theory

In this section we want to demonstrate that postmodern cultural
theory has, in some cases, not moved as far away from a modernist
94 Mass Hysteria

psychology as it likes to claim, examining the use of psychological

concepts in the writings of Baudrillard, Lyotard and Jameson. In his
well-known work on postmodernity and capitalism, Frederick
Jameson utilizes some psychological concepts that come straight out of
modernity. He argues, in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism (1991), that we can understand postmodern culture and
aesthetics in terms of a concept of schizophrenia. It is interesting to
note that, although this term is derived from psychiatry, Jameson uses
a definition taken from Lacan, which refers to the breakdown of
chains of signification, so that signifiers are linked only to others in the
present and not to those of the past, the memory. He makes it clear
that he does not want to psychologize postmodern culture, yet his use
of a psychiatric term disavows the fact that this is precisely what he is
doing. He wants to argue that postmodern culture throws us into a
sense of a heightened, perpetual present:

This present of the world or material signifier comes before the subject
with heightened intensity, bearing a mysterious charge of affect, here
described in the negative terms of anxiety and loss of reality, but which one
could just as well imagine in the positive terms of euphoria, a high, an
intoxicatory or hallucinogenic intensity. (Jameson 1991: 27–8)

So, while Jameson disavows psychology, he certainly presents the

reader with some pretty psychological experiences. And while he stops
short of saying that subjects in the postmodern culture are clinically
schizophrenic, we can see here how easy it is to bring in psychology by
the back door while at the same time criticizing psychologism. This, as
we have seen, is a trope commonly adopted by cultural theorists. The
effect of this is to wildly overgeneralize and to prohibit the serious
study of precisely what subjectivities are formed within any specific
historical and cultural location. As we demonstrated at the beginning
of this chapter, hearing voices or seeing visions is itself understood
through different discourses depending on historical circumstances.
Schizophrenia is a psychiatric concept and indeed implies that, histori-
cally in modernity, people were psychologically whole, coherent and
integrated (Hacking 1995).
This clearly makes a mockery of any critical approach to psychology
in which such concepts themselves are produced inside the practices of
regulation through which subjects are produced. Even within a
mainstream framework, it would be ridiculous to imagine that all
subjects were whole and coherent during modernity and are now
Postmodernity and the psychological 95

schizophrenic during postmodernity. Jameson’s antidote to schizo-

phrenia is cognitive mapping, which he links to the development of the
Internet and cybernetics more generally. This concept again derives
from mainstream cognitive science, and to posit a cognitive process as
an antidote to a severe psychotic condition, never mind its generalist
psychological assumptions, seems little short of absurd. Such
pronouncements are, however, not atypical and demonstrate how very
few media and cultural theorists are prepared to look at the over-
generalizations they are willing to make, while at the same time
roundly criticizing psychology. For example, Rosi Braidotti and Donna
Haraway have their own favourite terms for the new type of
postmodern subject (see Chapter 6).
At the same time, many cultural theorists dismiss psychology
without a second glance. As we saw in Chapter 3, it is unfortunately
all too common for cultural theorists to equate psychology with
behaviourism, a tradition of work within psychology that has had its
radical moments but has not been in favour for rather a long time,
and there is an unwillingness to look further. What we are saying here
then is that cultural theorists are all too ready to dismiss psychology,
while on the one hand making completely questionable psychological
assumptions in their own work and displaying a wearisome
disinterest in the critical work that has been going on in psychology
for a long time, as well as freely adapting terms from psychology to
give their work a spurious authenticity. Indeed, since all media and
cultural theory deals with subjects and subjectivity, and, as we have
said, tends to move towards a sociologism that solves none of the
problems of subjectivity, it certainly needs to take the new psycholog-
ical work seriously.

Baudrillard, Lyotard and postmodernity

Although we have argued that psychoanalysis, as it emerged in its post-

Althusserian form, was profoundly important to the critique of
psychology and social theory that was put forward in the early 1970s,
such work can nevertheless be criticized from within a number of newly
emerging traditions. Of course, while psychoanalysis challenges the
centrality of the rational unitary subject, it remains an approach
assuming universals based on a clear sequence of development. Histori-
cally, it is possible to chart the emergence and possibility of psycho-
analysis, using poststructuralism, just as it is with psychology
96 Mass Hysteria

(Armstrong 1983; Rose 1987). These accounts stress the importance of

the post-World War One context and how specific events, such as war
neuroses (male hysteria), allowed the concept of the mind as a psychic
apparatus to re-enter the clinical domain.
It is not so much that the ‘unconscious’ was rediscovered by clinical
medicine following Freud (1900) but that at different historical times,
at different historical moments, the idea of an ethereal space beyond
corporeality was specified in different ways. Questions concerning
whether there is a meaningful and enhancing (psychological) space
beyond the body have been constituted in different ways through
different practices, in different spaces and places, that is, as twilight
states, stupor, trances, delirium, inspiration, ecstasy and so forth. These
practices do not simply describe the objects of which they speak but
constitute the meaning of such objects through specific concepts that
then become available for public articulation and self-production (cf.
Blackman 1994).
Theorists of postmodernity have also proposed a number of
critiques of the psychological subject of modernity that need to be
taken seriously. We will outline those below and go on to discuss the
work of Baudrillard in particular. Postmodernity forms the basis of a
critique of all grand metanarratives, including those which present
masculinity in the form of a rational phallogocentrism as a timeless
universal rather than the product of a historically specific European
culture. Thus, within this critique, the conception of the subject as
knowable, fixed and quantifiable disappears in favour of a subject
created inside the very discourses that claim to know ‘him’.
Inside modernist discourses there is an important conception of
depth. Structuralism, for example, assumes that there is an underlying
structure that is the true and underlying reality structuring the surface
appearance. Notions of representation as opposed to signification fall
within this category, as do psychoanalysis with its manifest and latent
content, and Marxism with concepts such as essence and appearance.
All of these models imply that surface appearance tells us something
that is in fact misleading or distorting, not being the underlying cause
of the phenomenon. Such concepts were a central component of, for
example, both Marxism and psychoanalysis, as well as structural
anthropology, linguistics, structuralist psychology, such as the work of
Piaget and so forth. An approach that contends that there is no depth,
only surface, clearly represents a huge challenge to a number of
disciplines and the underpinnings of many radical approaches. Such is
a central claim of postmodernist thinkers, including Baudrillard and
Postmodernity and the psychological 97

Lyotard. A summary of the kinds of critique made by these writers is

outlined below.

1. The culture of the image dominates, so that all is surface and there
is no depth. Indeed, for Baudrillard, all images are simulated and
are not representations of actual objects; that relationship has been
eroded by methods of electronic imaging that can create works that
are not dependent on copying some pregiven real but construct
hyperreality within the culture, for example. He calls this ‘the
2. There is a weakening of historicity and the distinction between
public and private space.
3. A fragmentation of subjects occurs, with no sense of continuity and
a lack of origin or home since so many people are hybrids. Space
takes on a different sense, and since people can be at other ends of
the earth within twenty-four hours, there is a sense of dislocation,
the concepts of home and community being broken down.
4. The classical bases of theories of ideology, criticized by Althusser,
are taken further by the removal of any pretence to an underlying
cause ‘in the last instance’. What is created in signification is all that
there is. Distinctions between authenticity and inauthenticity no
longer have any significance because there is no underlying real or
authentic person or concept.
5. The distinction between signifier and signified: they do not simply
reflect each other; we are in the logic of the signifier, first proposed
by Lacan (see Chapter 5). All is surface.

6. There is no authentic person to be liberated, no self to be uncovered,

but instead other narratives who write subjects differently.

If we examine in particular the work of Baudrillard, we can see that

he builds directly upon the work of the Frankfurt School, especially in
his critique of the concept of an alienated self, which was proposed by
Marcuse in 1964, and in his notions of the masses, which became the
groups of social psychological theory. So, in postmodernity, for
Baudrillard, there is no self to be alienated. The concept of alienation
implies a pregiven subject, who can, for example, be alienated from
their labour so that they cannot take pride in the products of their
work. Baudrillard’s pessimism is in fact such that the subject is now
98 Mass Hysteria

understood as autistic, marked by silence and a lack of speech; things

have gone much further than alienation. It is difficult to know
whether Baudrillard means his use of the concept of autism to be
literal for, as with Jameson, he has taken a psychiatric concept that
refers to a particular form of psychosis.
Once again we meet the overgeneralized use of a psychological
category in a debate that has apparently moved beyond such generaliza-
tions. If Baudrillard means to use the term ‘autism’ metaphorically to
signal a profound silence and a lack of speech, there is still a problem
over his choice of term. We can, however, also understand this usage as
being an allusion to Althusser’s use of Lacan, in which the working class
was trapped inside the Imaginary, which is, as we explained in Chapter
4, a wish-fulfilment fantasy of having one’s mother all to oneself.
Baudrillard is using an altogether earlier concept: an autistic child is one
trapped inside its own silence, unable to get out and form any kind of
relationship at all, certainly not with its mother. It is in psychoanalytic
terms a psychotic defence and belongs to very early infancy.
So we have moved from an image in Marx of a class conscious of
itself to one of a class trapped in ideology, the Imaginary, and on to a
mass (Baudrillard no longer uses the term ‘class’ precisely because it
implies that self-consciousness), but a silent and frozen mass. For him
then, the society of the spectacle (Debord 1983) produces a mass that
is neither subject nor object, neither Marx’s protoheroic mass nor Le
Bon’s threatening mob. For Baudrillard, unlike Foucault, power is not
a strategy because there is no object there, yet the masses are endlessly
created as objects because their resistance is the autistic silence. In
modern forms of regulation, in the Foucauldian sense, the injunction
to speak, self-expression, is an important form of government from
child-centred pedagogy (Walkerdine 1990, 1998a) to therapy and
counselling, for example (Rose 1989). In this sense silence, the refusal
to speak, is a clear resistance to such strategies. There are no duped or
mystified masses who can be released through an enlightenment
project (as, for example in the pedagogic strategies of media education)
because they are refusing to participate in the first place.
Simulation has neither subject nor object so cannot become
alienated or indeed a political subject in the traditional sense because
that political project depends upon both consciousness and rationality.
There is no meaning to the mass except the meanings ascribed to it
constantly by sociologists, always attempting to find meaning. So, for
example, we could understand Baudrillard’s remarks as being a critique
both of mainstream media theory and of cultural studies, particularly
Postmodernity and the psychological 99

audience research and the study of popular culture, which constantly

asks what meanings the masses are making of the media and popular
culture and very often tries to understand those meanings in terms of
an enlightenment project. The masses, he remarks, are said to hold
opinions, which are polled constantly from politics to advertising, but
the system of polls converges with entertainment, the very entertain-
ment that constructs the masses as its audience. Sociology always
searches for ways in which the masses are manipulated by the media,
but the masses are stronger, sensing no liberation or transcendence.
Baudrillard puts forward strategies of and two types of resistant subjec-
tivity. These are that the masses are silent, cool, frozen into a kind of
cool Fascism, a melancholy that something has been lost. He argues:

We are face to face with this system, in a double-bind situation, an

insoluble double-bind, exactly like children face to face with the adult
universe. They are simultaneously summoned to behave like autonomous
subjects, responsible, free and conscious; and as submissive objects, inert,
obedient and conforming. The child resists on all levels, and to a contra-
dictory demand he also responds with a double strategy. To the demand
to be an object, he opposes all the practices, disobedience, revolt, emanci-
pation, in short a total claim to subjecthood. To the demand to be a
subject, he opposes just as stubbornly and efficaciously with an object’s
resistance, that is to say, in exactly the opposite manner: infantilism,
hyperconformism, a total dependency, passivity, and idiocy. Neither of
these two strategies has more objective value than the other. (Baudrillard
1983: 107)

Note the way in which Baudrillard develops the idea of the masses as
having certain characteristics, a mass psychology, in fact. While his
work takes the Frankfurt School’s blend of psychoanalysis and
Marxism to a particular conclusion – autism not alienation, cool not
hot Fascism – the account mirrors accounts made in the early decades
of the twentieth century by showing the same fascination with what
the masses will and will not do, guided by their psychological state.
It is very interesting to note precisely how much Baudrillard
depends upon psychology, using terms such as ‘autism’ and
‘melancholy’ (melancholy being a term used by Freud in his discussion
of failure to mourn, this leaving the subject trapped inside a fantasized
longing for things to be as they were without emotionally working
through the pain and anger at the loss and moving on). For a person
who claims that there is no depth, he certainly uses terminology that
100 Mass Hysteria

relates to depth psychology. On the other hand he talks of resistance,

yet resistance implies a conscious subject who is capable of doing
something active, even if that activity is to say nothing. Catatonia
cannot be resistance in the usual or accepted sense: there is nobody
home to resist. What Baudrillard proposes simply cannot be
understood as an emotional reality, otherwise the majority of the
population of northern cities would be zombies. It is both important
therefore to explore the social theoretical trajectory that Baudrillard
takes and to examine what it might mean for an understanding of
psychology and of the constitution of subjectivity in the present.
It is important to note just how far Baudrillard is prepared to take
his pessimism and disappointment with the masses, who after all, in
this account, have virtually gone to sleep and turned to what Gane
(1991) describes as a popular negative Fascism, not because of their
love of easy gratification, as in Freudo-Marxism, but because they are
silenced, atomized with no basis, or psyche, for political action.
Fascism then, in this analysis, is no less psychologically caused, but
what is envisaged is a different psychology.
On the other hand, it is possible through all this pessimism to read
Baudrillard as saying that the masses can no longer be co-opted either
for a postenlightenment projector or for a left-wing political one, that
the strategies employed by both liberals and the left will no longer
work, because the masses are engaging in a refusal to participate.
Dick Hebdige (1978) has critiqued Baudrillard’s conception of the
masses as being autistic and in terms of waning their affect, puts
forward instead the notion of communities of affect drawn together by
mass cultural products, such as soap operas, bringing a desire for
connection, roots, a past. Hebdige’s subject then is filled with longing
for a lost connection, for the certainties of modernity. Such a subject is
still pathologized, as for Baudrillard, but is not as profoundly sick. We
stress this point in order to make clear just how entrenched the notion
of mass psychopathology has become. No doubt Hebdige would not
necessarily want to subscribe to a model of mass pathology, yet this
does not prevent him using concepts derived from this discourse. He
needs access to some different psychological theories and assumptions,
and it is to this work that we now turn.
Chapter 8

Critical psychology

Like Marxism, psychology is one of the grand metanarratives of

modernity, often claiming for itself universal generalizations. However,
while the response of psychologists to the issues raised by Ideology and
Consciousness was slower than that in the rest of the social sciences,
many psychologists nevertheless took seriously the issues raised,
resulting in a wide variety of critical psychologies that draw upon
various attempts to work on discourse.
We have already established the way in which psychology has
traditionally entered debates on media studies. Psychology accords
itself a status as an empirical science best placed to examine the media,
which, as we have seen, has become an object of concern in relation to
its deleterious effects. The media is seen to influence and shape the
way people come to see, evaluate and make sense of the world in
which they live.
This account of the role of the media in shaping and framing
popular opinion derives its currency in part from concerns in the early
part of the twentieth century with the media’s role in producing and
disseminating propaganda. Within these accounts the media were seen,
through the mechanisms of persuasion inherent in the structuring of
their messages, to shape attitudes in line with particular ideological
interests. What is most interesting about these accounts is not so much
the role accorded to the media but, as we have described, the way in
which certain individuals were seen to be more vulnerable to and
manipulated by the content of the messages. These fears resurfaced in
the post-war McCarthyism of 1950s America in relation to the
perceived threat of Communism to the stability of democratic
thinking. A link was made between particular personality types, the
influence of the media and outward expressions of violence and aggres-
102 Mass Hysteria

sion (Adorno et al. 1950; cf. Chapter 2). It is this triad that, as we have
discovered throughout the book, has set the parameters within which
the relationship of the media to subjectivity is understood.
Let us now unravel some of the assumptions made about the
‘psychology of the individual’ by outlining in more detail the moves
within critical psychology that seek to displace and challenge the claims
of psychology to be a ‘science of the individual’. This will allow us
radically to rethink the relationship between the media and subjec-
tivity, and to signal a new project for examining this relationship. Some
of the tools and concepts central to poststructuralist thinking that we
will utilize have been discussed in previous chapters. We will show in
this chapter how they share both continuity with and retain a signifi-
cant difference with respect to the more postmodern psychologies
reviewed here. We will discuss various debates about discourse within
social psychology and examine their implications for a study of the
media. We will then be equipped to think through some of these
important theoretical and epistemological issues in relation to studies
of criminality, madness, race and sexuality in Chapters 9 and 10.

Critical psychology – the negation of a realist perspective

Many writers have over the past decade problematized the assumptions
surrounding the nature of knowledge and social reality embedded
within traditional psychology. There are certain concepts – truth,
objectivity and progress – that psychology uses to warrant its privileged
position in making claims about the nature of subjectivity. Psychology’s
perspective on the nature of knowledge and social reality is realist – it
assumes that there are stable, enduring psychological capacities
waiting to be discovered through the application of the scientific
method. These capacities are ahistorical, untainted by culture, and lie
beyond language and signifying activities. One good example for our
purposes is psychology’s reliance on the concept of human nature,
which broadly encompasses, depending upon the perspective, all those
essences taken to define the human subject. These essences are taken to
be presocial and prediscursive, existing prior to the ways in which we
give them meaning in our sense-making activities.
Psychology adopts a particular historiography or version of history
telling when talking about its own emergence as a discipline
(cf. Chapter 2). The historical tale that psychology tells about itself is
one of an emerging scientific discipline progressing towards the truth.
Critical psychology 103

The history psychology tells is a linear movement from the prejudice

and ignorance seen to characterize the beliefs of the premodernist
world to the open eye of its own disciplinary gaze – one circum-
scribed by neutrality, objectivity and reason (cf. Blackman 1994 for a
fuller discussion). We saw in Chapters 2 and 3 how this approach to
history and the emergence of psychology operates as a way of
dismissing and excluding certain explanations of the social world as
being irrational, irrelevant or distorted. In the contemporary present,
for example, the phenomenon of hearing voices is largely taken to
signify that a person has lost certain capacities of social existence. The
voices signify disease and illness, and have come to be seen, within
psychiatric discourse, to be first-rank symptoms of a discrete disease
entity, schizophrenia.
This mode of explanation existing within the ‘psy’ discourses is
viewed as one based upon truth. It is a fiction-functioning-in-truth,
claiming the status to describe the human subject in all its complexity.
It is not merely a particular cultural-historical perspective on the
meaning of hearing voices but is one grounded in truth, objectivity and
reason. Although there are many different discursive explanations
circulating in relation to hearing voices, such as the telepathic and the
spiritual/esoteric (cf. Blackman 1995, 1998a), the psy explanation is
one that is embedded in and organizes a range of social practices. These
social practices are bound up with the government and regulation of a
specific form of personhood. They include the legal system, schooling,
psychiatric practice, the penal institution and so forth, providing
techniques and understandings through which behaviours, conduct
and thought are classified, administered and surveyed in relation to this
regulative ideal or image of a desired self.
In this sense the psy discourses produce truth-effects, claiming to
provide an account of the real, the normal individual, the normal mind
and so on, by focusing upon all those exceptions to so-called normality
and rationality. Paradoxically, through their exclusion and pathologiza-
tion, they provide the means by which psy truths are confirmed and
maintained. To draw on a popular example circulating in self-help
books and the subject of many chatshows, co-dependency has become a
concept through which people problematize, judge and act upon their
own thought, behaviour and conduct. The co-dependant is defined by
a set of behaviours and characteristics emphasizing their inability to be
responsible for themselves. Instead, they are compelled to feel respon-
sible for others, living through others and attempting to control and
anticipate another’s needs as a defence against the independence and
104 Mass Hysteria

autonomy that terrifies us. Dependency, irrationality, immaturity and

irresponsibility mark out the co-dependant as someone who needs help
in order to live his or her own life.
This example may seem banal but it becomes peculiar when we
consider that it only makes sense in relation to a very historically
specific way of thinking about what makes up human subjectivity.
These self-help practices, which in some cases advocate a series of steps
in order to reach a state of independence, actually function as practices
of the self. They are the techniques, understandings and means through
which people can actively shape and transform their own subjectivities.
They are part of the very process through which psychology’s truths
become the very basis of a person’s self-forming activity. These practices
are potent because they present the difficulties of living the ‘fiction of
the autonomous self ’ as signs of personal inadequacy and failure, which
ironically become the basis of change or transformation (cf. Blackman
1999a, 1999b). They seem more curious when we consider that there
are other concepts – passion, honour, duty, modesty, harmony and
balance, for example – that also form the basis of practices of the self. In
the present set of historical circumstances, however, choice, freedom,
responsibility and independence are promoted as desirable and
normative (cf. Rose 1996a). The project becomes then one of
explaining why persons have a subjective commitment to certain truths
at certain historical moments and what role the popular plays in the
circulation and maintenance of these fictions and fantasies.
If we start to trouble psychology’s claims by exposing the contin-
gent nature of the form of subjectivity underpinning psychological
discourse, those phenomena, experiences and conducts constituted as
irrational and abnormal come to be seen as mechanisms through
which psychology’s subject matter is maintained and operated. This
opens up the investigation to consider how psychology functions
within actual processes of subject formation – as techniques of self-
production and self-understanding. How is it that we have come to
relate to ourselves as if we were persons of a particular type? What role
does psy play in the very ways we come to understand ourselves and
others within the social world? How is it that we have come to
recognize ourselves within the terms, languages, images and vocabu-
laries created within the psy discourses? How do these circulate within
practices of signification such as the media? We will address these
issues further in the final three chapters.
This critical approach to the nature and form of subjectivity
embedded within psy discourse has its continuities with a range of
Critical psychology 105

critical psychological perspectives that have been exposing traditional

psychology’s claims since the crisis within social psychology in the
1970s. The debates underpinning the crisis will be discussed in the
next section. They are important for understanding the heritage of
what have come to be known since the 1990s as discursive or
postmodern psychologies. These psychologies work against the very
assumptions embedded within traditional psychology, often reversing
them or totally rejecting them. They relativize psychology’s claims,
imbricating them within the ideological maintenance and reproduc-
tion of a certain social order.

The crisis

Parker (1989) argues that the crisis produced a significant disjuncture

within psychology in the 1970s. The debates centred on the extent to
which the experimental method could capture the complexities of
human behaviour (Armistead 1974). The scientific or positivist
framework of explanation was considered to be mechanistic and
dehumanizing, reducing human beings to mere automatons. In other
words how could the meanings that human beings develop about
themselves and the social world in which they exist be reduced to
statistics and laws of probability?
The experimental method incorporating these techniques is based
upon a set of assumptions about the nature of social reality. It is
assumed that it is relatively easy and unproblematic to divide the social
world up into clear, controlled variables and measure the effect that
these have on human behaviour, conduct and experience. Although
not considered to be truths, it is claimed that if the results reach a
certain level of statistical significance (usually 0.5), we can be fairly
certain they do not arise from chance. We have seen in Chapter 3 the
way in which this causal relationship is embedded within media effects
research, where the effects of television are isolated from their social
context and measured according to a pre-established variable. For
example, the amount of television watched may be correlated with how
children later act towards a Bobo doll (cf. Bandura 1963). In this
example, the media are seen to have quantifiable effects on the expres-
sion and manifestation of particular thoughts and actions.
Debates within the crisis problematized the assumptions underpin-
ning the experimental method. In order to understand human
behaviour, it was argued that one needed to study how subjects make
106 Mass Hysteria

sense of and understand the world in which they live. This process of
sense making was dependent upon the very language(s) subjects had at
their disposal. The use of language was a key definition of being a social
being, and language itself was considered to be a human and cultural
product. The argument hinged upon the insight that subjects could
only come to know their worlds through social action and negotiation;
there was nothing innate or predetermined about human sense-making
activity. This reinterpretation of the nature of psychological inquiry
involved the development of research methods enabling the study of
human sense making. These methods were interpretative rather than
statistical, qualitative rather than quantitative. These more ethnogenic
approaches (Harré and Secord 1972) prided themselves on their basis
in an image of human life that revered and reflected the diversity,
subtlety and complexity of human behaviour (Fox 1985). The research
process no longer relied upon the illusion of the objective, detached,
neutral observer. Instead, the relationship between the researched and
the researcher was viewed as dialectic, a process of mutual construc-
tion, between the subjects’ or co-researchers’ own understanding and
meaning(s) of their own and others’ experience. This research became
known as new paradigm research, encompassing a range of interpreta-
tive methods such as hermeneutics, participant observation, dialectical
methods, feminist methodologies and so on (cf. Reason and Rowan
1981). Research was done with rather than on people.
The image of human life underpinning those approaches to emerge
from the crisis was therefore based on a particular understanding of
subjectivity, which rather than viewing subjects as automatons now
saw them as having a sense of responsibility for their actions (Shotter
1974). This was viewed as a much richer conception (ibid.: 54), which
drew upon microsociology and the philosophy of social action. The
underlying principle was that, first, human activity is always social
activity, which is, second, bounded by shared cultural resources.
Therefore the knowledge that the human subject develops about him-
or herself is a product of the social and historical background (Harré
1974). Harré argued that the human subject is a competent manager
and interpreter of the social world, and the theories that he or she
develops should be the object of psychological study. He termed these
the plans or rules of human life, arguing that these provide the field of
potential open to the subject (ibid.: 245). An account of social action
should therefore take account of why one particular cultural option
rather than another was played out. Harré equated the role of the social
scientist to that of a grammarian, studying the rules of language that
Critical psychology 107

exist within the social world. He argued that this level of analysis
should reside at the level of semantics or meaning, and not form or
syntax. Experience was seen to be an effect of prewritten cultural plots
or narratives that individuals utilize to make sense of themselves and
others. However, despite Harré’s apparent commitment to the
conditions that make individual experience possible, his approach is
still firmly grounded in the meanings that individuals give to social
activity. He does not explain how these meanings come to exist in the
first place and the conditions of possibility of their emergence. The
individual is the central analytic unit to which new paradigm research
retreats to explain the existence of the social world. The aim was to
make psychology more social and not to examine how individuals are
constituted through the social domain (cf. Henriques et al. 1998).
Although the new paradigm was considered to be a progressive
reinterpretation of the general mores of psychological inquiry, it was
still trapped within the individual/society dualism. Rather than
individuals being assumed to be automatons, they were now credited
with specific pre-existing or prediscursive psychological capacities. A
more sophisticated form of subjectivity was introduced without
explaining how individuals come to relate to themselves as if they were
selves of a particular type. The psychology or subjectivity underpinning
new paradigm research was based upon an image of life to include
agency, intentionality and responsibility. This psychology is remarkably
similar to the image of life embedded within audience perspectives,
which we explored in Chapter 3. New paradigm research relied upon a
pregiven subject or psychology without explaining the process(es)
through which subjects were formed and form themselves in relation to
particular images and regulatory ideals. The social world existed as a
function of the way(s) in which individuals represented or made sense
of it. The approach therefore assumed an implicit voluntarism,
focusing upon the fluidity and flexibility of sense-making activity
rather than the processes through which subjects come to see
themselves as if they are selves of a particular kind. Because this research
was formed in opposition to realist or positivist psychology, it failed
adequately or radically to rethink the relationship of the human subject
to the discursive field in which he or she exists.
Morss (1990) has termed new paradigm research one of the first
waves of criticism of orthodox psychology. More recent critiques have
evolved from these debates and have come to be known as discursive
or postmodern psychologies. Despite their differences they all share a
commitment to the central role of language in constructing human
108 Mass Hysteria

understanding. As the preface to Texts of Identity (Shotter and Gergen

1989), a key text in these critiques, highlights, ‘central to the emerging
dialogue is a recognition of the critical role played by linguistic
constructions in social life’ (p. x). Within these critiques language is
seen as having subjectifying force – it creates and forms individual
understanding. Culture is seen to be made up of a series of texts or
narratives that are available as resources through which the individual
makes sense of the social world. These cultural narratives are studied or
accessed through individual talk, which is symptomatic of these wider
discourses. These forms of discursive psychology are rather different
from the approach we are taking in the book, so in the next section we
will draw out their implications, continuities and differences,
especially in relation to a study of the media.

The turn to language

A central focus of discursive and postmodern psychologies is upon

individual understandings and the process through which individuals
come to have these particular understandings (Gergen and McNamee
1992; Shotter 1993). These processes are, however, usually taken to
function as an effect or consequence of the particular use to which
language is put in specific contexts. It is what Edwards and Potter
(1992) term a functionally oriented approach to talk and text. Individ-
uals are seen to develop particular understandings depending on what
they are trying to achieve in specific conversational contexts. Language
is viewed as being action oriented and rhetorical rather than being a
transparent reflector of communication (Potter and Wetherell 1987).
Talk embodies a version of the social world that is put to use in specific
contexts as a form of situated action. The talk is studied as a rhetorical
resource exploring the ways in which language can be used to different
ends: to blame, excuse, persuade or accomplish other forms of social
action (Edwards and Potter 1992).
Some writers adopting these ideas have argued that the very
concepts, such as truth and objectivity, that traditional psychology uses
to warrant its claims are merely rhetorical devices that it employs to
maintain its privileged status, that is, to produce its accounts or
versions of the world as factual (Kitzinger 1987). Thus truth is seen to
function as a form of legitimation masking claims that are arbitrary
and value laden. Psychological knowledge is not objective, but partial,
maintaining and reproducing particular ways of seeing the world that
Critical psychology 109

are perspectival, contingent and culturally specific. It maintains its

privileged or illusionary position, according to these accounts, through
the very terms and strategies it uses to warrant its claims.
These discursive psychologies adopt a particular approach to the
nature of knowledge (epistemology) and social reality that could be
termed anti-realist. There is seen to be no knowledge or reality that
exists outside the very languages we use to describe it. It is through the
symbolic realm of human signs, language and discourse that our
notions of reality are constructed. Psychological knowledge, according
to this anti-realist perspective, is then as much a human construction
as a lay discourse, the main difference between the two being the
justificatory base that enables psychology to obscure its claims to know
within an authoritative discourse. To study psychology is therefore to
study the very texts and cultural narratives through which our notions
of ourselves and our relations with others are constituted. They share
many commonalities with those approaches to emerge from the crisis,
despite their commitment to broader interdisciplinary moves such as
poststructuralism, semiotics and the postmodern (Potter and
Wetherell 1987).
Although the approach we develop to psychological knowledge
within this book shares a continuity with some of these discursive
approaches, that is, the commitment to the study of signs, language
and discourse, it also has fundamental differences. We do not view
truth as being merely a rhetorical device; indeed, as we illustrated in
Chapter 2, Foucault argues that truth is historical and regulative. Every
society or epoch has its own regime of truth – those discourses which
function-in-truth – and have the status to divide up the social world in
particular ways – to pronounce the good from the bad, the normal
from the abnormal, the rational from the irrational. As Foucault
(1980) highlights:

Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple

forms of constraint. And it induces regulatory effects of power. Each
society has its own regime of truth, its general politics of truth: that is the
types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true, the
mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false
statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and
procedures accorded value in the acquisitions of truth; the status of those
who are charged with saying what counts as true. (p. 131)
110 Mass Hysteria

These knowledges and the discursive relations that are embedded

within them also organize social practices and ethical relations. They are
contained within a diverse range of technologies of subjectification and
enter into the very ways we see ourselves and others. Within the contem-
porary present, we are also suggesting that they circulate within popular
culture in specific ways. They cannot merely be dismissed as forms of
rhetoric as they play a central role in the making up of modern forms
of subjectivity. It is our contention that regimes of meaning existing
within the social formation are replete with psy discourse. Psychology is
not merely a story or narrative but organizes a diverse range of technolo-
gies of subjectification that make up our social world.
What we are arguing then is that the image of the human subject at
the heart of psychological theorizing – the autonomous subject – is not
simply one version of ourselves that we can choose to take on or discard
at will. Instead, we live and embody this image, through the relations
we take up to ourselves, in a complex way, one that cannot be reduced
simply to the function of an individual’s talk and accomplished social
action. We are tied to this image of subjectivity through its immersion
within and across a range of social and cultural practices that continu-
ally address us as if we are persons of a particular kind. Although it is
important strategically to reject and refuse this image as a natural
reflection of human nature, it is equally important not to view
language as the only site of subjectification. If we are to address the role
of psychology in processes of subject formation, we need to investigate,
first, how a desired psy image is embedded across a range of social and
discursive practices, and second, how this image is lived or embodied
by subjects in their own techniques of self-understanding and transfor-
mation. We will explore the ramifications of this argument in more
detail below and in Chapters 9 and 10.
As we have seen in Chapter 4, screen theory was an important
development in media and cultural theory, in which an account of
subject formation was proposed, according the media, especially film, a
prominent role in this process. We say this because, outside
psychology, there was a concern with subject formation and its relation
to wider social and cultural processes. The problem, however, was that
this theory of the subject relied upon a universal model of psychic
processes. As critics have argued, this merely locked the constitution of
subjects into the signifiers that made up media texts. These texts were
seen to be organized in relation to ideological processes and primary
processes of unconscious formation. Subjects or spectators were seen to
come to texts with pre-existing fantasies and desires that were played
Critical psychology 111

out or re-enacted through the fantasies of control, omnipotence and

mastery created on the screen. Screen seemed to provide little escape
for the masses trapped within these processes, and as Walkerdine
(1995, 1996) has previously argued, has led to a rejection of
psychology and psychoanalysis within media and cultural studies and a
shift of focus to audience studies celebrating the agency and creative
intentionality of the spectator.
We have already seen in Chapter 7 how social and cultural theory
generally, despite its postmodernist and poststructuralist predilec-
tions, relies upon a particular psychology or subjectivity when talking
about the human subject. All the writers we have discussed dismiss
psychology on the one hand, yet simultaneously deploy a particular
form of subjectivity in their theorizations, often strangely rooted in
psychopathological terms, that is, schizophrenia, autism, melancholy
and so on, as we will see later in this chapter. Even feminist writers
such as Haraway and Braidotti, despite using concepts more strategi-
cally, still rely upon Utopian configurations such as the cyborg or
nomadic subjectivity. Without adequately accounting for technologies
of subjectification, we maintain that these analyses fail to provide an
adequate account of how particular types of subjectivity are produced
and the role the symbolic plays in this process. It is these questions
which are important if we want to address the possibility of change
and transformation.
In this general trend of suspicion and refusal of psychology,
cultural studies also rely upon a particular way of specifying
psychology or subjectivity. Psychology is on the one hand viewed as
reductionist (Morley 1992), yet a psychology is assumed within these
writings that makes the theories a possibility. It would seem that there
is a lack of awareness within cultural and social theory of the body of
critical work within psychology produced within the last twenty years.
We would suggest that it is this work which is relevant to contempo-
rary debates about the relationship between subjectivity and social
and cultural processes.
To illustrate these rather abstract and difficult epistemological
arguments, we will concentrate on the way in which many discursive
psychologies approach the nature and form of subjectivity in light of
their critiques of orthodox psychology. This will provide an exemplar
for some of the aforementioned discussion, and prove a point of
comparison between some discursive psychologies and current
audience research within contemporary cultural studies (Morley 1992).
112 Mass Hysteria

The decentring of the individual

Discursive psychologies have problematized the particular form of

subjectivity within psychological discourse. As we have seen it is
assumed within traditional psychological discourse that there exists a
particular form of human nature, one in which we are viewed as
integrated, autonomous, clearly bounded and in control. We have
referred to this previously as a modernist approach to subjectivity,
where it is presumed to be prediscursive and presocial. The realm of the
symbolic only mediates subjectivity in a peripheral fashion, distorting
or disrupting what is already in existence. Discursive approaches view
subjectivity as being entirely constituted through the realm of signs.
They seek to collapse the individual/social dualism and to understand
subjectivity as contingent, dynamic, flexible and often contradictory.
Within many of these discursive approaches, the form of subjectivity
presumed within orthodox psychology becomes one of the textual
resources through which subjects construct versions of themselves.
Questions within the psychological domain that have traditionally
been seen as existing within the psyche or interior realm, that is,
memory, attitudes, cognition and so on, are located within the very
languages one uses to describe them.
Potter and Wetherell (1987) discuss the range of self-discourses
embedded within psychology that one can use to make sense of oneself
and others. Thus psychological discourse becomes a set of textual
resources or linguistic repertoires providing a range of possibilities for
self-expression. Self-expression is no longer considered to be the
expression of one’s internal psychological essence but a form of
accounting located within the strategic and functional use of language
(Michael, in Kvale 1992). The self is a form of narration – dialogic –
constructed through a range of possible models or ways of accounting
for subjectivity. As Potter and Wetherell (1987: 102) argue, these
language-based approaches call from a move from the ‘self-as-entity
and focus [it] on the methods of constructing the self ’. They give as
examples some of the popular theories about the self embedded within
psychological discourse, all of which claim to be describing the true
nature and form of subjectivity, that is, trait theory, role theory and
more humanist conceptions of the self. As they claim:

It is suggested that methods of making sense are the key to any kind of
explanation of the self, as people’s sense of themselves is in fact a conglom-
erate of these methods, produced through talk and theorising. There is not
Critical psychology 113

one self waiting to be discovered or uncovered but a multitude of selves

found in the different kinds of linguistic practices articulated now, in the
past, historically and cross-culturally. (p. 102)

We can see from the above quotation that this particular discursive
approach to psychological knowledge relativizes these theories of the
self, seeing them as possible linguistic practices. One consequence of
this analysis is that if the ways in which people talk about phenomena,
including their own relation to self, can be changed, new forms of
social relation and ways of being can be created (cf. Shotter 1993).
Potter and Wetherell (1987: 104) argue that cultural analysis that
approaches subjectivity in this way has important ethical and political
consequences, that is, that each method of constructing the self
positions the self and others in specific ways, producing subjectivities
that may be negative, destructive and oppressive as well as liberating.
This is a rather idealist position rooted in the prioritization of language
as the primary site of subjectification. As we have already discussed,
regulatory ideals and images of personhood organize social practices
and are bound up with governance and regulation. We need to talk
about discursive practices that are both linguistic and technical (cf.
Rose 1996a), material and discursive (Walkerdine 1997).
Other writers also sought to expose the autonomous self as false and
to show how this concept was actually seen to function as a way of
reproducing particular social arrangements as natural and inevitable. It
is viewed as culturally specific (Gergen 1985) and bound up with the
maintenance of capitalism and Protestantism (Sampson 1971).
Despite its emergence within certain historical events, it has become
part and parcel of what Shotter (1990) terms liberal humanist thought
and is constructed, sustained and managed through commonsense
conversational practice (Shotter 1993). Harré similarly argues that we
have inherited this way of speaking about ourselves from Judaeo-
Christian civilization, which has become reified through its rootedness
in the language-games we use to account for ourselves and others. All
these writers share a commitment to language as a textual resource used
by the human subject to position him- or herself and others in specific
ways. Much of this work has its ancestry in the theories to emerge from
the crisis, as well as from the seminal ideas of Potter and Wetherell
(1987) and their particular strand of discourse analysis. It is worth
going into this work here in more detail as it has had a significant
impact on the development of discursive and critical psychologies.
114 Mass Hysteria

Discourse and the psychological

One of the main assumptions underpinning discourse analysis is that

those solid units of analysis previously located within the internal
psychological realm of the individual, such as the psyche, mind or self,
are actually viewed as existing within the very languages one uses to
describe oneself. The implications of this argument are that there can be
no access to internal mental states as these are constructed through
language (Ryle 1949; Wittgenstein 1963). What was previously located
within the inside has been folded outside into the realm of linguistic and
social practices. The intra/psychic is located within language. Thus what
people say is not treated in any way as a window on the world or into
their minds. Instead, people’s accounts are studied for the ways they vary
across conversational contexts according to the different functions that
talk is performing within and across differing contexts. This view is one
that views meaning as a social accomplishment, tied to particular ends,
mediated by culturally available narratives or interpretive repertoires.
Stenner (1993) has developed some of these constructionist
arguments in relation to jealousy. Commonsense practice tells us that
jealousy is a property of the individual: there are jealous types who
cannot control their feelings in relation to another. Stenner troubles this
view in which jealousy is regarded as a property of mind, approaching it
instead as a subject position produced through the deploying of partic-
ular cultural stories about jealousy. These stories are examined for their
consequences in the relations between a couple, Jim and May.
Jealousy can, for example, be used to position somebody as being
unaware and unenlightened or as being emotionally weak and insecure.
Both of these strategic uses of jealousy have particular implications for
the person positioning and being positioned according to these
narratives or stories. Thus Jim positions himself as enlightened and
progressive and May as fragile, unstable and weak. Because of this
relational positioning, he sees himself as having to walk on eggshells,
thus crediting himself with the power to hurt or protect May according
to his actions. Stenner argues that this account cannot be viewed as
being about the relationship, reflective of emotions or expressive of
May’s or Jim’s personality – as if a reality existed independently beneath
the discourse – but rather as constructive of the relationship, productive
of contradictory and non-essential identities and generative of
emotional experience. Stenner views it as a jealousy story available as
one of the cultural narratives through which people can account for
their own and others’ experience.
Critical psychology 115

One problem with these kinds of discursive account is the refusal to

engage with the psychological other than through its locatedness
within language. The human subject becomes a discourse-user
producing meanings of the social formation in his or her local, specific
accounting practices. We are suggesting a very different approach to
subjectivity and the discursive that looks at how people struggle with
and live the fiction of the autonomous self. We are, of course not
suggesting that the subject does not have a range of cultural options
open to him or her. As Foucault (1980) highlighted, power only works
on and through a person’s actions where the subject is confronted with
a range of possible actions. We are, however, suggesting that the psy
image of personhood – the autonomous self – plays a particular role in
the relations people take up to themselves and others. As we will show
in Chapter 9, it produces its own emotional economy, which is
ironically contained and produced within this discourse of the
individual as psychopathology (cf. Blackman 1999a, 1999b). We are
suggesting that it plays a particular role in the way in which people
experience and make sense of the contradictions and gaps produced
through the heterogeneous practices that address the subject in
different ways. We are suggesting that the normal/pathological distinc-
tion underpinning the construction of Otherness plays a specific role
in the ways we relate to, understand and act upon ourselves as subjects
of particular kinds.
The psy image of personhood is not simply located within language
but is embedded within techniques, practices and institutions. Lan-
guage is part of the assemblage but is what Foucault (1972) termed the
endpoint of discourse or what’s given to the speaking subject. In order
to understand the subjectifying force of language, we need to go
beyond the text or individual account and explore how particular terms
and concepts are linked within specific material and discursive
practices. As Foucault highlights:

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the first line and the
last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form,
it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, it is
anode within a network. (p. 23)

This focus on the conditions of making sense, which go beyond

speaking subjects, has been developed within discursive psychology by
a set of approaches that are united under the mantle of critical polytex-
tualism (Curt 1994).
116 Mass Hysteria

Going critical

These approaches recognize that texts or accounts are located in partic-

ular historical and cultural contexts. They also draw attention to the
way in which certain accounts or stories have relative dominance in
particular discursive arenas. The object of study is therefore the textual
resources variously producing the possibilities for individual experi-
ence. It is these stories which are viewed as creating spaces for the
subject to inhabit and occupy. However, the range of stories identified,
usually through the use of Q-sort methodology (cf. Stephenson 1953;
Curt 1994) are granted epistemological equivalence. This implies that
persons make sense of their worlds through dipping in and out of
discourses at will. We do not grant discourses epistemological equiva-
lence as we are suggesting that those discourses such as the psy
complex, governed by norms of health and pathology, play a specific
role in the ways in which we transform and govern our lives. It is not
simply that cultural narratives or stories compete for legitimacy but
that those which function in truth are linked to wider moral, social and
political objectives. Dollimore (1991) suggests, when discussing sexual
dissidence, that if everything is viewed as a story, the Other loses its
power to signify, to negate, to establish its own institutional and
oppositional discourse.

Institutions, power and ideology

In this section we will review some of the discursive approaches that are
more concerned with the materiality of language (Burman 1990), and
its embeddedness within wider power–knowledge relations. These
approaches draw their inspiration more from poststructuralism,
feminism and Marxism rather than from the Anglo-American
approaches characterizing discourse analysis. Parker and Spears (1995)
distinguish their critical discourse analysis from the approaches already
reviewed through their analytic focus on the way in which forms of talk
serve social, ideological and political interests. As Parker highlights,
certain discourses define certain kinds of experience as abnormal – as
madness, for example (Parker et al. 1995) – thereby reproducing certain
institutions and societal relations as being natural and inevitable. He
aligns his work more with the intellectual ancestry drawn upon in the
work of the authors of Changing the Subject (Henriques et al. 1998) and
especially with the writings of Michel Foucault. Along with the authors
Critical psychology 117

of this book and the writings of Nikolas Rose, he views the psy complex
as being part of a particular regime of truth that governs and regulates
individuals in modern society.
This work argues that it is important to historically locate talk by
identifying the historical conditions that make individual discursive
activity possible. Discourse analysts such as Wetherell and Potter (1993)
do recognize this dilemma, and in a post hoc fashion have linked individ-
uals’ use of language with their reproduction or repudiation of wider
social structures. In their work on racial discourse, for example, they link
a racial account (racist) to changing social, economic and political
relations. As Wetherell and Potter suggest, we can see history as having,
from this perspective, a direction of domination, that direction being
intimately linked to the fortunes and interests of a certain group. In this
manner the analysis examines subjects’ ways of talking and how these
reinforce and perpetuate dominant discourses, those discourses which
are viewed as ideological and linked to the interests of certain dominant
groups within society. The analysis that we are developing in this book
allows us to consider the relationship between truth, power and subjec-
tivity other than by relying on analytical concepts such as ideology, social
control and social interests.
Discourses are not discrete entities that function for certain
interests. They are made up of shifting networks of associations, bodies
of knowledge, expertise, agencies and problems. Discourses do not
merely legitimate and perpetuate particular realities but constitute
ways of thinking and acting – inciting and inducing desire – and a
subjective commitment to particular ways of understanding and acting
upon ourselves and others. Power does not merely repress or margin-
alize certain modes of existence but comes to structure those very
existences and the resistances against them. It produces our desires and
subjective commitment to certain discourses by aligning our wishes
and fears with the objectives embodied within discursive practices. It
acts on and through our actions within a discursive field of possible
actions and choices (cf. Blackman 1994, for a fuller discussion; Rose
1989; Burchell et al. 1991).

The positivity of power

We need to examine the complex relationship between modes of

subjectification, desires, resistances and the psy image of personhood
within these relations. The relations between regimes of truth such as
118 Mass Hysteria

the psy complex, regimes of meaning such as the media and popular
culture and subjective realities cannot be reduced to ideological
interests. Rather than decentring the subject and replacing it with a
more sophisticated discursive actor, we need to examine how popular
cultural representations invite us to reflect upon ourselves in certain
ways and how these addresses or subject positions relate to those
embedded within wider discursive practices. We need to develop a
materiality of semiotics (Haraway 1997) in which we explore how
certain objects of knowledge-practices, such as the psy disciplines,
circulate within regimes of meaning such as the media. This goes
beyond the idea of semiotic analysis as being concerned merely with
symbolic systems of signs and begins to explore the way in which signs
are embedded in and articulated with technologies, institutional and
technical practices. The argument we are making relies upon a partic-
ular approach to the nature of experience, which we will elaborate here
and distinguish from more postmodern approaches to the nature and
form of subjectivity.


We define experience as a relational concept, following the later work

of Foucault (1979, 1987, 1989, 1990), which explores the relationship
between knowledge/practices, types of normativity or desired images of
self organizing these practices, and the ways in which we reflect and act
upon ourselves as human subjects. We are suggesting therefore that
subjectivity is not simply grounded in how we speak about ourselves,
where, within the postmodern era of flux and flexibility, we can be as
many forms of identity as we choose. Young draws analogies of this
postmodern self with the figure of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, who in what is
known as the onion scene, strips himself of all of his identities and roles
to find nothing – an empty space. Young (1992) suggests:

He acts out the anxiety of our age; a schizophrenic self lost in a labyrinth of
imagined impulsive identities… The historical unity of the human self is
liquefied and lost in an ethereal play of possibilities and momentary selves.
(p. 141)

Foucault, in his later writings, became interested in the processes

through which people develop understandings about themselves and
others. Rather than positing any notion of a pregiven subject, which as
Critical psychology 119

we have seen still underpins audience work in media and cultural

theory, and many forms of critical psychology, he argued that this
process was discursive, bound up with particular knowledge/practices.
As we have already seen in previous chapters, the human sciences,
especially the psy discourses, are seen to play a central role in this
process of subject formation. According to Foucault, the psy disciplines
are not sciences of individuals and their universal human nature but
the adjudicators and creators of the very knowledges that come to
define the individual in his or her historical specificity. They become
key practices through which we understand our own subjectivity.
The governmental role of the psy discourses has not been
adequately considered either in media and cultural theory or in the
discursive psychologies we explored in Chapter 7. To accord the psy
discourses a governmental role does not simply mean that they are
ideological in the sense in which this term is usually deployed. Ideology
is usually used to designate a set of ideas or beliefs as being false and
arbitrary, bound up with the reproduction and maintenance of a
particular way of seeing the world. It is assumed that, although
ideology is part of the process through which we ‘live’ the world, its veil
can be lifted and we will be set free. Studies of ideology are usually
studies of the realm of signification and discourse as distorting rather
than formative of the very ways in which we come to see ourselves as
human subjects. This was the plight of Althusser who, as we saw in
Chapter 4, despite positing the formative role of what he termed the
ideological state apparatuses, still saw their role inevitably as distorting
a person’s relation to the real or the economic (cf. Adlam et al. 1977,
Gordon 1980, Henriques et al. 1998 for a more detailed discussion).
The idea of the ‘other’ has become integral to many writings on the
nature of the postmodern and postcolonial orders. Homi Bhabha
(1983) argued that the ‘other’ is central to processes of subjectification
and explored this premise in relation to colonial discourse. He argued
that racial divisions are articulated in relation to a conception of
Otherness, in which blackness is constituted as degenerate, lower and
primitive. Blackness is other to the whiteness, which, in its so-called
pathology, it confirms as natural and normal. Bhabha interestingly
argues that Otherness, as an articulation of difference, can come to
signify in diverse ways on the basis of its operation as a limit or ritual of
exclusion. Blackness or race can also be the site of erotic and exotic
fantasies and dreams, such as the sexual potency or prowess of the black
man (cf. Mercer 1992) and the ‘wild, highly sexed, emotionality’ of the
black woman (cf. Stoler 1995: 32). Otherness is thus a structuring
120 Mass Hysteria

device in representations of race, which imbricate particular social

fictions and fantasies embedded across a wide range of practices of
signification. These fantasies operate as defences covering over a set of
fears created through the regulative ideal they maintain. In other words,
through the creation of a normative image of the human subject as
being for example in control, there are a range of behaviours and experi-
ences, such as losing control, that are feared and become located within
the realm of Otherness. Thus Otherness contains our fears, locates them
in the other and becomes a defence against those behaviours, experi-
ences and people who threaten our fragile sense of ourselves.
As we have seen many writers on the nature of the postmodern order
(Jameson 1984; Lyotard 1984; Appignanesi and Lawson 1989) have
argued that, with the collapse of grand metanarratives (the idea of
universal theories for example), the periphery has finally come to the
centre. The centre is used as a metaphor for the normative image(s) that
the articulation of difference as ‘Otherness’ (pathologized and marginal-
ized subjectivities, such as colonial peoples and non-heterosexual sexual-
ities) has maintained and produced. The argument is that the centre is
now unstable, no longer maintaining its privileged role in explaining and
defining the social world, which of course stemmed from the periods in
which the colonial project was to define and govern those peripheral
others by means of grand European metanarratives. The centre is based
upon the supposed truth of subjectivity, which in the postmodern order
has been exposed as historically contingent and culturally specific.
There are now simply difference(s) in identity no longer anchored by
traditional conceptions of sexuality, race, gender and class. Identities or
subjectivities are viewed as the outcome of the choices one makes about
relationships, diet, lifestyle and so on (cf. Rose 1996a). We are ‘free to
choose’ from the supermarket of style shown to characterize the
postmodern order. The process of identity or subject formation is seen
to be generated by the consumption seen to structure popular culture
(cf. Mort 1996). Postmodernization, in the guise of market diversifica-
tion, has been seen to provide more flexibility and choice, reflected in
concomitant forms of identity. In this argument identity is not
something that relates to our structural location (gender, class and race
for example) but something that we are free to choose because we are
the supreme autonomous subject, whose position comes down to
personal preference rather than oppression.
If we take seriously this argument about flexibility and diversity in
relation to the symbolic realm, we should assume that practices of
signification no longer articulate difference as Otherness. Our argu-
Critical psychology 121

ment, however, is that psy is central to practices of signification and has

not simply been superseded by a move into a postmodern order. The
very process of speaking about oneself, problematizing oneself and
one’s conduct and experience, entails locating oneself within particular
languages and discursive relations. We argue that, although there are a
diverse range of ways of constituting oneself as a subject, there is a
continuity in the limits through which the normal subject is produced.
These limits relate to those capacities which are taken to define the
human subject within the psy discourses, such as the ability to self-
regulate, act autonomously, have a clear boundary between the self and
other and be in control. The terms and vocabularies operating on the
basis of these limits very much invoke a notion of the other in the
fictions and fantasies that they construct. It is the content of the other,
the way in which it is articulated and made to signify, that is important
to analyse if we are to understand how we are constituted in all our
diversity and complexity as human subjects.
We are arguing that ‘fictions that function in truth’ and the discur-
sive relations structuring these discourses are productive, acting upon
subjects such that they want or desire certain ways of being. We need to
explore how these wishes, desires and aspirations are re-enacted
through the way in which the Other circulates within cultural
representations. Although we are not suggesting that this is a determin-
istic relationship, we are arguing that the Other plays a pivotal role in
the maintenance of the image of the autonomous self. The important
point to highlight at this stage in relation to discourse-analytical
methods is that, although language plays a role, it is but a component
or dimension of the apparatus.
What we are suggesting then is that psychology is neither merely a
raconteur that can be refused or rejected, nor ideological – reproducing
a particular set of societal relations. We are instead proposing that it
plays a much more significant role in a society moving into the twenty-
first century. It is a normalizing apparatus playing a part in structuring
how we think about and act upon ourselves and others. We are arguing
that it is through a specific conception of the individual that we are
integrated and shaped into society accordingly. It is this regulative ideal
and the distinctions governing its existence that produce the very
possibility of the Other in all its multiple and varied forms. In the next
two chapters we will explore, through a number of key examples, how
these ideas can be deployed in the study of media representations.
Chapter 9

Criminality and psychopathology

Did Peter Sutcliffe have a diseased mind at the time of each of his killings,
or was he a ‘sadistic, calculated, cold-blooded murderer who loved his job?
(The Times, 20 May 1981)

We discussed in the introduction the way in which we are driven to

understand the ‘psychology of individuals’ who transgress the
boundaries of normal conduct. We need to establish their ‘Otherness’,
their difference from us, in order to establish our own innocence and
normality. Peter Sutcliffe (known as the Yorkshire Ripper) claimed that
he heard voices that drove him to violently rape and kill women, mainly
prostitutes. The fact that he heard voices (or made claims that he did),
ironically, offers us a calm reassurance. In western societies voice hearing
is mainly taken to be a sign of a disease process. Sutcliffe killed, he
alleged, because he lacked the biological, or even biochemical, means to
control his own behaviour. Sutcliffe was ill or sick, and therefore the
answer to why he killed women was located within his psychological
make-up. His motives were explained by his biological ill health.
This explanation is a familiar story. Again and again events that
disturb the public imaginary, such as the Dunblane and Hungerford
shootings, the Fred and Rosemary West case and so forth, are discussed
through familiar terminology. Were they mad or bad? Can these events
be located within a disease process, or are they more socially disturbing
and symbolically threatening because the person can be held respon-
sible for them? In a recent Guardian article (22 October 1996) the
headline ‘Madness or badness? Can the way you are be treated?’ plays
on the distinction between disease and/or maladjustment as a way of
explaining social pathology.

Criminality and psychopathology 123

Let us examine some of the assumptions this article makes. The

writer makes a clear link between criminality and madness, arguing
that ‘the HORROR of Dunblane infers some sort of “madness” in the
perpetrator’. He adds that ‘deprived of interviewing him, we could
never fully know “who” or “what”, diagnostically, Hamilton was’.
Further on in the article we get a clear idea of the role he thinks that
psychology can have in attempting to understand these crimes, in
particular the need to understand the motivation in terms of a psycho-
logical pathology.
The author cites an enquiry into the massacre headed by a law lord,
Lord Cullen, saying that it was ‘assisted by “reconstructive” evidence
from two forensic psychiatric and psychological experts who combed
through all the information available’; Cullen, he adds, also addressed
the nature of the man (our emphasis) and concluded that ‘Hamilton’s
paedophilia was “coincidental” with his other disorder – a personality
disorder as distinct from a mental illness’. Interestingly, the writer
asserts that ‘the distinction between “mental illness” and “personality
disorder” is simple’. He then goes on to give us what he sees as a clear
definition of this difference. It is that ‘leaving aside genetic disorders,
an “illness” (bodily or mental) involves a change in the sufferer from
both population normality and his/her own previous normality’. He
contrasts this with a ‘personality disorder’, which he claims is develop-
mental. He quotes one of Lord Cullen’s experts, Dr Baird, who said it
involved ‘enduring features [which] often appear to originate from
upbringing and early formative experiences’. Such people, he claims,
‘are inherently abnormal in the way they think, feel and act’.
In this chapter we will be examining how the idea that it is the ‘type
of person’ who commits such acts that is of importance has become the
key way of explaining social pathology. What is given less attention is
how these images of the Other work to maintain a particular image of
human life and morality as being natural and inevitable. We will look
at how the media deploys an image of psychopathology to represent
those who disturb the boundaries within which an image of normality
is constructed. It is through these images of the psychopathogical
‘other’ that the fiction of the autonomous self is upheld and confirmed
as both normative and desirable. We will be arguing that those charac-
teristics ascribed to the other are those behaviours, thoughts and
experiences which we are not willing to recognize about human life
other than as pathology. Images of the other play a key role in marking
out the supposed essences of what kinds of human being we are, and
indeed are allowed to be.
124 Mass Hysteria

Systems of exclusion

Until now, it seems to me that historians of our own society, of our own
civilisation, have sought especially to get at the inner secret of our own
civilisation, its spirit, the way it establishes its identity, the things it values.
On the other hand, there has been much less study of what has been
rejected from our own civilisation in terms of its systems of exclusion, of
rejection, of refusal, in terms of what it does not want, its limits, the way
it is obliged to suppress a certain number of things, people, processes,
what it must let fall into oblivion, its repression-suppression system.
(Foucault 1989: 65)

The above quotation is a good starting place for exploring what

modern societies fail to acknowledge, ignore, silence and would rather
forget – what we will term the costs or consequences of modern forms
of subjectification. In this chapter we will be drawing together some of
the theoretical arguments we developed in the last chapter by
exploring how the truth about Otherness is presented in media
portrayals of criminality and psychopathology. These representations
will act as exemplars for our argument that psychology is central to
modern forms of subjectification. This approach to the nature and role
of the ‘psy’ discourses radically changes the relationship between the
media and psychology. Psychology is neither a method for analysing
the effects of the media nor a set of textual resources which a person
draws on to make sense of themselves. Psy is central to practices of
signification and structures those very concepts of normality and
resistances against it. Psy organizes the discursive relations through
which we are defined and articulates these limits with respect to the
Other. We will explore the content of some of these specifications in
this chapter and begin to consider how we live the materiality of
Otherness in our own lives.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

In media portrayals of criminality and psychopathology, the mad and

the bad are repeatedly represented according to notions of risk, danger,
disease, illness and death. Those fictions and fantasies circulating within
the media constantly tell and retell stories of the danger and risk of the
mentally distressed to themselves and others. These fears are height-
ened and intensified in relation to the mad who kill and the criminally
Criminality and psychopathology 125

insane. The mad, we are told, are disturbing, threatening, a risk, a

timebomb waiting to go off. The tabloid headlines remind us of how
we choose to recognize the mentally distressed, as ‘Patients Who Kill’
or ‘Insane Killers’. They are rapists, evil, dirty, dangerous, sick and
immoral. As with the symbolic imagery surrounding representations of
AIDS in the media (cf. Boffin and Gupta 1990), the danger of the
mentally distressed is that you cannot necessarily see it; it evades bodily
identification until it is too late. Madness inheres within an ethereal
realm of voices, delusions and private imaginings. It is no longer
written on the body. Madness is not simply ‘other’ but an alien other
defying identification except perhaps by an expert eye.
Philo (1994), in a content analysis of media representations of
madness, found that the most significant theme or mode of explana-
tion structuring them was ‘violence to others’. The mad were most
often linked to or aligned with danger, risk and often death, playing on
the underlying assumption that insanity is a disease or illness,
something beyond you which cannot be controlled. The connotations
of this representation play on ideas reminiscent of the nineteenth
century, when madness was viewed as an expression of degeneracy, the
mark of an inferior and more primitive mode of biological existence.
As we saw in Chapter 2, it was in the wake of biological and
evolutionary discourses of the individual that the psy disciplines
emerged. Traditional historiographies of psychiatry tell a particular
story about the emergence of psychiatry at this time. Psychiatry
represents the pinnacle of civilized thought, leaving more savage and
primitive explanations behind. Whitwell (1936), a conventional
historian, relies upon this evolutionary trope when discussing the
status of psychiatric knowledge in the following quote:

it is only necessary to move through a few degrees of longitude or latitude

in order to find some community, small or large, at a different stage of
evolution, which holds today, the same views concerning mental disorder
as those current in this country only a few centuries ago. (p. 1)

This claim to a universal truth of madness that excludes other

cultures and past historical explanations as being more primitive, is
part of psychiatry’s ethnocentrism or inherent racism. It is not so much
that psychiatry’s knowledge is true but that it claims to be based upon
the truth of the human subject. As we have seen in previous chapters,
the claims of the psy disciplines are based upon a very specific image of
life and morality – what Rose (1989) terms an ‘ethic of autonomous
126 Mass Hysteria

selfhood’. This image creates anOther where difference from this

desired image signifies as pathology, abnormality and lack. We have
seen in previous chapters how these discourses of the individual
produced the mad, colonial subjects, women, children and the
working classes as being degenerate, posing a threat to the self-assured
progress of civilization (cf. Blackman 1996). The mad and the bad
were to embody these fears and, despite existing on the margins, were
symbolically to play a central discursive role in confirming and
reconfirming an image of autonomous self-regulation as normal,
natural and inevitable.

Fear on the streets

The psy discourses form the basis of contemporary representations of

madness, mental distress continually signifying as lack, deficiency and
maladjustment. The basis of these significations is that something has
gone wrong with the normal course of development in order to produce
such experiences. The hearing of voices, or what are usually termed
hallucinations, signify within many media representations as an indica-
tion that the person has lost the ability to control his or her own
behaviour. The voices signify that the person is a risk, having lost the
ability to distinguish between self and other, and is consequently viewed
as a danger to both him- or herself and the public at large. The hearing
of voices has become synonymous with danger, violence and death, a
triad that structures many media portrayals. These discursive concepts
underlie the following text, which appeared in the Guardian on 5
February 1992, and is representative of the many articles that have
appeared as fears have escalated in relation to the perceived failure of care
in the community:

Findley was diagnosed as ‘extremely dangerous’ and confined by a Sunder-

land hospital under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. A week later he
was transferred to Garlands hospital, Cumbria, and placed on anti-
psychotic drugs… The psychiatrist made an unusually early appraisal,
which caused some surprise among fellow psychiatrists at a subsequent
enquiry… he concluded that Findley was not a risk to others…
At home he received a 45-minute visit by a community nurse, who came
away suspecting that Findley might be dangerous but took no further
action, intending to see him again after Christmas.
Criminality and psychopathology 127

By then it was too late. On the morning of December 23rd, Findley took
a bus to Carlisle. The streets were bulging with people with that present-
hunting look in their eyes. Findley also appeared frantic, but his hunt was
of a different nature. Voices were telling him to kill someone – anyone. As
it happened he selected a 67-year-old pensioner, walked up to him and
stabbed him 32 times.

Voices thus signify that people are out of control, outside of the
normal bounds of ethical conduct. They are no longer responsible to
themselves and others, and are unable to maintain the requirements of
citizenship. They are other to those capacities taken within the psy
disciplines to define normality. Within the psychiatric nosography the
hearing of voices is taken to be a first-rank indicator of a discrete
disease entity – schizophrenia. It is a sign of illness, disease and
abnormality, the voices being presumed to be symptomatic of the
person’s internal pathology, usually located within a biochemical
imbalance or structural disease of the brain. Within this approach to
the nature and form of subjectivity, a normal/pathological distinction
operates to understand, problematize and administer experiences and
forms of conduct. Those which are located within the sphere of
pathology and abnormality are taken to be signs that normal
functioning, that is, that taken to circumscribe human nature, has been
interrupted, distorted or thwarted. Psychiatry intervenes on the basis of
this clinical discourse by calculating risk and danger – the degree to
which the patient has succumbed to disease – and administering to
individuals accordingly.
The administration of risk is, however, less linked to the so-called
disease process and more to the imputation of danger or the threat that
the individual may pose of expressing violent and unpredictable action.
In the same article, entitled ‘Fear on the Streets’, the psychiatrist Victor
Schwartz has argued for a ‘scale of dangerousness’ against which to
gauge potential risks according to agreed criteria (Guardian, 5 February
1992). To adopt a term deployed by the psychiatric user movement,
the person is ‘psychiatrized’, deemed to be constitutionally lacking in
the propensities that enable people to live and react to life within the
realm of the normal and natural. Thus the ability to cope with the
stresses of everyday life is seen to be a function of a person’s biology.
Rose (1996b) describes how the idea of coping has changed the way in
which madness figures and is acted upon. He argues that:
128 Mass Hysteria
Where madness is inability to cope, cure reciprocally becomes restoration of
the capacity to cope, and the role of therapeutic professionals undergoes a
parallel transformation. Professionals now are required not so much to cure,
as to teach the skills of coping, to inculcate the responsibility to cope, to
identify failures of coping, to restore to the individual the capacity to cope,
and to return the individual to a life with which he or she can cope. (p.12)

Ordinary madness

However, although within psychiatry there is now a distinction made

between differing abilities to cope that may be caused more by
maladaptive or ‘badly learnt’ behaviour, and those which are simply the
result of biology, the discipline operates on the fundamental assump-
tion – that there are those who are ‘other’, who cannot simply be
restored to normal functioning through life-skills training. These
‘others’ are the target of pharmaceutical advertisements contained in
many of the medical and psychiatric journals, all claiming to restore
the capacities of control and responsibility through their particular
‘drug of choice’.
These two themes detailing madness as an inability to cope, which
is in some cases seen to be a direct function of biological malfunction,
were central to how ‘manic depression’ was discussed in a 1997
newspaper article. This article, which highlighted the fate of such
celebrities as Spike Milligan and Kate Millett to bipolar disorder (as it
is termed within the contemporary nosography), advocates ‘drug-based
self-management’ as the curative process. This approach requires the
subject to recognize impending signs of disintegration and to
administer drugs as a prophylactic. It requires them to recognize
fundamentally that they are unwell.
The Guardian, in an article on Nicola Pagett (the actress well known
for her role in the television drama Upstairs Downstairs) stressed, ‘only
since January has she recognized that she will only get better if she
accepts that she would never be well’ (Guardian, 27 August 1997).
Pagett is thus required to inscribe herself within a discourse in which
her experiences signify as disease and illness. This discursive positioning
ironically provides her with the means of controlling these experiences
through self-regulation and self-management. It is interesting that
success or failure in self-regulation within these discourses appears to be
circumscribed by the relation one adopts towards one’s experiences,
that is, whether or not one believes one is suffering from an illness.
Criminality and psychopathology 129

Those such as Pagett and Redfield Jamieson (an American psychiatrist),

who have both written autobiographies about their experiences and
support lithium therapy, are able to live fairly ‘ordinary lives’.
These successes are, however, bounded by those who cannot control
their behaviour. It is these ‘others’ who are far more likely to be
newsworthy. They embody sets of fears surrounding the mentally
distressed who are deemed a threat to others, their distress being
manifested in outward acts of violence and hostility. They are usually
classed as ‘mentally disordered individuals’ or the ‘criminally insane’.
Those positioned in this way have usually killed or maimed, the horror
or atrocity of their crimes silencing their own stories, which merely act
as ciphers of the disease and illness they were carrying.
The trial (in May 1981), of Peter Sutcliffe or the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’
as he became known, highlights the way in which distinctions between
the mad and the bad converge in the adjudication of the ‘criminal
personality’. This trial is a good example of the role that psy knowledge
plays in the government of crime. It shows how the basis of legal differ-
entiation deploys distinctions embedded within the psy discourses.
The trial focused upon Sutcliffe’s claims that his motivation for the
horrific killings he undertook came from the voices he heard,
commanding him to kill, in most cases a number of female prostitutes.
As an article in The Times (12 May 1981, quoted in Hollway 1981)

Asked why he had attacked the prostitute in Manningham Lane, Mr

Sutcliffe replied: I was attempting to kill her.
Mr Chadwin: Why? – Because it was what I had to do. It was my mission.
Mr Chadwin: Why? – Because I had been told they were the scum of the
earth and had to be got rid of.
Mr Chadwin: Who told you that?
Mr Sutcliffe: God.
Mr Chadwin: How did the message come to you?
Mr Sutcliffe: Exactly as I just said. The same voice that I had been hearing
for a matter of years.

The trial focused upon whether Sutcliffe was bad, and therefore
culpable for his actions, or mad, and hence not responsible. If he were
deemed mad, his actions would be located in the disease process seen to
130 Mass Hysteria

be responsible for his voices. The consequences of the mad/bad distinc-

tion have a very different ethical implication. If Sutcliffe were consti-
tuted as a ‘criminal personality’, he would be deemed guilty, madness
within this adjudication therefore becoming a form of mitigating
circumstance. Throughout the trial the hearing of voices became the
central pivot upon which the mad/bad distinction was put to the test.
The trial centred upon whether Sutcliffe might be deceiving the jury,
pretending to hear the voices and their supposed relation to a diagnosis
of paranoid schizophrenia in order to avoid a murder conviction. This is
known within the legal system as a plea for diminished responsibility
and implies that the act of violence was involuntary, beyond the control
of the perpetrator. Most of the reporting at the time focused upon
Sutcliffe’s apparent faking and simulation of voice hearing in order to be
absolved for the killings. Again, the report in The Times was concerned
with Sutcliffe’s integrity with respect to his voice hearing:

You were telling your wife on January 8th that you were expected to get 30
years in prison but if you could convince people you were mad, then it
would be 10 years in a loony bin. (13 May 1981, quoted in Hollway 1981)

All men are rapists…

Hollway (1981) examines within the trial of Peter Sutcliffe how certain
explanations of Sutcliffe’s motives were ignored or silenced. As we stated
earlier the trial focused upon whether Sutcliffe actually heard voices or
was pretending to in order to absolve himself of responsibility for the
horrific killings. Within this context, the hearing of voices signified that
Sutcliffe was out of control and could not be held responsible for his
actions. Hollway explores other discourses circumscribing the discussion
of Sutcliffe’s motivations that were simply taken for granted and not
accorded any significance in making sense of his actions.
Sutcliffe killed female prostitutes, and it was this act which was made
sense of through assumptions concerning the nature of masculine
sexuality. Hollway highlights those patriarchal discourses deployed
throughout the trial that assume that men have a naturally aggressive
sexuality that is provoked by women. Implicitly, and often explicitly,
throughout the trial, a split was made between good women (madonnas)
and bad women (whores), who provoke men’s natural arousal and
subsequent gratification. It was never explained why the voices that
Sutcliffe heard told him to kill women (prostitutes). As Hollway argues
Criminality and psychopathology 131

the trial did not focus upon the ‘problem of masculinity’ but placed
some of the blame squarely on the unfortunate victims, who had in
some cases mocked Sutcliffe’s sexual potency. Interestingly, Sutcliffe’s
wife was also presented as a domineering woman who overwhelmed him
and drove him to the crimes he committed (Hollway 1981: 38).
Because voice hearing and male sexuality were both presented as a
problem of biology, there was no discussion of the content of the voices
and Sutcliffe’s apparent misogynistic relation towards women. Hollway
offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Sutcliffe’s motivations,
exploring how Sutcliffe divided women into those who were ‘guilty’ of
sexuality and those who were innocent. Sutcliffe both needed women
and hated them, ‘splitting off ’ his hostile feelings towards women and
projecting them onto prostitutes, whom he could then seek revenge on
and punish. As Hollway highlights the discursive production of women
as sex-objects is reproduced culturally through advertising and pornog-
raphy. The relations between masculinity and femininity are constructed
as predatory, women arousing men’s naturally aggressive sexuality. In this
sense, as Hollway argues, we can offer explanations of Sutcliffe’s actions
that are produced by those gendered discourses when taken to their
extreme. The voice then that Sutcliffe obeyed ‘was the voice, not of God
or delusion, but of the hoardings on the streets, of newspaper stands, of
porn displays and of films. It is the voice which addresses every man in
our society and to that extent, as the feminist slogan claims, “all men are
potential rapists”’(Hollway 1981: 39).

The voice of reason

We can thus see how certain discursive categories work to define a

particular image of the social world that excludes or silences other
explanations. These categories underpin the way in which the media
represent objects and form the basis of those fictions and fantasies
circulating within popular culture. The communicative space of an
event such as the trial of Peter Sutcliffe and its reporting was itself
discursively produced by particular frameworks of explanation.
Sutcliffe had to be seen as ‘different’ from other men – the exception –
so that his actions did not disturb or threaten men’s sense of their own
sexuality and selfhood. Sutcliffe’s crimes were symbolically threatening
because they were also making these very processes visible.
We have started to explore the relationship between certain
knowledges and discourses as well as the sense that individuals have of
132 Mass Hysteria

their own and others’ selfhood and subjectivity. The examples we have
discussed all examine the relationship between psy truths, media
representation and the way in which people experience and live in the
social world. As we discussed in the previous chapter, it is this
relational aspect of a subject’s sense of self in which Foucault became
interested in his later work. It is not so much then that psy truths are
historically specific but also that they are regulative. They are central in
shaping how people judge, problematize and enact their own
behaviour and actions. We saw earlier the way in which psy truths had
become techniques of self-understanding in how people were making
sense of and acting upon their own distress. We want to explore in this
section the way in which these ‘truths’ are also producing their own
reverse discourses or spaces of resistance by focusing on voice hearers
who are managing their own experiences outside institutions of
psychology and psychiatry.

The Hearing Voices Network

We have seen how the mad are continually represented in the media as
a danger and threat – an object of fear and loathing. The Hearing
Voices Network (Hvn) is a national and international group of voice
hearers whose aims are to challenge not only the status of psy explana-
tions of voices, but also media representations in which the mad are
continually portrayed as being ‘dangerous to know’. Psy modes of
explanation construct a particular relation to voices in which the voice
hearer is required to deny their existence and view them as meaningless
epiphenomena, having no other function than as signifiers of disease
and illness. The Hvn rejects this assumption and instead encourages
voice hearers to accept the voices, focus on them, recount what they are
saying, record them, document them and integrate them into their
lives. In short, the techniques and practices of the Hvn transform the
person’s relationship to their voices such that the voices signify not as
signs of disease but as a normal variant of behaviour, much like left-
handedness (cf. Blackman 1998a for a fuller discussion).
What is interesting for our discussion is that this transformational
process produces very different affective and emotional experiences of
the voices. The psy relation to the voices creates feelings of shame, fear,
guilt, anxiety, terror and confusion, the voices being viewed as random,
uninvited and raging an uncontrollable assault on a person’s psycholog-
ical functioning. Through taking up very different relations to the
Criminality and psychopathology 133

voices, people experience feelings of joy, revelation, control, less

abusive voices, faith, trust and inspiration rather than merely painful,
isolated experiences. The different practices (psy and Hvn) encourage
voice hearers to enact their identity as voice hearers according to very
different criteria and concepts. We could argue that Hvn encourages
integration, while psy encourages disintegration and alienation from
the body and its potentialities. The psy complex is, however, potent
because it ‘functions in truth’ and has a certain status and authority in
making claims about the nature of the voice-hearing experience. This
changes the question from whether the body is socially constructed to
how our experience of the body and its biological potentialities is
always mediated through cultural signs and activity (cf. Blackman
1998a for fuller discussion and examples).
Consider the following extract from a voice hearer who believes that
the voices she hears are a sign of her telepathic ability. Whether or not
one believes in the concept of telepathy, the interesting point following
our argument is that this ‘framework of explanation’ constructs a very
different relation to the voices, one in which the gift or sensitivity can be
managed through more meditative and visualization practices:

I’ve tried – I mean I’ve always tended to go for the telepathic explanations
so I tend to kind of direct what I listen to and I’ll listen in certain
directions to try and hear certain people and sometimes I try and speak to
my Grandmother who’s dead and usually – it doesn’t always work, but
usually, if I direct, if I get something from that direction like I can usually
get my Grandmother’s voice, and I can sort of get to know things about
people I want to know things about even if I can’t actually speak to those
people so it’s – I must admit though it’s not nearly as good as it used to be.
I mean when I was off depixol and on next to no medication I mean I
could well I could almost go anywhere in my mind and hear almost
anyone and you know, have no problem contacting anyone whatsoever.
Now it’s all a bit hit and miss and sometimes I just get tired of listening
and fall asleep. (Hearing Voices Conference, September 1991)

This shows that even an experience such as hearing voices, which is

considered within psychiatry to be evidence of a chemical imbalance
(that is, it is reduced to biology to attribute causation), can be experi-
enced by the voice hearer as an expansive state. The cultural and social
meanings attributed to the experience shape and frame the affective
experience that a voice hearer may have. This example not only shows
the transformational potential of cultural signs and discourses, such as
134 Mass Hysteria

telepathy, but also reminds us of the authority of the psy discourses in

constructing the experience of hearing voices as primarily one of
illness, shaping a set of emotional responses, such as fear, terror,
confusion and anxiety, that most voice hearers are likely to have.

The materiality of signs

As we can see from the above example, and despite the fact that,
within the cultural space, there are heterogeneous practices through
which people enact, judge and problematize themselves, producing the
possibility of very different emotional experiences, psy truths are still
central to modern subjectivities. One of the arguments we have been
exploring in this chapter is how the fiction of the ‘autonomous self ’ is
upheld through the way in which difference signifies as ‘Otherness’
within media portrayals. This fictional identity is regulative because it
organizes social practices such as the legal system and is promoted as a
‘desired image of self ’. In this section we want to explore some of these
arguments further by examining a CD-ROM by the artist Graham
Harwood, who has collaborated with a group of ‘mentally disordered
offenders’ at Ashworth Hospital. The CD Rehearsal of Memory aims to
problematize and critique modern psychiatric and cultural
understandings of mental distress.
Many of those who have taken part in the artwork have killed or
maimed, being represented in the media imaginary as ‘Insane Killers’,
‘other’ to those values most exalted in western culture. The artwork is
based upon an interactive computer program, which visually
represents a body that is the embodiment of the skins, the physical
traces, of the six inmates involved. The body is covered in tattoos and
other images, which, as the user navigates around, can be ‘clicked on’.
Once this is done, the user may be confronted with text – a hidden
story – relating to one of the inmate’s lives. These are stories of sexual
abuse, emotional abuse, torture, humiliation and accompanying
feelings of hate, anger, frustration, guilt and depression. These stories,
which usually function as ciphers for illness, disease and deviancy,
embody the burden of pain that has accompanied these lives. As one
man says:

When I was younger I didn’t like myself and I still don’t. The reasons for
this were because in some way I blamed myself for what had happened to
me and my sister. My Father was, and is, a monster.
Criminality and psychopathology 135

My Dad’s always been handy with his fists… And if he couldn’t get his
own way by talking, the fists start coming.

Although these men are marked in the public imagination by

outward acts of hostility and violence, there is also a return to their
own bodies through ‘self-harm’ and cutting. We will consider in the
last chapter how these acts may alert us to the impossibility of living
out the fiction of the autonomous self and fantasy of control when the
exigencies of one’s life have produced feelings of persecution,
powerlessness, humiliation and shame. These stories, as we have seen,
are silenced in the ways in which the ‘criminal’ and the ‘mad’ are
treated within the legal system. The legal system is founded on the
belief that responsibility is a capacity of citizenship and a psychological
propensity. Thus the legal system and psychiatry are concerned with
assessing one’s psychological fitness in order to adjudicate culpability.
The ‘criminal personality’ is one whose actions are seen to be
voluntary, although the reasons for this so-called deviant behaviour
may be the conditions of life or environment surrounding the
individual. Much of the psychological literature surrounding deviancy
therefore focuses upon unemployment, housing, poverty and family
dynamics to explain the individual’s internal pathology. Although this
may seem less individualistic than the more biological approaches that
attempt to explain criminality in relation to an extra gene, they still
presume that differences from the normative image they circumscribe
are pathological – signs that something has gone wrong with the
normal course of development.
Within this particular discursive framework, certain persons are
handicapped from the outset because they are seen to differ in the
amount of natural rationality with which they are endowed. We have
seen how this trope underpins traditional media accounts in which the
mass media are bad and make the masses (those outside rationality)
worse. The problem of the mass mind and the mass media is a familiar
relation that is made possible by the quasi-evolutionary model, which
is implicit and never questioned. Thus, in many media representations
of crime, especially violent crime, animal-like characteristics are
ascribed to those involved in order to connote their primitiveness and
savageness, their expression of uncivilized lower forms of evolutionary
life. They are made ‘other’ in the way in which they signify because
they disturb those limits by which we are defined and define each other
within a social order that is reliant on our self-regulation (Walkerdine
1990). The following quotes from the Mirror and the Sun (23
136 Mass Hysteria

November 1995), reporting the Fred and Rosemary West case, deploy
these concepts when discussing the trial:

The court heard tapes of Fred West talking in a very glib fashion about
things that would seem to ordinary people utterly disgusting, yet he was
able to do that.
Rose West was caged forever yesterday.
The merciless monster poured out a series of grisly confessions, before
hanging himself in jail last New Year’s Day.
The marriage of Fred and Rosemary West was described as a ‘marriage
made in hell’ – a union so intense that all restraint and decency were
overwhelmed. In the warped enclosed world of No. 25 they fed on each
other’s fantasies.
She [Rosemary West] wanted to spend her retirement ‘indulging in sexual


Rose West and Myra Hindley have formed a macabre friendship in jail it
was revealed last night.

In the last quote we can see the way in which West has become symbol-
ically aligned with Hindley, another evil monster existing on the social
periphery yet symbolically central in how she confirms through her
own Otherness a particular image of normality. Hindley, involved in
the horrific child killings known as the ‘Moors Murders’, carried out
with Ian Brady in the north of England in the 1960s, has become
synonymous with evil and sadism. She is usually represented with her
‘cold, staring eyes’ as a sign of her lack of the so-called normal
femininity that made her compassionless and evil. Femininity is
aligned with nurturing and caring, so Hindley, by disturbing these
limits, has to be excluded and contained, a repository of those fears
which are defended against through believing ourselves to be a certain
type of person.
We are not commending these horrific crimes but simply stating
that the way in which they are understood and made sense of, the
meanings ascribed to them, is made possible by a particular ‘psycholog-
ical complex’ (Rose 1985, 1989) or way of making sense of the human
subject. In the above alignment with Hindley, we can see that the
normative image underpinning these representations is also gendered.
Criminality and psychopathology 137

Figure 9.1 Myra Hindley

In other words it is hard to accept women’s violence except as madness.

Femininity, as we will see, has historically always been linked with
emotion, passion, desire, irrationality and madness. Therefore women
are more prone to outside influences. But, as with the Hindley case, if
their violence cannot be linked to madness, if these were rational,
calculated killings, this discursive relation is threatened and becomes
more symbolically disturbing. We will go on to consider this in more
detail in the next section.
What we want to underscore at this point is that it is simply taken
for granted that self-control and responsibility define normality and are
simultaneously essential for mental health. Blackman (1996) has
elaborated elsewhere on how these capacities are also associated with
the middle classes. Within the psychological literature, differences in
parental style, speech style, cognitive style and problem-solving skills
are taken to describe the working classes. These differences are not,
however, simply different but signify as other – as abnormality and
138 Mass Hysteria

pathology. They are linked to a greater incidence of mental health

problems and deviance, and are seen to result in educational
underachievement. The middle-class norm is never explained, taken for
granted, seen to exist and function as a result of the greater rationality
taken to define the middle classes (Walkerdine and Lucey 1989).
Thus we can already see a number of divisions operating in relation
to the maintenance and reproduction of this normative image. On the
side of rationality and responsibility lie the middle classes and, as we
shall see with the next example, men; on the other side are experiences
such as irrationality and losing control, which are linked to the
working classes and women. These divisions are not merely articulated
around difference but signify as other, located in a realm of lack, disease
and social inadequacy.

Do violent women exist?

On 12 March 1991 the Guardian headlined the puzzle over women’s

violence saying that ‘Society’s reluctance to acknowledge that violent
women do exist leads to the view that they are not responsible for their
actions.’ This headline elucidates some of the contradictions and
gendered divisions that operate in relation to the constitution of
rationality. We have already stated that the ‘problem of mind’ became a
central concern in the nineteenth century in relation to the threat and
fear of the mass. These governmental concerns understood rationality
and reason as a naturalistic phenomenon – part of human nature –
which became the means to set and differentiate ‘others’ along an axis
understanding difference in rationality in biological and evolutionary
terms. Women, as with colonial peoples and the working classes, were
seen to be less endowed with natural rationality, making them less able
to be responsible for their own behaviour. Rationality and reason were
demarcated along gendered divisions in which irrationality and
oversuggestibility were produced as peculiarly feminine properties.
Women were firmly positioned on the side of the emotions – the plane
of irrationality – and would be easily swayed by their unsettling
influence (Walkerdine 1998b).
At this time women were seen to be plagued by forms of madness or
psychopathology that were the result of their oversensitive feminine
constitutions. Blackman (1996) has remarked elsewhere the way in
which gendered divisions operated in relation to the constitution of
madness. What is important for our analysis of contemporary media
Criminality and psychopathology 139

representations is that certain divisions and modes of explanation have

become sedimented within the present. Maudsley (1879), a psychia-
trist of the time, typified how femininity was considered to be
degenerate, lower down the evolutionary scale and further from the
natural rationality seen to characterize middle-class men. He argued
that women’s psychopathology was different from men’s, as a result of
their evolutionary and biological inheritance, which rendered women’s
constitution more prone to the unsettling forces of passion and desire.
Women’s madness was considered more simple because of their
intrinsic make-up, whereas men were seen to suffer from more
complex madness due to stresses and strains stretching the fine-tuning
of their reasoning apparatus. These stresses and strains were located
within conditions of life seen to be peculiarly masculine, including
work, wealth and family responsibilities, whereas women were seen to
lack this natural propensity in the first place. As Maudsley (1879)
argued in a key psychiatric text of the time:

It must not be supposed that it is because of anything in the constitution of

men which renders them more liable to such derangement; on the contrary
there are obviously disturbing conditions peculiar to the female constitu-
tion which are more fitted to be occasions of mental disorder. (p. 166)

Women, the working classes and colonial peoples were seen to be

more ‘at risk’ because of their supposed hereditary taint or character,
which predisposed them to irrationality, oversuggestibility and
madness (Kraft-Ebing 1904). With the idea of rationality naturalized, a
particular way of specifying the human subject became a regulatory
ideal, administering, judging and calculating differences between
subjects along an evolutionary axis. Thus gender, class and race became
key discursive mechanisms through which a particular historically
specific form of sociality was managed, governed and administered.
Those lower down this axis were seen to be more primitive, suggestible,
fascist, dependent, irresponsible and childlike.
The following example highlights the way in which these limits on
how we understand the human subject are disturbed and unsettled
when they are symbolically threatened. The example focuses upon the
way in which violent women are understood, in particular ways that
foreclose the possibility of explaining violence as being the result of
rational, premeditated or calculated planning. These issues in relation
to women have become central to debates surrounding domestic
violence and women who kill violent partners. The debate has threat-
140 Mass Hysteria

ened and challenged the public imagination in relation to particular

cases of women who have received long sentences, being found guilty
of murder in relation to the killing of their longstanding abusive
partners. These women, despite making a plea of ‘self-defence’, have
not been found guilty of manslaughter, the lesser charge that
recognizes the circumstances surrounding the violent act. The
Guardian article we will discuss argues that because women are not
viewed as being inherently rational and responsible, they are seen to
be incapable of premeditated violence.
The article discusses how women’s violence is ‘excused’ within the
legal system if it is associated with an outburst of passion, irrationality
or even madness. Thus premenstrual syndrome has become an almost
acceptable legal plea, women’s hormones being viewed as the agents
behind the violent act, that is, women being seen to be at the mercy of
their hormones (cf. Ussher 1989). Similarly, women are often offered
psychiatric help or given a psychiatric diagnosis to explain or excuse
their violence, that at the time the woman was unstable or psychologi-
cally unfit. As the article suggests the assumption underpinning these
explanations is that ‘no real woman could commit such a violent act’.
Women are the carers and nurturers within society, their special
emotional sensitivity equipping them for this role. However, as we
have seen with the spate of films such as The Hand that Rocks the
Cradle and Misery, there is also a set of fears that accompanies these
fictions. Women’s ‘special emotional sensitivity’ also renders them
prone to irrationality and madness. Both the lead female characters in
these films – Peyton, the nanny in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, and
Annie, the surrogate mother who takes care of the writer Paul after a
car crash in Misery – both eventually fall prey to madness and violence.
The resolution of the narrative in both films is the killing of the violent
female characters so that calm and peace can be restored. In both films
the fears centre around the women’s apparent instability and threat of
loss of control. They are other to rationality and reason and are
therefore more easily swayed by passion, desire and emotion than by
any appeal to reason.
These fears surrounding women’s Otherness can also be the very
basis of women’s successful legal bargaining. If they plead instability
and temporary loss of control because of emotion, passion and so on,
they are more likely to receive a shorter sentence and a charge of
manslaughter rather than murder. However, if they are found to have
calculated and planned the murder, especially over a period of time,
they are more likely to be found guilty of murder. In January 1989 Joel
Criminality and psychopathology 141

Steinberg, an American lawyer, was convicted of beating his illegally

adopted daughter to death. His female lover was originally also accused
but was later acquitted and referred for psychiatric treatment, viewed as
being a passive victim rather than a violent perpetrator. Lloyd, writing
in the Guardian on 12 March 1991, argued that Steinberg and
Nussbaum were treated in markedly different ways in the legal system,
suggesting that ‘what the case brought into the light of public scrutiny
was female violence; could a women, especially a white, educated,
middle-class woman have taken part in the abuse and killing of a
child?’ Lloyd argued that most feminists said ‘no’, that women were not
violent but were instead the ‘world’s carers, the nurturers. You’ve told
us we’re not creative, not resourceful, not intelligent – leave us our
caring’. Lloyd went on to argue that, to be an acceptable woman,
Nussbaum had to be seen as ‘not responsible for her actions’, ‘a victim
to be pitied, not a perpetrator to be blamed’.
We can see then that there are certain divisions and discursive
mechanisms that structure these representations of violent women.
The contradictions, gaps and silences within these gendered divisions
between rationality and irrationality create a set of fears in relation to
premeditated violence. The fantasy of women being naturally
nurturing and caring, based upon a specific fiction of femininity, acts
as a defence against the fact that women can and indeed are violent.
However, because of these very divisions and their deployment within
the legal system, women’s violence is understood and treated very
differently to male violence. Jacqueline Rose (1988) discusses the case
of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain for a ‘crime of
passion’, as another example of a woman who threatened the limits
within which rationality is discursively constituted. The events leading
up to the killing of her lover are portrayed in the film Dance with a
Stranger. During her trial the press reported her as cold and emotion-
less. When asked why she killed him, she announced that she had ‘a
peculiar feeling I wanted to kill him’ (Rose 1988: 9). She showed no
remorse, fear or hysteria in relation to her killing. Indeed, she was
described as committing the crime in a cold, rational and calculated
manner. She did not plead temporary loss of control as a result of
passion or hysteria; she simply wanted to kill him.
Rose (1988: 9) argued that Ellis was hanged because ‘she was a
woman who knew too much’. She expressed supreme rationality
throughout the trial, showing no emotion or hysteria that could
possibly have led to her acquittal. She failed to represent herself as an
irrational, out-of-control female unseated by passion and desire, the
142 Mass Hysteria

very definition behind a ‘crime of passion’. She symbolically threatened

the very gendered divisions between rationality and irrationality central
to the constitution of psychopathology and criminality in the
nineteenth century. As Rose (1988) argued:

Only if she had been out of control – the subject of such emotional distur-
bance operating upon her mind so as for the time being to unseat her
judgement to inhibit and cut off those censors which normally control our
conduct – might she have been found not guilty of the charge. Premedita-
tion therefore signifies here the rationality of a subject who knows her own
mind, Ruth Ellis is a woman who knows too much. (p. 9, emphasis added)

Rose discusses the way in which Ellis and Margaret Thatcher are
two women who symbolically threaten those discursive limits by which
the social world is defined and regulated. Margaret Thatcher, the ‘Iron
Lady’, represented supreme rationality. She was ‘more than a woman’, a
superwoman. In interviews with Thatcher it was repeatedly established
that she only needed three hours sleep a night. She made light of her
femininity, equating her role as a woman with keeping the purse strings
of the nation intact. As Rose argues the two women ‘present the image
alternatively of an acceptable and threatening form of reason in excess’
(1988: 17). They are both socially disturbing and symbolically threat-
ening because they not only challenge the discursive limits secured
around the relationship between femininity and irrationality, but also
make these processes more visible. They challenge what we are willing
to accept about ourselves with respect to the basis of those very
divisions and relations through which we come into being.

Rosemary West and Princess Diana

At the end of November 1995 Rosemary West and Princess Diana

simultaneously became the focus of a torrent of media activity. In this
section we want to consider the way in which both women’s lives were
represented differentially as being Other to normal femininity, the
‘Wicked Witch of the West’ and the ‘Queen of Hearts’. Both have,
historically and culturally, transgressed specific boundaries of so-called
normal femininity and represent ‘perversity’, albeit in different ways
with different consequences:
Criminality and psychopathology 143

Systematic projection of denied characteristics onto another group results

in the production of fantasized characteristics. If the power of knowledge
production and associated practices is in the hands of one group… the
attributions can contribute to the production of the Other’s subjectivity.
(Henriques et al. 1998: 89)

The media representations of both Rosemary West and Princess

Diana drew upon certain fictional similarities between them,
constructing in the process an image of shared pathology. The headline
‘Sex and madness: it could only be one house’ (Daily Mail, 24
November 1995) actually referred to Princess Diana but assumes our
shared cultural understanding of the signification of Rosemary West
and the ‘house of horrors’. Both were constructed as lying beyond the
bounds of normal femininity, drawing upon a psychological discourse
of ‘dysfunction’ that positioned them both as suffering from an internal
pathology caused by men. The real villains in both these women’s stories
were the men in their lives, who had failed to rescue and save them.
Prince Charles and Fred West were both duplicitous – Charles through
his longstanding romantic liaisons with Camilla Parker-Bowles and
Fred through his suicide – leaving them both unchaperoned, in the gaze
of the public, to tell their stories in defence.
Rosemary West, while testifying, pleaded not guilty to the crimes of
which she was accused. The case for the defence began on Monday 30
October; Richard Ferguson QC, defending Rosemary West, ‘pointed
out that it was a fact that Fred West had murdered and disposed of the
bodies without assistance, adding that: She [Rosemary] neither knew
of nor participated in any of the murders, nor did anything to hide or
conceal those murders’ (Murder in Mind 1: 36). Rosemary’s tears in the
dock became one of the key signifiers for her apparent faking and
duplicity, the Sun headline focusing that day on the tears and their
signification of her wilful deceit: ‘White hanky, tears and tales of
beheadings and butchery’ (Sun, 7 October 1995).
In stark contrast Princess Diana’s tears came to signify her distress
and emotion at how she was being continually interrogated in the
public eye. Diana’s tears were part of a chain of signifiers producing
her pathology on the basis of an emotional frailty that could be
understood, because of the discourses already in place, as a sign of her
weakness and psychological wounding as a result of how the media
and public had objectified and fetishized her as an object of desire and
fascination. We will elaborate below the discourses through which
Princess Diana was constructed as the ‘Queen of Hearts’ but will now
144 Mass Hysteria

continue with the fate of Rosemary West and her transformation

within the media into ‘Britain’s Most Evil Woman’ (Sun, 24
November 1995).
Rosemary West was convicted of the murder of ten young women
and girls, including her own daughter and stepdaughter. As we
outlined at the very beginning of the book, one of the fears and
narrative devices continually deployed in the media portrayals was the
apparent ordinariness of the Wests, especially Rosemary West. This
fear was continually drawn on in the media and also formed a point of
comparison and convergence with Britain’s other female child
murderer, Myra Hindley. This fear is part of a twentieth-century
concern with madness and badness, and how it is no longer seen to be
easily identifiable. Even the trained expert can miss it, the risk and
danger lurking within the internal pathology of the individual.
Rosemary West was represented in this way, her evilness more
disturbing because it was hidden by the hair and glasses of a ‘normal,
everyday mother and wife’:

Other murderers have been called evil. Rose West is different from all of
them. Even from Myra Hindley. Unlike Hindley she did not dye her hair
blonde and wear blood red lipstick. She did not present herself as a femme
fatale. She was obsessed with sex but did not flaunt herself. She was
anywoman, anywife, anymother. Mrs Ordinary. (Daily Mirror, 23
November 1995, emphasis added).

The representation of her ‘ordinariness’ through the signifiers such

as the hair and glasses set the parameters for the intense scrutiny of
West’s childhood by the media. What had gone wrong in Rosemary’s
early years to produce such a female aberration?

They grew into monsters, why? (Sunday Times, 26 January 1995)

Rose: born into a household of violence and insanity, she abused her
brother and had sex with lorry drivers at just 15. (Daily Mirror, 23
November 1995)
Rose: the bright-faced girl who grew up to be an evil killer. (Daily Express,
23 November 1995)
Both Fred and Rosemary West were the damaged products of dysfunc-
tional families.
They became a couple evil beyond imagination. (Independent, 23
November 1995)
Criminality and psychopathology 145

Figure 9.2 The face of a killer – Rosemary West

Rosemary West had transgressed an image of femininity that, as

with Myra Hindley, aligns women with passivity and gentleness. This
transgression was linked to her experience of violence and abuse in the
family and the way in which this had interrupted her normal develop-
ment. Within the psychological literature this is often referred to as a
‘cycle of abuse’, the abused in turn taking up the position of the abuser.
The interruption of intimacy and its exchange for sadistic, cruel acts
against her children was part of the way in which her murderous
behaviour towards her children was understood.
The invectives through which she was represented in the media as,
for example, a ‘Monster of a Mum’ (Sun, 24 November 1995) (and the
kind of image parodied in the Hollywood movie Serial Mom)
146 Mass Hysteria

combined discourses of ‘perverse sexuality’ in which her lesbian

relationships were brought to the knowledge of the jury through their
dismissal as solid grounds for making judgements. However, the
linking of lesbian sexuality with her disturbance of the caring and
nurturing qualities of mothering connotes discourses from the
nineteenth century in which ‘inverts’ were differentiated from other
women because of their ‘masculine aggressive form’ (Hart 1994).
The fate of West is her disturbing of the contradictory discourses
that define women as, on the one hand inherently violent because of
their closer links with nature and sexuality, and on the other
incapable of it as a result of their passivity and gentleness. West’s
badness, as it came to be represented, was signified through terms
that were used to connote her inhumanness and bestiality. As with the
fate of violent women generally, we can see that representations of
West were made upon the basis of her transgressions of regulatory
images of femininity and the contradictions of these images that she
brought symbolically to the foreground. It is for this reason that
representations of violent women often masculinize or even lesbianize
their femininity.

The ordinary killer

Alongside the violent female, ‘serial killers’ present another

disturbing force in the public imagination. These are individuals who
are considered to be disturbing because their violence and killings
seem to be rational and motiveless. They are almost the epitome of
the psy individual, one who is autonomous, rational, integrated and
in control. Their acts are not simply acts of irrationality and madness.
They are too rational, too autonomous, too calculating, too self-
determined. In other words they seem unwilling or unable to
consider others in relation to their own conduct and behaviour. Their
ordinariness is again usually constituted as one of the most disturbing
telltale signs.
These fears have recently surfaced in media accounts, including
those we have already analysed, that is, the case of the Wests, the
Dunblane massacre and so on, as well as in film representations. Serial
killers or ‘psychopathic individuals’ are seen to be swayed less by their
emotions and more by their rationality. Thus they usually are men, who
in most cases are seen to lack the emotion that may make them more
sensitive and sympathetic to others. This is why, as we have seen,
Criminality and psychopathology 147

women serial killers are doubly disturbing because they transgress

femininity as well. This, it would seem, is the ‘other’ side of the
gendered constitution of rationality and irrationality. Hannibal Lecter,
in the film Silence of the Lambs, was the guardian of reason, the psychia-
trist, whose killings conformed to his own delusional universe. They
may be unreasonable in the public imagination, but the killings were
not random occurrences; they were indeed established according to pre-
existing rules and conditions of which the perpetrator was entirely
aware of and would reason accordingly. This is a reasoning madness,
one dependent upon a reasoning apparatus that has lost its links and
connections to others within the social world.
Similarly, women who are figured in this way represent the limit of
what a society is willing to accept and acknowledge. We have already
discussed the way in which Myra Hindley has come to personify evil
incarnate through her cold-blooded killings of children with Ian Brady.
They both engaged in the sadistic, calculated torture, abuse and
eventual killing of young children. Most of the media coverage of the
case speculated on whether Brady had corrupted Hindley, or whether,
because of her female vulnerability and susceptibility, she had been
‘under his influence’. What became most repulsive and fearful with
respect to their actions was, however, her admissions that she had
actively taken part in these atrocities. During Hindley’s recent requests
for parole and release from prison, the media have circulated
photographs of her ‘ordinariness’ as opposed to the mythological
photograph that has become the iconography of evil. Hindley, along
with a catalogue of ‘others’, will remain a killer who will never be
released from prison. As Hindley herself expressed, she is ‘held hostage
by public opinion’ to remain a haunting reminder of the unthinkable
and unknowable (cf. Guardian, 19 December 1997).

Fascination, fear, loathing and ambivalence

In this chapter we have so far concentrated upon how the Other

signifies as lack, danger and fear. We want to underscore and illustrate,
however, the way in which the Other is also ambivalent, the site
simultaneously of desire, fascination, excess and eroticization. We will
give some examples of these desirous, romantic fantasies and finish by
drawing out the role of ambivalence in identification that we will
develop in the next chapter. We started the last section by discussing
Princess Diana alongside Rosemary West and the way in which the
148 Mass Hysteria

Figure 9.3 Princess Diana

media portrayals of both women constructed an image of shared

pathology. Diana, however, was always fetishized by the media, who
continually focused upon her clothes, hairstyle, looks and body shape.
She was an object of desire and, despite her attempts to rerepresent
herself as the ‘Queen of Hearts’ (Panorama interview, 21 November
1995), was still represented in terms of her body:

The Public remains as fickle as ever. Love of Di may last no longer than her
looks and age catches up with everybody. (Observer, 26 November 1995)

Diana represented her own reading of her constructed pathology,

which ran alongside these other representations, in television’s Panorama
interview in which she ‘confessed’ to postnatal depression, bulimia and
an extramarital affair. These were confessed by Diana as the costs to her
of continually being scrutinized and subjected by the public eye. The
following question and answer occurred in the interview and illustrate
Criminality and psychopathology 149

how Diana viewed these experiences as functional in her strivings to

cope. They were failings to be worked upon and transformed:

MmB: ‘And so you subjected yourself to this phase of bingeing and

Diana: ‘You could say the word subjected but it was my escape mechanism
and it worked for me at the time.’

Diana’s confession of suffering was constituted within a discourse of

self-help and coping. In the contemporary cultural sphere, transforma-
tions in the way in which psychopathology signifiers are occurring
(Rose 1996b). From the confessional spaces of chat shows to the pages
of women’s magazines, ‘failures of personal existence’ are presented as
stimuli for change and self-transformation. However, as we argued
earlier, ‘failure’ is, throughout media representations, usually located
and contained within Others and is made to signify as abnormality and
pathology. This may account for the polarized response to Diana’s
confessions, which in some media accounts were represented as
evidence of Diana’s instability rather than a process of change. An
interview by Suzanne Moore in the Guardian (22 November 1995)
punctuated her response to the interview with the words from ‘I Will
Survive’ and entitled it ‘The New Model Goddess’. Other representa-
tions relocated Diana within a world of pathology with the headlines
‘Diana’s no woman of the world’ (Daily Mirror, 25 November 1995)
and ‘Paranoia and Psychobabble’ (Guardian, 22 November 1995). In a
more hostile and invective manner, the Daily Express (23 November
1995) marked her out as neurotic and far from saintly:

Princess Diana was neither magnificent, nor manipulative… She was

pathetic. And anyone who thinks otherwise is as disturbed as she is.

We can see from the contradictory representations of Diana that the

signification of Otherness is ambivalent and contains elements that are
in opposition, often based upon fantasies of desire and fascination, as
well as lack and danger. As we will see in Chapter 11, this ambivalence
also structured the media coverage of Diana following her tragic death
in September 1997. What was most interesting about the coverage was
the way in which Diana became constructed through a fantasy of
ordinary suffering, providing a point of identification based upon her
more fragile, vulnerable and in some cases even ‘unstable’ nature. It was
this point of identification (the overwhelming feeling that she ‘was one
150 Mass Hysteria

of us’) that channelled the outpourings of grief people felt and touched
people’s psychical realities at this time. This was reflected in her saintly
representation as the ‘Queen of People’s Hearts’ (cf. Chapter 11). She
was extraordinary because she was so ordinary.
Many writers have begun to explore the role of ambivalence within
the way in which we identify with those people and experiences marked
out as ‘other’ within the symbolic. We will explore these in more detail
in the next chapter when we look at representations of race and
sexuality. Here we just wish to signal the role of ambivalence in
constructions of madness, and how ‘we’ may identify with these images.
In an article entitled ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, written by Julia
Casterton (1997), who has worked in a psychiatric day hospital
running a writing workshop, the author explores the way in which the
staff ’s fantasies of the patients involve an identification with the
patients’ suffering while simultaneously disavowing it. Casterton talks
about the way in which ‘the mad’ can also signify a romantic ‘letting
go’, a loss of social constraint and the responsibility and struggle that
accompany it. This construction involves a certain envy and desire of
the ‘mad’, who are seen to be cushioned from the world and who
cannot be shouted at or punished. As she comments, ‘Wouldn’t we all
like to be wrapped in such cotton wool?’ (ibid.: 502).
This mode of identification allows one to acknowledge certain
desires and wishes within oneself while at the same time banishing
them or fixing them in the place of the Other. In other words ‘we’ can
identify with a desire to ‘let go’, lose control and so on contained
within the ambivalent images of the mad as Other, while maintaining
the normal/Other distinction through the way in which we can also
deny it; that is, it will only happen to the Other, not me. This allows
the identification with those experiences constituted as Other without
the penalties. Thus we can through fantasy take the place of the Other
and gain transgressive pleasure, while leaving the other fixed in what
Fuss (1995) terms a murderous and violent gaze.
To complicate matters further, if the person positioned as Other
identifies with their Otherness – that is, my madness is a disease, there
is nothing I can do, I am not responsible – and celebrates it, are they
being objectified or actively understanding their experiences in a way
that allows them to place the other outside of themselves? That is in the
hands of the ‘experts’. We will finish with a quote from Casterton’s
(1997) article, which highlights the ethical consequences of the
different meanings attached to the Other, depending upon whether it
is the self or other appropriating the image:
Criminality and psychopathology 151

Once, when we had all watched a television programme about depression,

which argued that chemicals in the brain were responsible for prolonged
feelings of despair, John appeared exultant, triumphant even. He almost
crowed, ‘So that’s it. It’s physical, it’s in the genes. There’s nothing I can do
about it,’ and I replied ‘OK why don’t we all just slit our wrists and bleed
to death now then, if there’s nothing to be done?’ (p. 506)

In the next chapter we will develop and elaborate these arguments,

taking race and sexuality as our objects.
Chapter 10

Post-identities: sexuality and the

colonial subject

Negro – his race becomes the ineradicable sign of negative difference in

colonial discourses. (Bhabha 1994: 75)

In the last chapter we began to explore how the ‘Other’ forms the basis
of media representations of psychopathology and criminality. The way
in which we analysed these representations is similar to Bhabha’s
concept of the ‘colonial stereotype’. The ‘stereotype’ does not denote a
misrepresentation or distortion of a pregiven reality. Instead, it is given
a semiotic and productive role in which the ‘Other’ as a sign repeatedly
signifies in a particular way. The same old stories about racial difference
as pathological are endlessly told and retold… We feel that how
Bhabha uses the concept of the stereotype is useful when thinking
about the status of representations of psychopathology and criminality,
especially within the mass media.
If we consider psychopathology and criminality as signs, we can
start to explore the relations between signifiers and signifieds, and the
conditions that govern these relations. If we take the signifier –
criminality – there is a semiotic chain of associated concepts that give
the signifier its meaning as a sign. As we have seen, the following
meanings are usually associated with the signifier ‘criminality’
constantly underpinning media representations. It is significant that
these meanings are usually characteristics taken to define the criminal
as a character or personality type: impulsive, loner, maladjusted,
deviant, immoral, no regard for others, irresponsible, irrational,
animal-like, aggressive, violent. The relations between the signifier and
the signifieds is the sign.
Bhabha (1993) approaches the signs governing the ‘colonial stereo-
type’ as ‘Other’ and explores the role that the Other plays in processes

Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 153

of subjectification He shares a commitment to processes of subject

formation similar to that of Foucault, rejecting the universal subject
and instead focusing upon how a particular normative image of the
human subject is maintained and confirmed. Bhabha’s focus is the
‘colonial stereotype’ and the way in which racial difference and its
signification as ‘Other’ confirms western rationality as normal, natural
and inevitable. Within this account Bhabha (1994: 75) explores how
western forms of governmentality construct the ‘nation state’ in such a
way that colonial subjects become objects of these normalizing
processes, judged, administered and managed in relation to a regula-
tory ideal. This regulatory ideal construes skin colour as a sign of
degeneracy and impurity, as the ineradicable sign of negative differ-
ence. Bhabha suggests that this signification is also the site of a set of
defences and fantasies. The fantasy is of the myth of a unified, original
civilized human subject; the defence is the disavowal of any differ-
ence(s) from this normative image. The location of difference within
Otherness thus guards against the possibility of the fantasy being
threatened, as any difference is always a pathological difference.
In this chapter we wish to continue exploring the role of the ‘Other’
in representations of sexuality and racial difference. We will begin to
investigate the implications of postcolonial writers and critical writings
on sexual identity for the regulation and management of the
individual. This will lead us to consider an important question that has
so far been missing from our account – how do we, as actual subjects,
engage with those images of normality and pathology which make up
the social world in which we exist? We will start to determine whether
psychoanalysis can be used in a way different from its deployment
within screen theory (cf. Chapter 4) to explore the question of the
relation between processes of subjectification and subjectivity. This is
an important question, one that we must raise at this point as we do
not want to replace biological essentialism (the universal subject) with
a form of social or discourse determinism. We will consider the legacy
of Fanon’s writings and whether his deployment of psychoanalysis, and
its development by Bhabha, offers a way forward for media and
cultural theory (cf. Read 1996).

The age of normalization

We have looked in some detail at the socio-political context in which
psychology emerged as a discipline in the late nineteenth century. This
154 Mass Hysteria

context also created racial and sexual difference as being ‘Other’ to

normality. Writing in 1892, Galton, who has had a significant
influence on contemporary debates within psychology on the relation
between race and intelligence, argued that the white, aristocratic male
was the pinnacle of civilized thought and behaviour. He proposed that
whites had superior mental powers and that other races differed in a
developmental hierarchy from the primitive to the savage. He placed
blacks at the lowest end of the scale, where they were seen to lack
natural ability and rational powers of mind. This scale of merit saw the
white, English, middle-class male as having a superior innate potential
as a result of his pure inherited stock or constitution. Those who were
created as ‘Other’ also contained a ‘set of fears’ concerning their threat
to the nation’s intelligence and its possible decline. As Galton iterates
in the opening pages of his treatise on Hereditary Genius (1892):

The range of mental powers between the highest Caucasian and the lowest
savage – but between the greatest and least of English intellects is
enormous. There is a continuity of natural ability reaching from one
knows what height, and descending to one can hardly say what depth. I
propose in this chapter to range men according to their natural ability,
putting them into classes separated by equal degrees of merit, and to show
the relative number of individuals in the several classes. (p. i)

It is significant that Galton uses the term ‘merit’ which also implies or
connotes social worth. Those who were placed lower down this
developmental sequence were viewed as being more primitive and
savage, expressing a degenerate constitution. They were constituted as a
threat because of the fear that their supposed moral and physical
disorders would be passed on to the population at large. The species of
the world were portrayed and differentiated according to a set of
arguments placing western rationality at the pinnacle of human
behaviour. People were seen to differ in their innate potential, which
was seen to determine the development of rationality and morality.
Galton proposed eugenics strategies as a measure to protect the nation’s
intelligence. These governmental strategies involved the detection and
identification of ‘Otherness’ in order to prevent further destruction.
The working classes and colonial subjects were seen to breed differen-
tially and were targeted by strategies of sterilization and segregation to
curb their supposed inherent threat.
The ‘Other’ within this account functions in the various ways in
which Bhabha discusses the ‘colonial stereotype’. First, it is based on a
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 155

fantasy of a fixed, universal rationality that unifies and defines the

civilized human subject. It also acts as a defence through its recognition
and constitution of difference as pathology and abnormality. The
‘Other’ also contains a ‘set of fears’ regarding its apparent threat to the
stability and smooth running of the social order. Its productive role lies
in its function to confirm and maintain a particular normative image
of the human subject. We can see then that, in the context of the
emergence of psychology, racial difference and its signification became
central to its practice(s). One of psychology’s roles was to function as
the knowledge to identify and classify ‘Others’ in order that the threat
could be contained, excluded or transformed (Rose 1985).

Race and intelligence

These ideas and the quasi-evolutionary view of the human subject that
underpinned them are still central to contemporary debates and
practices within psychology. Sir Cyril Burt, first writing in the 1940s,
constituted intelligence to be an innate, inborn potential that differed
according to class and race (1966). Burt was highly influenced by
Galton, but more than that, he reproduced the biological and
evolutionary discourses so central to psychology’s approach to the
nature and form of subjectivity. Burt became a media celebrity in the
1970s when he was accused of scientific fraud. The twin studies on
which he had based his conclusions on class, race and intelligence were
found to have been invented. This did not lead to a questioning of the
very premises on which these relations were based but fuelled further
research and investigation. The ways in which intelligence was framed
remained the same, its discursive constitution gaining its currency and
plausibility from the wider discourses of the individual already histori-
cally in place.
Hans Eysenck, who until his death was a professor at the Institute
of Psychiatry in London, has again told the same stories about the
relation between class, race and intelligence. He made an interpretation
of a finding by an American psychologist, Arthur Jenson, in 1969,
reproducing the same nineteenth-century discourses. Jenson found
that American blacks scored on average fifteen IQ points lower than
American whites on what was taken to be a standard IQ test. IQ tests
purport to measure and quantify innate intelligence through a series of
questions. Eysenck argued again that this was evidence of blacks’ lower
innate potential for intelligence. As recently as 1996 a psychology
156 Mass Hysteria

lecturer, Chris Brand, made a similar claim that blacks have a lower IQ
than whites. The book was withdrawn by publishers, but this shows
how these discourses are still very much in place over a century later
(cf. Guardian, 9 November 1996).
Since the 1970s, with the entrance of more black psychologists into
the discipline, there has been a huge resistance to the assumptions of
IQ testing and their apparent racist discriminations. This resistance
argues that IQ tests do not measure innate potential at all but acquired
knowledge. The questions measure knowledge gleaned via particular
cultural, social and educational backgrounds and are therefore unfair,
biased and culture bound. They simply reflect the beliefs, values and
knowledge of the test constructor and cannot be used as measures of
any claim to a universal rationality or intelligence. The following
questions are typical of IQ tests that would be described as culture
bound and therefore discriminating against those disadvantaged
through educational background. They also show the absolute cultural
relativity and specificity of IQ tests claiming to measure a universal
definition of intelligence:

1. Odysseus is to Penelope as Menelaus is to Circe / Helen / Nausian /

Artemis / Eros?
2. Carmen is to Boheme as Bizet is to Verdi / Puccini / Massenet /

The racist and discriminatory assumptions and practices of IQ

testing have become widely discussed in the media in recent years. A
Guardian article on 21 October 1994 carried the headline ‘Are whites
really smarter than blacks or are there sinister political agendas at
work?’ The responses from psychologists are still trapped within the
very terms of the debate, the assumption that there is a universal core
of intelligence that can be measured and quantified not being
questioned. The aim now is to produce more culture-fair tests that are
based less upon acquired knowledge relative to specific socio-cultural
and educational backgrounds. Thus contemporary tests are based more
on the manipulation of symbols and shapes taken to be a measure of
visual–spatial intelligence.
The taken-for-granted assumption that remains the foundation of
these debates is the notion that intelligence is a biological substrate
fixed at birth, one which can be isolated and measured with scientific
tests. The idea that rationality is one of the key characteristics defining
us as human subjects is hard to question. We know Descartes’ famous
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 157

saying ‘I think therefore I am’ and see this as capturing the essence of
human existence. However, the idea that rationality is a universal,
unchanging structure is itself ethnocentric and historically contingent.
This presumption has been borne out on an empirical level, where it
has been found that rationality and reasoning mean different things
depending on the context and wider social-historical background
(Cole and Scribner 1974).
The very meaning of concepts such as reason and rationality are
produced differently as signs if we examine their specificity in
educational and domestic practices (Walkerdine 1988). This examina-
tion of reasoning and cognition cogently shows how there is no one true
universal definition of rationality, or a unitary category that can be
uncovered by science. Reason itself is always historically and culturally
produced (Sahlins 1976; Hollis and Lukes 1982; Rabinow 1996).
Hacking (1982) illustrates this view, focusing upon the different ‘styles
of reason’ specific to other cultures that cannot be easily translated or
judged for their truth/falsehood or irrationality.
It has also been demonstrated by one of the authors that the way in
which rationality is specified and constituted in the present differentially
positions and judges girls and boys. Walkerdine (1988) for example,
argues that it is the gendered constitution of what counts as rationality
within mathematics, education discourses and practices that defines
girls’ good performance within school mathematics as inadequate and
boys’ poor performance as no indication of lack of ability. We can see
this clearly in the following examples of teachers’ comments about two

very, very hard worker. Not a particularly bright girl… her hard work gets
her to her standards (this is of a girl who did very well in class).

Compare this with the following comment about a boy:

can just about write his own name… not because he’s not clever, because
he’s not capable, but he just can’t stay still, he’s got no concentration…
very disruptive… but quite bright. (pp. 97–102)

It is the gendering of rationality that allows the girl to be understood as

being outside rationality, as lacking, even though performing well, and
the boy as not lacking, even though performing poorly.
What we have demonstrated so far is that the concept of rationality
as a timeless, enduring, stable characteristic defining the human
158 Mass Hysteria

subject has become part of those ‘truths’ that organize the present. This
concept acts as a regulatory ideal organizing social practices such as
schooling and education, in which our behaviour and action are
judged in relation to the supposed truth of the human subject. This
regulatory image is cross-cut by class, gendered and racial differences,
which act as markers of the limits of this supposed natural rationality.

The colonial subject

The way in which racial difference functions as ‘Other’ within debates

surrounding the relation between race and intelligence is a specific
example of how colonial subjects are positioned, conceptualized and
administered within psychological practice. The main assumption
inscribed within psychological theories is that racial difference stands
as a marker of ‘Otherness’ whereby colonial subjects are construed as
being more childlike, lacking in ego development, more dependent,
innocent, vulnerable, stupid, primitive and aggressive. They are seen to
lack the normal psychological characteristics taken to define the mature
and psychological healthy subject. Their difference confirms the psy
normative image as natural and inevitable. This difference is itself
historically produced from a set of differentiations already in place,
which created the colonial subject as more being primitive and lower
down the evolutionary scale.

Black psychology

The primitive/civilized dichotomy that underpins the concepts

governing racial difference have been resisted within the discipline by
the emergence of a ‘black psychology’ (cf. Jones 1991). This
psychology is an attempt to resignify the meaning of ‘black experience’
through a re-evaluation of those concepts taken to define colonial
subjects. These psychologies are what we might term ‘reformist’, taking
the very concepts embedded within mainstream definitions and
reclaiming them simply as signs of difference rather than lack and
deficiency. In other words those historical divisions through which race
was differentiated and defined as ‘Other’ remain unchanged. What has
changed is the evaluation we give to these divisions where they are
viewed as simply different and not a sign of abnormality. The following
quotation from a collection of writings mainly by black psychologists
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 159

illustrates the way in which ‘Otherness’ is collapsed into difference,

obscuring and denying the actual role that the ‘colonial stereotype’
plays in processes of subjectification:

rather than argue that black people are totally psychologically unique, it
would seem that our experience with – and management of – key psycho-
logical concepts, as they pertain to the handling of contradictions, role of
the hero, language systems, the meaning of work, and a healthy sense of
suspiciousness differ profoundly as we compare the black experience with
the white anglo experience. (Jones 1991: 8)

This assumes first that there is a homogenous ‘black experience’

that can be distinguished from a homogenous ‘white experience’. This
is an essentialist argument that quickly reduces to biological or social
determinism. It assumes that the ‘black psyche’ is defined by a unique
set of psychological characteristics distinct from those of the ‘white
psyche’. Bhabha suggests that rather than grounding difference within
an authentic experience, we should instead be focusing on unsettling
those very social and historical divisions through which racial differ-
ence has been defined and regulated as ‘Other’. We need critically to
examine those very ‘truths’ which have played a part in the production
of the colonial experience. We then need to explore the complex
relation between those historical divisions which produce the human
subject in all its complexity and the way in which ‘we’ live out these
divisions in relation to our own subjectivities.

Fear, phobia and fetish

Frantz Fanon (1967, 1990) produced a body of intellectual ideas in

relation to the role of representations of race in producing particular
forms of colonial subjectivity. He was committed to a radical psychi-
atric practice that recognized so-called pathological symptoms as being
produced through the colonial experience. His work was inspired by
psychoanalysis and was especially focused upon the unconscious and
conscious mechanisms that reproduced and produced racism and
colonialism. At the heart of Fanon’s writings lay the idea of ‘projective
fantasy’, whereby racial difference became the location and embodi-
ment of the colonizers’ fantasies. Thus certain fantasies are ‘split off ’
and located within the Other, playing a role in confirming and
maintaining the unity and coherence of the colonizer. These fantasies
160 Mass Hysteria

become part of the way in which racial difference is then lived and
experienced by both the colonizer and the colonized. The following
extract taken from Fanon’s writings illustrates how fantasies about the
Other shape social relations and forms of ethical conduct:

My body was given back to me sprawled out, distorted, recoloured, clad in

mourning in that white winter day. The negro is an animal, the negro is
bad, the negro is mean, the negro is ugly: look a nigger, it’s cold, the nigger
is shivering, the nigger is shivering because he is cold, the little boy is
trembling because he is afraid of the nigger, the nigger is shivering with
cold, that cold that goes through your bones, the handsome little boy is
trembling because he thinks that the nigger is quivering with rage, the
little white boy throws himself into his Mother’s arms: Mama, the Nigger’s
going to eat me up. (Fanon 1967, quoted in Bhabha 1994: 34)

The above quotation, from Fanon’s text Black Skins, White Masks,
illustrates how the colonial subject is lived through the colonizer’s
fantasies. These fantasies construct the colonial subject as the object of
fear, hate and derision. The Other is to be feared, to be hated,
constantly threatening to take the colonizer’s place. The latter fantasy is
what Fanon termed the ‘paranoid fantasy of primordial dispossession’,
which structures the white ‘man’s’ encounter with the black ‘man’
(quoted in Read 1996: 15). We can see then that, for Fanon, there is
never any one way direct perception of difference or indeed another
person. This relation is always lived through a complex set of what
Fanon termed ‘fears, phobias and fetishes’, which structure and set the
parameters by which experience is located and embodied. In line with
poststructuralist thinking, these ‘fears, phobias and fetishes’ are
themselves discursively produced through the way in which the Other
is made to signify. In other words, symbols and images of difference lie
at the centre of colonial experience and form the basis of fantasies of
Otherness (Bhabha 1983; Butler 1993; Walkerdine 1997).
The negro is, for Fanon, fixed by the way in which racial difference
becomes an object not only of fear, but also of desire. The look of the
colonizers, or the place or location from where they look, is structured
also by more erotic, desiring fantasies. This is the ambivalence of the
look that Bhabha develops in his writings on the contradictory images
of the other that circulate within the cultural sphere and that we started
to explore at the end of the last chapter in relation to madness. The
colonizer is thought through a chain of significations that link together
certain signifieds to construct the meaning(s) of racial difference. The
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 161

erotic fantasies of the other include the way in which the skin of the
black man can not only signify degeneracy but a rampant, potent
sexuality. This is where, as Fanon argues, the black man becomes a
penis, is penis. As Fanon argues in Black Skins, White Masks when
exploring some of the fantasies of his white psychiatric patients, ‘One is
no longer aware of the Negro, but only of a penis: the Negro is
eclipsed. He is turned into a penis. He is a penis’ (quoted in Mercer
1992: 5).
As Hall and Du Gay (1996: 16) argue, this is reminiscent of the
way in which the scopic drive was seen to underpin the gaze that fixed
certain people as objects of that look. We have seen how this scopic
drive was seen to be part of the way in which Hollywood film
functioned to objectify women as the passive objects of an active,
controlling male gaze. This is the main way in which psychoanalytic
concepts have been deployed within screen theory to analyse the role
the gaze of the cinema plays in processes of subject formation. As we
have seen in Chapter 5, women were seen to be objectified and
eroticized on the screen, where they are noted to be marked by either
lack or excess. The excess of the feminine identity is usually one that
fetishizes the female body to cover up for its lack in relation to
masculinity. We saw how this fetishization is actually seen to be a
defence against a deep psychic fear in the masculine subject that he too
could be castrated, as the woman already is.
Within screen theory the look or gaze is structured according to
binary oppositions between the male/female, active/passive, which are
argued actually to structure the spectating or reading positions
available to actual viewers or subjects. The female spectator can take
up either a masochistic or sadistic subject position within the film
text, which is seen to tap into earlier psychic processes of subject
formation. As we discussed in Chapter 5, this is where psychoanalysis
is used to analyse the relations within the filmic text whereby the
spectator is seen to be inserted into the text according to a desire for
scopophilia or voyeurism.Within Fanon’s work the binary oppositions
are structured in relation to black/white, colonizer/colonized,
resulting in similar problems when we try to address the complexity of
the relationship between the colonial experience and actual subjectivi-
ties. Fanon’s work also engaged with the way in which the colonial
subject internalizes how racial difference signifies as Other, that is, as a
sign of degeneracy, which results in a certain inevitability and passivity
when addressing the relation between discursive divisions or positions
and actual subjectivities.
162 Mass Hysteria

This problem has become central to current debates on the

relationship between the symbolic, fantasies of the ‘Other’ and actual
processes of subject formation. Koebena Mercer has taken up this
question in a reassessment of some of his earlier critiques of the
photographic work of Robert Mapplethorpe. In his article ‘Skin Head
Sex Thing: Racial Difference and the Homoerotic Imaginary’, he
considers the role of the reader in relation to the visual representations
of the black male nude in Mapplethorpe’s work. He talks about how
these representations circulated within a gay scene in the early 1980s as
a problematic and illicit object of desire. These representations could
be seen to fix the black man within those erotic and exotic fantasies
that construct the colonial subject as Other. Within Mapplethorpe’s
photographic images the black man is represented by his penis,
signifying his potent and rampant sexuality – his excess. As Mercer

We were shocked, of course, and disturbed by the racial discourse of the

imagery. Above all we were angered by the aesthetic equation that reduced
these black male bodies to abstract visual ‘things’, silenced in their right as
subjects, serving only to enhance the name and reputation of the author in
the rarefied world of art photography. (Mercer 1992: 1)

In this article, however, Mercer introduces the ambivalence that he

experiences as a reader in relation to these images: his fascination and
desire as well as shock and anger. He highlights the emotional
economy or ‘structure of feeling’ that is generated by these images,
which goes beyond the very rationalist approach to the audience and
differential readings that are currently the focus of audience work
(Morley 1992). In its rejection of psychology and psychoanalytically
inspired work, we have seen how audience approaches entirely
sidestep the issues of ‘projective identification’ elicited through
processes that may not be entirely conscious. Mercer goes beyond the
idea of the text as being ‘hermetically sealed’ and focuses upon the
interrelation across the text, the author and the reader, in, as he states,
‘relations that are always contingent, context-bound, and historically
specific’ (ibid.: 1). This is similar to Walkerdine’s use of psychoanalysis
to explore the relations between the text and the reader. In this focus
Mercer wishes to highlight the role of the reader and the role of
context in generating differential readings. We wish to explore in
detail this work as it is important for the critical psychological project
we are developing.
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 163

The active audience

In Chapters 3 and 8 we explored the way in which audience and

reception studies, as well as more discursive psychologies, approach
the relation of subjectivity or identity to the issue of textual interpre-
tation. Identity is seen to be circumscribed by ‘structural positioning’,
which enables differential access to cultural resources through which a
person is seen to engage with a text. So, for example, race, gender and
class are viewed as homogenous and fixed social differences that limit
access to particular ways of making sense of the world. This concep-
tion of identity is one that Mercer is critical of in his more psychoan-
alytically inspired conception of subjectivity or identity.
Mercer, along with many postcolonial and poststructuralist
thinkers, views the Other as being central to modern processes of
subject formation. He explores the way in which the ‘splitting off ’ of
particular fantasies and their projection onto the Other is constitutive
of white identity. Thus the ambivalence and contradictory nature of
images and symbols of racial discourse is part of the process through
which white identity is formed and constituted. As Mercer argues these
contradictory images and fantasies of the Other tell us more about ‘the
political unconscious of white ethnicity’. In this sense the Other is
central to the process through which identities are constructed. If we
relate this to some of Foucault’s later writings on the ‘self ’, he argued
that the relation of the self to the self is constituted through what the
self is not – the Other. We constitute our own identities or subjectivi-
ties always in relation to anOther – our identities are always located
and embodied. However, as Walkerdine (1990: 200) has proposed, ‘we
are each Other’s Other – but not on equal terms’.
Mercer then accords the Other a central role both in the historical
divisions through which the human subject is constituted, and at the
level of those psychic processes which maintain and produce particular
identifications with the Other. On the basis of racial difference as
‘always-already’ signifying as Other, there are a range of ambivalent
images of the colonial subject that signify on this basis. As Mercer
(1994) argues we are continually confronted with symbols of the black
man as both an object of fear – the mugger, the savage and so forth –
and an object of desire – the (sexual) athlete, the dancer, the
entertainer. The Other at both an asocial and a psychic level plays a role
in maintaining a particular conception of the relation of the self to the
self as being normal, desirable and natural. As we have seen this
164 Mass Hysteria

relation of the self to the self is cross-cut by racial, gendered and classed
divisions that produce certain subjectivities as abject and pathological.
In relation to the above argument, Mercer argues that
Mapplethorpe’s photographic images of the black male nude embody
and confront the spectator with the ambivalence that lies at the heart of
processes of subjectification. He describes the ‘doubling effect’
produced through these images, which confront the spectator with the
‘fears, phobias and fetishes’ that circumscribe white ethnicity. He
focuses upon a specific image, ‘Man in a Polyester Suit’, which shows a
flaccid but enlarged black penis protruding through the fly of a suit, as
an example of the ‘shock-effect’ produced through being confronted by
this ambivalence. He argues that this image of a black man (penis) in a
suit embodies and disturbs those erotic and abject fantasies at the heart
of colonial fantasies.
We are confronted with a fear of the threat of the black man’s sexual
prowess to the white master and civilization itself, alongside a desire for
the black man whereby his skin becomes the object of an erotic and
exotic gaze. Mercer argues that these images have a homoerotic
dimension amplified through the look or gaze, which puts the
spectator into an active and controlling position in relation to them.
This gaze is one usually reserved for women within western cultural
practices. It is at this point that Mercer underlines the importance of
the biographical and autobiographical in the range of differential
readings made possible by the text.

The overdetermination of identity

Mercer highlights the way in which identities or subjectivities are

always overdetermined and contradictory. We exist in the nexus of
practices that differentially read or define our subjectivities. Within
these practices race, class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity intersect in
the production and construction of our own lived experience. These
discursive positionings also simultaneously produce our own fantasies,
desires and investments, which are again ambivalent and contradic-
tory. In relation to ‘Man in a Polyester Suit’, Mercer explores and is
confronted by the ambivalent erotic fantasies and investments
produced through his ‘reader-position’ as a black gay male. This
creates his anger at their fixing and exclusion as ‘Other’, alongside his
erotic desire and envy of the black male nude. He argues that this
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 165

ambivalence calls the reader’s own subjectivity into question, creating

uncertainty and undecidability.
This account of the relationship of the text to the reader gives us a
very different way of considering textual readings and interpretations.
If these readings carry a psychic dimension through their embodi-
ment of subjective fantasies, desires and investments, then they
function in particular way. We have seen the way in which the Other
functions to ‘split off ’ particular experiences and locate them along a
plane of excess and lack. These projective mechanisms function to
defend against anxiety, ambivalence and contradiction. We would
therefore expect that certain images of the Other or textual readings,
that is, those which maintain the psy image as being normal and
natural, would be preferred and reproduced. We could relate this to
the fixity of the colonial stereotype that Fanon continually highlights
in his writings.
As we saw in the last chapter in relation to madness and
criminality, these significations function to draw limits around ‘who
we take ourselves to be’ and what we are willing to accept as being
human. They are part of a movement that anchors the signification
within historical relations and regimes of truth bound up with how
we are governed and managed as a population. Our engagement with
these images may, however, depend upon our own ambivalent
fantasies, desires and investments produced through our multiple and
contradictory positionings as a subject (cf. Henriques et al. 1998).
This is what Walkerdine (1990) has explored as a more backwards
movement, the way in which a signification becomes linked into a
chain of associations and relations produced through the specificity
and materiality of a particular life or subjectivity. It is this semiotic
chain of associations which, she argues, has an unconscious
dimension. We thus need to understand the complex relation of
fictional fantasies of Otherness in producing us as subjects and
producing the positions, multiple and contradictory, that we embody.

A politics of transformation

Hollway, in Changing the Subject (Henriques et al. 1988), explores the

tensions and anxieties created through one’s multiple and contradic-
tory positioning as a subject. She is interested not so much in the
fluidity and flexibility of subjectivity, one of the main focuses of
postmodern debates (cf. Chapters 6 and 7), but with why people are so
166 Mass Hysteria

resistant to change, why they continually invest and reinvest

themselves in particular discursive positionings. Hollway explores this
in relation to heterosexual relations and the way in which gendered
divisions function to ‘split off ’ certain experiences and emotions and
locate them in the ‘Other’. She argues that one effect or consequence of
these ‘projective identifications’ is that gendered identities are
maintained and confirmed. This may be especially pertinent given that
the psy image is one whereby we are constantly invited to see and relate
to ourselves as unitary, whole, coherent, non-contradictory and
autonomous. As we have seen, these identifications and defensive
mechanisms may function, at a psychic level, to keep this fragile
relationship of the self to the self intact.
We will explore this in the last chapter, where we look at recent
attempts to develop a ‘psychology of survival’ (Walkerdine 1997).
This psychology recognizes that the psy normative image produces
not only desires and investments, but also fears, feelings of persecu-
tion, hostility, anger, guilt and denial. This psychology recognizes that
particular subjects may find it difficult to maintain the psy relation of
the self to the self because of how they are positioned in relation to it
in different practices. This relation is not viewed as a pathological
relation but rather as an experience bound up with the living out of
oppression and powerlessness.
Walkerdine (1995) has already begun to explore this with working-
class women who have entered higher education. These women talk of
how the contradictions between particular normative images or regula-
tory ideals and the exigencies of their own lives produce their own
psychopathology. What it is important to recognize is that the anxieties
and conflicts they experience are related to the very ways in which their
subjectivities have been discursively produced within the nexus of
practices that make up their lives. In order to understand this, it is, as
Mercer has highlighted, again important to understand how a person’s
biography has created particular investments and desires that are inter-
related and mutually dependent upon those historical divisions through
which they have been positioned.
On a symbolic level this may explain why, as we have seen, certain
images of the Other constantly return and are told and retold within the
cultural sphere. These may be at times when the ‘invisible’ normative
image is threatened or, as Mercer suggests, recounting Voloshinov
(1973), at times of flux, resistance, change and upheaval. This is where
efforts are made to ‘fix’ the multiple connotations of a sign in relation to
a wider regime of truth and meaning – the forward movement we have
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 167

already described. We will explore this in the next section, where we

consider different sexualities and contemporary writings on gay and
lesbian identity. What needs to be explored, as Mercer cogently argues,
is what happens in the spaces between textual images and representa-
tions and the reader’s own subjectivities. This space is a phantasmatic
space itself created through the multiple historical divisions that make
up the social space in which we exist as subjects. This allows us to go
beyond seeing the reader or spectator as being passively determined,
fixed by the text or preformed, to an account of the struggle and
resistance created at the intersection between textual fantasies and
images and the spectator’s own ‘already-constituted’ fears, fantasies,
investments and desires.

Different sexualities

What is the secret of my desire?, Perhaps it would be better to ask oneself,

What relations, through homosexuality, can be established, invented,
multiplied and modulated? The problem is not to discover in oneself the
truth of sex but rather to use sexuality henceforth to arrive at a multiplicity
of relationships. And no doubt that’s the real reason why homosexuality is
not a form of desire but something desirable… To imagine a sexual act
that doesn’t conform to law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that
individuals are beginning to love one another – there’s the problem.
(Foucault 1989: 204–5)

In this section we want to start by focusing upon mainstream media

representations of different sexualities and the concepts that govern
these representations. We will begin by describing a scene in a film
directed by D Bogart (1988), The Torch Song Trilogy, which highlights
at an affective level the way in which some relationships are viewed as
having more status and validity than others. The scene is one in which
the main character, a gay Jewish man, is reciting the Kaddish at the
graveside of his murdered lover, alongside his mother who is doing the
same for her dead husband. The mother finds this enunciation and
action intolerable, obscene and disgusting. It is one thing for her son to
be gay, to have sexual relations with men, but quite another for her
universe to encompass the possibility of relationships that disturb the
gendered nature of sexuality. The scene is poignant for our discussion
because it highlights how gender and sexuality function to maintain
168 Mass Hysteria

and confirm particular sexual and social relations as being normative

and natural.
This scene above all makes visible the fear and hatred that are
created when this image of normality is threatened. Homosexuality
may be socially tolerated but only within very narrow limits. Foucault
(1989) highlights the way in which culturally, the sanctioned signifiers
of the homosexual experience are the casual encounter, the anonymous
sexual act, the immediate albeit illicit pleasure. He argues that the more
disturbing aspects of the homosexual experience are the new alliances
that may be forged and invented: the cameraderie, affection, friend-
ship, passion, solidarity, companionship and tenderness. It is the ‘mode
of life’ that constitutes a threat to the inevitability and necessity of
particular heterosexual relations. It is because the idea of the Other
again thoroughly saturates the way in which modern conceptions of
sexuality have been historically constituted.

The age of repression

Foucault (1979) illuminates this process in his History of Sexuality,

Volume One, in which he engages with the traditional historiography
of sexuality – what he terms the repression hypothesis. This story or
historical narrative traces the emergence of our modern conception of
sexuality through a process of increasing repression. It is one whereby
we only recognize certain sexual relations and object choices as being
natural because we are repressed. This is the opposite of being liberal
and tolerant, and is usually located within the colonization of the
meaning of sexuality by the Church or medicine. The flipside of this is
the call for a liberation of sex, as Foucault argues, a call for one to free
oneself from sexual restraint. Foucault is critical of this narrative,
instead viewing the late nineteenth century as being an age of normal-
ization rather than repression. He disturbs the story that, in Victorian
society, secrecy and silence surrounded sex. We recognize this story in
the myths that circulate within the present where sex was in the past
confined to the conjugal bedroom, the bourgeois family home. It was
hidden away in a private realm, never discussed, unless in confessional
spaces where the darker side could be exposed within the safe confines
of the pastoral relationship.
Foucault argues that, rather than secrecy and silence surrounding
sex, there was a veritable ‘discursive explosion’ in the late nineteenth
century. He suggests that there was an eruption of discourses on sex;
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 169

the sex act was scrutinized, compared, judged and administered, but in
specific spaces and sites, such as the doctor’s consulting room. A
semiotics of sex was established that was structured according to
medical and psychological distinctions claiming to be based on the
‘truth’ of sex. Sex had become an object of a medical–clinical discourse
functioning as the true discourse on pleasure (1979: 71). Sex had been
put into discourse through divisions made between the normal and the
abnormal confessed to authoritative figures such as the psychiatrist,
sexologist and doctor. Within these regimes of truth, there was seen to
be a range of peripheral sex acts, which were taken to be deviations
from reproductive sex – the invisible norm. These deviations or perver-
sions became the object and target of discourses such as sexology,
which, as Foucault highlights, was a ‘science of aberrations, perver-
sions, exceptional oddities, pathological abatements and morbid
aggravations’ (1979: 53).
What was particularly interesting was the transformation in ethical
and social relations that emerged from these discourses. Sexual acts
became linked to the truth of one’s being or destiny, particular acts and
choices acting as markers of pathology, of the deviant character type.
Sexuality thus became linked into a chain of associated concepts that
marked out particular groups of people as Other, expressing degenerate
constitutions. Their sexuality was governed by the concepts of risk,
danger and, above all, disease and illness. These groups were taken to
be marginal yet in their marginality functioned to confirm reproduc-
tive sexual relations (heterosexuality) as being normative and natural.
The target of sexologists was thus the ‘sex of children, madmen,
women and criminals’ (Foucault 1979: 38). It is difficult then, given
the wider socio-political context that we have already interrogated, to
see the constitution of sexuality separately from the wider government
and management of the population.
As with race, madness and criminality, the ‘Othering’ of sexuality
became part of wider processes of subjectification concerned with
confirming, producing and maintaining a particular image of the human
subject as normative. This supposed unified subject – the universal
subject – was, as we have seen throughout the book, sexed, raced,
gendered and classed. As with the processes we explored in relation to
the colonial subject, any difference from this normative image is
disavowed and located within the Other. This is a violent denial of
difference that we have shown produces ambivalence at both a psychic
and a social level. It would seem then that, as with the black man in
relation to the white man, the heterosexual is defined in relation to the
170 Mass Hysteria

homosexual – to what he or she is not. Because of the relational nature of

identity that we have already explored, this would seem to illuminate the
fear and hatred evoked by the homosexual ‘mode of life’, which Foucault
describes and is captured in our exemplar from The Torch Song Trilogy.

The homosexual stereotype

The ambivalence evoked in fantasy through how sexual difference is

made to signify is made visible in recent critical writings on the way
in which HIV and Aids have been made to signify symbolically (cf.
Boffin and Gupta 1990). Although sexual difference can signify in
ambivalent ways and come to stand as a symbol for alienation,
isolation, freedom, liberation, marginality, the ‘freedom to choose’
and even coolness, particular significations return in relation to the
threat of Aids. We could term these ‘significations’, invoking Bhabha,
the homosexual stereotype. They fix the homosexual within partic-
ular regimes of truth and meaning that signify sexual difference as
Other – as an object of fear, hatred and derision. Thus, within 1980s
British Health Education Authority Campaigns for safer sex, the
homosexual is targeted in particular ways. These campaigns, as
McGrath (1990) highlights, presume that homosexuality is
inherently unsafe. In other words it is assumed that it is ‘who you are’
and not ‘what you do’, that matters.
McGrath illustrates this by comparing a similar health education
campaign, which went out differentially targeting heterosexual and
homosexual groups. Each advertisement showed either a heterosexual
or a gay coupling. The text of the adverts remained the same apart
from a startling absence in the advert targeting gay audiences. The
clause – Aids, you’re as safe as you want to be – had been dropped. The
connotations of this absence resignify the historical contingency of
sexuality in which the homosexual was marked as being unsafe,
dangerous, a risk and ill, but now with a new twentieth-century twist –
the threat of death. A semiotic chain is produced that metonymically
links together certain concepts or signifieds metonymically to produce
the meaning of sexual difference. These concepts gain their intelligi-
bility from the wider discursive regimes in which they exist and
circulate as Other.
These historical relations and the metonymic associations they have
produced have been explored by many critical writers on sexuality and
gay and lesbian identity (cf. Mort 1987; Weeks 1989; Watney 1994).
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 171

Mort, for example, has established how, in the nineteenth century,

homosexuality became differentiated from heterosexuality according to
particular binary oppositions in which heterosexuality was constituted
as good and healthy, homosexuality being its diseased, dangerous and
evil Other. We have not simply left these semiotic relations behind as it
is these very relations and divisions which have resurfaced in the
twentieth century’s fear of Aids.
Myer (1991) explores how these historical divisions underpin the
way in which Rock Hudson’s death from Aids was signified within the
media. Prior to the coming out, or ‘leaking out’, of Hudson’s gayness,
he was symbolically represented within Hollywood films in the 1950s,
as wholesome, reliable, hygienic and healthy. He was the ideal model of
healthy, heterosexual masculinity – to be looked at – by women, with
his sanitized looks and larger-than-life physique. His representation, as
Myer argues, was structured according to a fantasy of sanitization. This
image or representation is in stark contrast to what Myer terms his
‘anti-body’, which structured representations of Hudson in the mid-
1980s when it was ‘discovered’ that he was dying of Aids. Myer concen-
trates on a representation that appeared on the cover of Life magazine in
1985. There were two photo stills alongside each other – the first a
sanitized image of Hudson, the second his ‘anti-body’. This was an
image of the ravages of Aids on his body, a body that had fallen prey to
psychic and physical deterioration. Myer asks what we are supposed to
be recognizing in this before and after comparison? We are of course
supposed to be recognizing the deviant sexuality that is responsible for
the killer disease, the leaking out of Hudson’s inner secret, the truth of
his desire now written on his body for all to see. These before-and-after
representations embodied a set of fears about the threat of homosexu-
ality to the sanctity of heterosexual relations. Time magazine
represented this textually in the following commentary:

To moviegoers of the 1950s and 60s no star better represented the old-
fashioned American virtues than Rock Hudson. [But] last week as Hudson
lay gravely ill with Aids in a Paris hospital; it became clear that throughout
those years the all-American boy had another life, kept secret from the
public… he was almost ardently homosexual. (quoted in Myer 1991: 275)

It would seem then that Aids and the way in which it had been made
to signify embodied a set of fears about the threat of the homosexual
‘mode of life’ to the sacredness of heterosexual relations. Hudson had
disturbed the fantasies of hetero-masculinity – the fantasy of the man
172 Mass Hysteria

who could offer the woman wardship and protection. This had been
particularly identified as a fantasy of masculinity by women who had
invested Hudson’s images with a set of wishings and longings for
someone to look after them and protect them – somewhere where they
could be safe in the gaze of a man. As Ruth Wertheimer told Playboy

I feel sad for all the thousands of women who fantasized about being in
Rock Hudson’s arms, who now have to realize he never really cared for
them. (ibid.: 279)

This fantasy had been shattered by the leaking out of the truth of
Hudson’s desire, the new terror of homosexuality and its metonymic
link with Aids, that is, you cannot necessarily tell whether someone is
gay (just as you cannot, as we have already discovered, tell whether a
housewife is a murderer). This covered over an image of the family
threatened and made vulnerable by the homosexual ‘mode of life’. Aids
and homosexuality had become constituted as an alien Other. The new
terror of Aids was the way in which it would remain invisible,
undetectable until the final inscription of its fatal secret, when the
body would turn in on and attack itself. It is this chain of associations,
played out in a set of Health Education Authority advertisements for
Aids, which McGrath (1990) considers. One of the advertisements
presents the face of a woman and asks readers to consider how they
would be able to tell her HIV status. The reader is then presented with
the identical image to underline its inherent invisibility.
Marshall (1990) describes how that, prior to the Aids ravages, there
had been a scarcity of images of gay men in the media. There had always
been the usual gamut of representations signifying perversity, illness and
disease, such as the image of the gay man as a child molester. There were
also occasional images of the gay man as spy, not to be trusted with
national security. Alongside these of course there had always been the
Other ambivalent images of gayness – the outsider, alienated,
sometimes even creative and insurgent, that is, literary representations
such as Oscar Wilde and Jean Genet. With the Aids crisis, homosexu-
ality and a killer disease have, as Marshall argues, become inseparable in
the public imagination. In the symbolic representations of Aids, sexual
undesirables and social undesirables have become thrown together.
In an article in the Guardian on 20 August 1994, debating the rights
and wrongs of supplying heroin users with methadone, there is an
implicit judgement that drug users, cigarette smokers (lung cancer
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 173

sufferers) and Aids sufferers have brought about their own suffering.
There is a guilty/innocent dichotomy that structures moral judgements
made in relation to the ethics of medical care. Although this division is,
in this article, rejected on humanitarian grounds, it nevertheless remains
as the division that gives the article its intelligibility. Why, asks the
article, ‘should we care about a few chronic heroin addicts with self-
inflicted problems?’ The article answers its own question with the
assertion that ‘there are good reasons for caring, and caring passionately,
even on elementary humanitarian grounds. To not care is the equivalent
of denying treatment to an Aids sufferer or a smoker with lung cancer.’
As we know from the range of media representations of Aids
sufferers, there is a sliding from the sufferer as innocent victim – an
object of pity – to the sufferer as being guilty – an object of contempt,
fear and scorn. Marshall considers the cost of these representations,
especially for the gay man who positions himself in relation to them.
We have seen recent examples of confessions by gay men talking about
the price paid for sexual freedom. The lauding of Oscar Moore, the
British gay man who regularly wrote for the British newspaper the
Weekend Guardian about the day-to-day inevitabilities of living with
Aids, and his nostalgia for the pre-Aids days of sexual freedom, were
documented until his death at the end of 1996. Although we can see a
gay man becoming a subject rather than an object of these representa-
tions, there is still the danger that they reproduce and tap into those
regimes of meaning and truth which have historically constituted the
meaning and reality of Aids (cf. Watney 1994).

The politics of representation

Although the Aids crisis and critical analyses of its symbolic function
have highlighted the fixity of these stereotypes, the responses from the
gay community have highlighted the struggle and resistance at the
level of signification to these meanings. This alternative politics of
representation has attempted, through arts, photographic and alterna-
tive media projects, to resignify the meaning and reality of HIV/Aids.
The Quilt Project is perhaps one of the most startling in the Aids
imaginary. This quilt contains panels representing the lives of
hundreds of thousands of people who have died with Aids. Friends,
family and lovers are invited to contribute a panel that personalizes
and individualizes the reality of the life lost. The examples below show
174 Mass Hysteria

Figure 10.1 Panels of the Aids Quilt

commemorating loved ones who have died
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 175

some of the ways in which people have been chosen to be represented

by their loved ones.
The quilt does not represent the meaning of Aids according to
those divisions so sedimented within the mainstream media. Instead it
aims to signify the sheer love and loss created through the Aids crisis.
The divisions that structure these representations are constituted
according to the political and personal effects of Aids. In some ways
they signify what is suppressed or covered over by mainstream media
representations of Aids. They give voice to the myriad of lives that
have been taken by this ravaging disease. They are not objects of pity,
scorn or contempt but celebrations of people’s lives – their passions,
desires, energy and individuality – albeit always framed within a scale
of loss which is unimaginable and terrifying. It is no coincidence that
the quilt is now so big it can no longer be exhibited as a whole for
people to reflect on.
There are also film projects, such as Silverlake directed by Tom
Joslin and P Friedman (1992), that document the reality of Aids for
those living with it. This project was begun by a film lecturer with the
help of his long-term partner, who chose to produce a video diary of
his eventual demise and death from Aids. We, as viewers, are
confronted with pain, misery, silence, mortality, bitterness, sadness and
anger as well as happiness, hope, optimism and love. This is not a
sentimental story of a person coming to terms with death but one of
someone struggling and surviving daily with a disease that produces
eventual psychic and physical obliteration.
This is a radically different representation from the recently
acclaimed Philadelphia, directed by J Demme (1993), Hollywood’s
attempt at a sympathetic rendering of the reality of Aids. The
representations within the textual relations of the film are ambivalent,
perhaps creating the range of differential readings that have been
made of the film (see Davies and Smith 1997 for a discussion). We
have in it images of the way in which the familiar representations of
Aids and homosexuality are based upon fear and ignorance, but this is
almost inevitable when they are represented alongside the safety and
sanctity of the family unit. Within the film the binary oppositions of
black and white and their usual connotations of evil/good and so on
are reversed, the black lawyer, played by Denzil Washington, coming
to signify safety and the white lawyer, played by Tom Hanks,
embodying the threat of homosexual relations towards the vulnera-
bility of the family. The fear of the black lawyer being presumed to be
homosexual is highlighted in one scene in a chemist when he is
176 Mass Hysteria

applauded for his humanitarian ethics and simultaneously cruised by

an adoring black gay fan. The response is one of shame, disgust, fear
and hatred, reminding the viewer of the ambivalent fantasies
constructing the homosexual as Other.
The ambivalent and contradictory nature of the images and
fantasies of the Other within the film create a range of possible readings
and interpretations, which will depend upon the viewer’s ‘already-
constituted’ fears, desires, fantasies and investments. One of the authors
of this volume felt an overwhelmingly angry reaction to the film. As a
‘lesbian reader’ of the film, one of the points of identification was the
injustice of being the object of anOther’s gaze not in the terms of one’s
making, that is, the experience of powerlessness and oppression created
through the constitution of sexual difference as Other. This fantasy of
the Other was continually reinforced through the simultaneous defence
of the family as a place of safety and protection from the danger(s) of
the outside world – of marginality. This fantasy of the Other also
existed alongside a ‘desire for the Other’, a much more romanticized
and exoticized image of the Other. There are two scenes that we might
explore in relation to these fantasies. The first is a scene in which
Washington visits Hanks, who is dying from Aids, to go over his case,
which will go before the courts the following morning. Washington is
privy to a scene in which Tom Hanks moves into an ecstatic union and
moment of rapture with the opera recital he is listening to in his
apartment. This comes to stand for his marginality and alienation from
Others – his sorrow and pain. The second is the scene of the party given
to celebrate the winning of the case. This scene is again marked by
excess, by drag queens, eccentricity, carnival and exotic difference. In
both scenes Washington is on the margins looking from a place of
knowledge, certainty and, above all, safety.
It is obvious that this film can be discussed neither as ‘hermetically
sealed’ nor as being entirely dependent upon the way in which
audiences make differential interpretations. If we take the notion of a
‘forwards movement’, there are fantasies and discursive relations
embedded within the film that are bound up with how sexual difference
has been constituted as Other within regimes of truth and meaning
such as sexology, psychology and psychiatry. There are also more
ambivalent and contradictory fantasies that signify on the basis of this
Otherness, similar to those which have been explored in relation to the
colonial stereotype. They operate as both fantasies of and a desire for the
Other, which becomes a location and embodiment of difference. As we
have already explored, these fantasies also operate, on a psychic and
Post-identities: sexuality and the colonial subject 177

social level, as defences and disavowals of difference. In a filmic text we

would therefore expect that they function as points of identification
that allow pleasure through disavowal. We would thus suggest that they
are ‘preferred meanings’ (Hall 1997: 228), which play a particular role
in many of the audience’s own investments, desires, anxieties and
fantasies. They are bound up with modern processes of subjectification
and are embedded in and organize many of those social practices that
make up the social space(s) in which we exist.
The relationship between fantasies within a film and the audience’s
own fantasies and investments is, however, never fixed. These relations
are also points of struggle and resistance. We are not simply suggesting
that we can account for differential readings through an idea of social
difference circumscribing interpretations. This would be returning to
an idea that race, class, gender and sexuality, for example, are structural
positionings that limit, constrain or even enable access to particular
cultural resources through which we make sense of the social world.
Instead, people are positioned differentially in relation to social
practices in which their subjectivities are ‘read’ differently depending
upon their gender or class, for example. They are also positioned in
relation to Other practices, such as domestic practices, practices of
consumption, lifestyle, popular culture and ‘subcultural groups’, in
multiple and often contradictory ways. It is at the nexus of these
practices that a person’s subjectivity is formed and reformed.
We are therefore arguing that biography and autobiography are
important in understanding ‘how’ a person engages with those
fantasies inscribed within film. This is not an understanding of autobi-
ography that sees a person’s subjectivity as being personal, isolated and
purely subjective. Instead, it is an understanding that views the psychic
or subjective as itself being discursively produced at the intersection of
those practices through which a person is defined, and which simulta-
neously produce their desires, investments and wishes – what they
come to want, who they take themselves to be. It is this point of
dynamic intersection that needs exploring via empirical study (cf.
Walkerdine 1990, 1997) through a recognition of both a forwards and
a backwards movement (cf. Chapter 4). It is this relation which cannot
be adequately encompassed by an idea of ‘queer spectatorship’ (cf.
Burston and Richardson 1995) or gendered pleasures (cf. Geraghty
1996), which simply fixes the production and creation of meaning at
the level of consumption, relative to homogenous social differences.
What we have argued in this chapter then is that a ‘critical
psychology’ of the media needs to engage with the complexity of the
178 Mass Hysteria

relationship between subjectification and subjectivity. This relationship

is phantasmatic and fictional, functioning across a range of social and
cultural practices. It is, however, never fixed: there are always points of
resistance and struggle, both psychically and socially. We need a
‘psychology’ that engages with the way in which people struggle with
those contradictory positionings that inscribe them in specific ways. It
is here that we are recognizing the importance and significance of the
Other, both discursively and in terms of how people relate to
themselves and Others at a psychical and ethical level. It also places
cultural practices, such as film, art, photography and literature, at the
centre of practices of resistance to and struggle against the way in
which the Other is continually made to signify. In our concluding
chapter we will sum up the implications of our argument and make
some tentative steps towards the development of a ‘critical psychology’
of the media–psychology relationship.
Chapter 11

Conclusion: Princess Diana and

practices of subjectification

We have in this book presented the basis of a different way of looking

at the relationship between critical psychology and the media. In this
chapter we will review the arguments made in previous ones and go
on to discuss the implications of our argument for an understanding
of the death of Princess Diana, an event that was characterized by
accusations of mass hysteria on the one hand and ‘people power’ on
the other.
In the Introduction we began to explore the concept of Otherness,
focusing, through the example of Rosemary West, on the issue of the
role of the ‘psy’ disciplines in promoting an understanding of subjec-
tivity through concepts of self-regulation and autonomy, which, we
argued, underpin the subject needed for the smooth running of a
liberal democracy. These concepts contain within them notions of
normality and pathology, and, ever since the inception of the mass
media, concepts about the nature of the mass subject have been
central to an understanding of how the media are taken to work and
have their effects, as well as the manner in which the mass of people
consume the media.
It is this concept of the subject which underpins much of the work
we sought to trouble. We proposed that the concept of the active
meaning-making audience did not overcome the problems of accounts
that assumed a passive and duped audience. This is because, in one
kind of account, the consumer does not have an active and
autonomous mind and is therefore unable to consume rationally and
critically, whereas in the other he or she lacks the social and cultural
resources and capital through which to produce critical and resistant
readings. Although one may be presented as a problem of psychology
and the other of sociology and social forces, the two poles of the
180 Mass Hysteria

argument actually share many of the same assumptions about the

difficulties inherent in particular subject practices of consumption,
even if they differ in terms of their cause. This split reinforces the
individual/society dualism implicit within this kind of foundationalist
account (Henriques et al. 1998). The active/passive dichotomy mirrors
the dichotomy of individual/society and leaves us nowhere to go in a
seesaw of claim and counter-claim with respect to the relative merits of
different notions of the cause of failure to consume rationally, critically
and autonomously. We asked how a different understanding of the
place of psychology, and indeed of the subject (beyond these dualisms),
in relation to the media was possible. In the chapters that followed, we
sought to examine approaches to the subject and media within
psychology, social and cultural theory which had attempted to find a
way out of this dilemma.
We began in Chapter 1 by looking at models of communication,
criticizing on two counts the idea that the media caricatures or distorts
information by providing stereotypes. First we made reference to the
work of the Caribbean psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon, who argued that
stereotypes draw on wider cultural stories and should be viewed as part
of a cultural and social process through which we come to construct
our subjectivities, and those of others, by producing accounts of differ-
ence, Otherness and normality. We discuss this and writers who use his
work in more detail in Chapters 9 and 10. We developed this point by
referring to the use of semiotics within structuralist and poststruc-
turalist theory, in which the media is understood as productive rather
than reflective of meanings, therefore playing a part in constituting the
ways in which people come to understand their social worlds. Specific
reference was made to the work of the French semiologist Roland
Barthes concerning intertextuality, that is, the way in which meanings
(in this case media meanings) always contain within them reference to
other and wider systems of meaning.
Moving on from ways of understanding media and communication
processes, we turned in Chapter 2 to the object of psychology, arguing
that psychology claims to tell the truth about itself and to offer timeless
truths about human beings. We made reference to Foucault’s theories
to understand not human nature but the processes of subjectification
through which humans come to develop knowledge about themselves
and others. In that sense, linking back to the previous argument,
subjects came to be defined in relation to normative models that always
contained some pathologized Other. We discussed how psychology
became, along with other human and social sciences, part of the
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 181

apparatuses for managing and governing the population. Specifically,

we pointed to the emergence of modes of regulation of the masses that
defined them as being other to those very characteristics of autonomy,
rationality and criticality which were discussed earlier. Thus the masses
became the object of a regulation that understood them as irrational,
oversuggestible and lacking in critical judgement. It is these character-
istics of the masses which became so central to an understanding of the
masses as object and unreliable recipient of the mass media. We argued
that this very notion was built into the government of liberal
democracy and became the basis of social psychology. As we have seen,
it also became the taken-for-granted basis of studies of media effects.
In other words the problem of the media became the vulnerability
of certain individuals who were not able to approach the media
rationally and critically distance themselves. In some examples these
vulnerable individuals were led to violence, for example, in response to
media portrayals of violence. Similar kinds of assumption are made
with respect to studies in the tradition called ‘uses and gratifications’,
in which the media is understood as acting as a compensation for
perceived lacks within the subject’s life, recalling Freud’s arguments
about the stupidity of the masses in reaching only for the most
immediate of gratifications.
If, however, we turn to audience research, with its apparent
rejection of a psychological subject, we still find that subject allowed
in through the back door. The use of concepts such as the ‘active
audience’ designates a subject who is actively making meanings
rather than passively consuming. However, subjects’ capacity to make
resistant readings is directly related to their structural location, and
reference is then made to theories of ideology that imply psycho-
logical failure to recognize or to understand on the part of the masses.
So while structural location is meant to remove blame from the
individual and lay it at the door of society, a pregiven psychological
subject is actually assumed, one which either is or is not capable of
autonomous thought. We argue that this approach cannot provide
the break with notions of the duped and passive subject that it wants
without going beyond the sociologism and psychologism that lies
embedded within it.
If we turn to the Frankfurt School, the use of a combination of
Freud and Marx paves the way for an understanding of the mass as the
gullible consumers of the mass media. It was the use of Marx’s work on
ideology to understand the power of the media as an ideological form
that became increasingly important to a left wing struggling to
182 Mass Hysteria

understand the power of the mass media in the context of a perceived

increasingly rightward-leaning and embourgeoisified proletariat.
It was this issue which we dealt with in more depth in Chapter 4, by
examining developments in European social theory from the 1960s and
70s onwards. We concentrated in particular, on the work of the French
social theorist Louis Althusser, describing his famous account of
ideological state apparatuses as being formative of subjects through the
process of interpellation. In his formulation, which took what was then
a considerable risk for a Marxist in placing ideology above the economy
and placing the economy as the cause only in ‘the last instance, but the
last instance never comes’, Althusser places as central the formation of
subject identities in the ideological practices of the state. It is this
formulation which helped to pave the way for an understanding of
media and culture in terms of the production of subjects in ideology.
Althusser’s use of works by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to
bolster his account of the ideological subject was crucial. As we
explained Lacan made reference to semiotics and structural linguistics
to understand the ‘unconscious as structured as a language’ and a
fictional subject whose very unconscious is created in the fictions of the
social and cultural world, the Imaginary and the Symbolic Order.
It was the type of film analysis that came to be known as screen
theory, after the journal Screen, that was particularly important for
bringing this ideological/psychoanalytical axis into the study of the
media. It became common to talk of a ‘theory of the subject’. In this
analysis there was a subject produced in ideology, but the problem later
identified by audience research was the complete overdetermination of
this subject by particular filmic texts and the loss of any sense of
intertextuality. The Screen subject was fixed and pinioned by particular
film texts. The political response to this tended to be the same old
rationalist one: a version of the creation of the autonomous, critical and
rational subject, one who could critically distance him- or herself from
the seductive ideological identifications of the film text. In this account
the masses remained as irrational and oversuggestible as ever.
In Chapters 7 and 8 we examined what was happening to critical
debates in psychology during the move to European social theory and
psychoanalysis. Certain elements of critical work turned towards that
very tradition of European social theory of which we have just spoken,
especially in the form of the journal Ideology and Consciousness and the
book Changing the Subject (Henriques et al. 1998). However, as we
point out, many psychologists have problematized the nature of
knowledge and social reality embedded in psychology, making use of
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 183

theorists different from the French structuralists and poststructuralists

such as Foucault.
In particular there was in the 1970s what was described as a crisis in
social psychology in which the idea of a positivist social psychology as
presenting a descriptive truth was challenged by a move towards a
radical humanism, which offered a prediscursive pre-ideological self
that had to learn to relate to others as selves of a particular type, princi-
pally through the medium of language. This wave of criticism prefig-
ured a second wave of critical work that came to be known as discursive
or postmodern psychologies. These moves are outlined in more detail
in Chapter 8. In a move that in some ways parallels Lacan’s turn to
structural linguistics, these theorists turn to language as having a
subjectifying force, as creating individuals’ understanding.
However, owing more to micro-sociology than social theory, these
approaches tend to view talk as the place where identities are
constructed. Narrative frameworks produce accounts that have force as
truth in the social world. But unlike the approach taken by the authors
of this volume, truth is understood as a rhetorical device, as being
produced as an effect of language, whereas we would want to focus on
the central importance of the historically specific production of truth
and its effectiveness in the production of power, in producing modes of
regulation. So we do not think that the autonomous rational subject is
one script or version of ourselves that we can accept or choose to reject
but a historically specific form of the subject, which is specifically
produced in the regulation of the population. As we argued, the psy
image of personhood is not simply located within language, instead
being produced inside the techniques, practices and institutions
through which the social world is governed.
Barthes’ concept of intertextuality is extended to understand inter-
discursivity – the way in which discursive practices link together to
provide the ensemble of practices through which subjects are governed.
This takes us way beyond an emphasis solely on the text as a construc-
tive device. Discourses are not discrete entities that function for certain
interests, nor does power simply repress or marginalize certain modes
of existence: indeed, it comes to structure those very existences and
resistances. It produces too our wishes and desires in relation to the
ways of being that are sanctioned within those practices by which we
are governed. It is hard, for example, in the present not to want to
become autonomous, capable of critical judgement. Being irrational or
uncritical is not a form of resistance that would be easy, for just as that
is pathologized, so is it governed and managed.
184 Mass Hysteria

We want therefore to understand the complex relation of modes of

subjectification (ways of being a subject), the place of the psy complex
and the regimes of meaning contained within popular culture and the
media. It is, we argue, the way in which the Other circulates within
cultural representations, that tells about the practices through which
the normal and pathological are constituted. It is in this way that we
might begin to explore the relations of subjectification both within and
for those who consume the media.
Of course, several theorists of the postmodern criticize a universal
and depth model of the human psyche, arguing instead for a move
towards a postfoundationalist position rather than some assumption of
a universal underlying structure. It might be thought that such work
would be helpful to the project that we are outlining, but one of the
major problems in this body of work is the utilization of models of
depth psychological processes at the very moment that these are
understood as part of modernity. We cited Jameson’s use of the term
‘schizophrenia’ and Baudrillard’s ‘autism’. The use of such terms, in fact,
has to be understood in relation to the earlier use of psychological
concepts within leftist thinking, such as alienation within the Frankfurt
School discourse. These writers want to signal how much more difficult
things have become and refer to more profound notions of mental
distress – psychoses rather than neuroses. In many ways, however, we
are back in the familiar territory of the use of pathological concepts to
describe the masses, who in terms of postmodernity are not just
understood as irrational but as profoundly sick (cf. Chapter 7).
It was feminism that first used the idea that ‘the personal is
political’, understanding personal transformation as a key part of
political change on the one hand and indicating that the arena of the
personal was just as much a political arena as the economic on the
other. While the nature of the feminine subject was much debated, we
focused on the way in which feminism entered the terrain of media
studies. In particular we highlighted the turn to psychoanalysis and the
intervention by Laura Mulvey into screen theory in the 1970s,
pointing out the male fantasies that formed the basis of Hollywood
constructions of ‘woman’. In a Lacanian analysis woman was indeed a
fiction created in the male imaginary, but a fiction that circulated in
the Symbolic Order, which was profoundly phallocentric and therefore
could never be gone beyond. This position was opposed by other
psychoanalytical feminists, and we briefly explored the work of
Irigaray, with her conception of the possibility of anOther language,
and Cixous and Clement, with their notion of ‘feminine writing’.
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 185

However, it was the subject of women’s pleasure that caused most

disagreement among feminists engaged in the study of the media.
Basically, the positions that we outlined earlier of those who
supported a passive versus an active audience were rehearsed within the
feminist debates, with the same kinds of attendant problem. Also, as in
relation to debates about postmodernity, feminists have argued for new
postmodern forms of the feminine subject, interestingly ones that are
far more positive than those of the male postmodern writers concen-
trating on the masses. Haraway’s cyborg and Braidotti’s nomad both
suggest a subject who was already Other and who had to come to terms
with being outside the rationality of modernity and, rather than seeing
it as a lack, understanding it as an important political state that could
signal a major difference and a way forward for women. However, as
with other accounts discussed earlier, this figure is not grounded in the
practices and technologies of the social, and therefore the figures tend
towards idealism. Judith Butler attempts much more clearly to ground
her work in a politics in which the gendered subject is both performed
and highly regulated within the plays of power.
If we turn more clearly to focus on the production of Otherness,
we can extend the range of our analysis by examining two case studies:
criminality and pathology, and race and sexuality. It was these analyses
which formed the basis of Chapters 9 and 10. In Chapter 9 we
explored the way in which criminality, in the form of the psycho-
logical make-up of the criminal, has become the major way of
understanding crime as a social phenomenon. We argued that psy
discourses define the human subject within regulative practices and
represent difference as Otherness. Differences are often viewed as
pathologies or abnormalities and can become the site of dreams,
fantasies and exoticizations of that Other. This idea has, as we argued,
become central to postcolonial writing, as in, for example, Homi
Bhabha’s extension of Fanon, and the work of Koebena Mercer on
sexuality and blackness. We explored these ideas in detail in relation to
the media portrayal of criminality and psychopathology, with its
emphasis on risk, danger, disease and death. We argued that the mad
and the bad play a central discursive role in reconfirming the image of
autonomous self-regulation as both normal and inevitable.
In the examples we used, we aimed to demonstrate that, in neo-
liberalism, the discursive categories work to define a particular image of
the social world, one that excludes or silences other possible explana-
tions. It is these categories which underpin the way in which the media
represents objects and forms the basis of those fictions and fantasies
186 Mass Hysteria

circulating within popular culture. It is inevitable then that the

struggles of Others for self-determination should focus on how their
psychology is defined and on different ways of constituting their
experiences, as with the Hearing Voices Network, for example. It was,
however, the figure of Princess Diana, who became twinned in the
media with Rosemary West, who produced the most ambivalent
response to her presentation as breaking the bounds of rationality: she
was both feared and desired. We will return to her later in this chapter.
In Chapter 10 we develop the discussion with respect to sexuality,
especially that sexuality associated with Otherness, that of black and
gay men. By exploring the portrayal of Other sexualities within a
number of films, we were able to examine the fantasies and discursive
relations embedded within a film and bound up in the way in which
sexual difference has been constituted as Other within regimes of truth
such as psychology and psychiatry. We are, however, still left with the
issue of the contradictory practices in which subjects are located within
the ensemble of practices in which a film may play a part. Instead of
attempting to account for differential readings of a media text, we need
to understand precisely how that text functions as part of a complex set
of practices through which particular subjects are constituted.
To attempt to conclude this book, we will turn to the example of
the death of Princess Diana as one way of examining this relation:

The crowd in the age of Diana

The public response to the death of Diana is not a fabrication of the media.
It is a revelation of the country we have become. The Princess of Wales will
be remembered as someone whose circumstances imposed the necessity of
self-invention. Her frail and maimed spirit became strong by surviving the
breakdown of an archaic marriage. Her death disclosed a country which is
already more modern than its politicians have understood. (Guardian, 3
September 1997, quoted in Blackman 1999a: 124)

It will be remarked that among the special characteristics of crowds there

are several – such as impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the
absence of judgement and of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of the
sentiments, and others besides – which are almost always observed in
beings belonging to inferior forms of evolution – women, savages and
children, for instance. (Le Bon 1922: 17)
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 187

A mob is by definition fickle. It lacks political nous or political sophistica-

tion and is always dominated and motivated by emotional considerations.
That’s what distinguishes it from political protestor political expression.
(Guardian, 12 August 1998, quoted in Walkerdine 1999: 123)

Hysterical masses and revolutionary crowds

In the week that followed the death of the Princess of Wales, commen-
tators were at first obsessed by the idea of ‘mass hysteria’. Few
observers, it seemed, could understand just how people in their right
minds could grieve so openly and volubly for a woman they had never
met. Echoing the words of Le Bon, some reports condemned this ‘mob
behaviour’ as Americanization, leaving behind the stiff upper lip seen
to characterize the British character. The London newspaper, the
Evening Standard, reported on 4 September 1997 that ‘public
demonstrativeness is unseemly and unproductive: like any mob
emotion, it threatens to turn nasty’. It railed against the ‘unelected
guardians of our heartstrings’, who can ‘use their emotions as a club to
beat the rest of us – or encourage us to feel an unearned superiority
with others’.
By the end of the week, Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism
Today, was ushering in the ‘Floral Revolution’. People Power was on
the agenda. Indeed, the tide against mass hysteria began to turn when
television commentators spoke to the crowds leaving flowers and
queuing to sign the books of condolence, discovering that they were
not mindless zombies but could actually make coherent, even rational
arguments about the importance of the princess and the importance of
their presence and mourning.
As we were at pains to point out in the earlier chapters of this book,
however, this othering of the crowds, the masses, is one of the bases of
the technology of the social through which they are governed. And it is
one more way in which psychology and the media work together to
provide a way of understanding what is normal behaviour in such
circumstances and provide a grid against which that behaviour might
be evaluated.
It is interesting, as we remarked in Chapter 9, that Diana was
herself understood not only as an ‘overly sympathetic and sensitive’
person, but also as a deeply ‘psychological’ one, in the sense that she
was able to express and discuss her emotions in a way that was to be
seen to be completely foreign to an emotionally remote royal family.
188 Mass Hysteria

We can use our framework to explore the place of Diana in the psycho-
logical and political project of civilizing the masses and the role of the
latter in understanding the relation of her to the ‘ordinary’ people who
mourned her.
The other side of the ‘mass hysteria’ and its evocation of those
restless antisocial crowds is the spectre of revolution and people power.
As in debates about active and passive audiences, we can argue that
they are two sides of the same coin. One invokes the people to behave
like rational subjects; the other demands that they rebel and invokes a
discourse assuming that they must, at last, have had the ideological
blindfolds removed from their eyes or their consciousness in order to
see things as they really are. The attempt to understand and control the
masses, whether by left, right or centre, has had at its heart a problem
with understanding ordinary people as being anything other than
psychologically lacking, be it by virtue of their irrationality or their
inappropriate consciousness. The psychological project that was
marshalled to make them into appropriate citizens or revolutionary
foot-soldiers indeed produced the very people who rebelled in such an
unexpected way and whose very mourning and protests were still to
shake and worry the chattering classes. If the people were doing it all
on their own, how could it possibly be all right?
This ‘revolution’ embodied pain, love and loss rather than rage and
was not, in the main, perpetrated by angry young men – not by the
traditional agents of revolution but by the very people who would
usually be regarded as deeply conservative. Add to this the fact that
many of these people included in their mourning the invention of new
spiritual rituals garnered from ‘New Age’ practices and you have all the
elements to suggest that ‘the people’ had cracked. But that is because
many commentators had failed to engage with what the lives of
ordinary people had been like except to comment on the new media
communities of soaps or the absence of sociality.
Indeed, the problem goes further than this. The form assumed by
any revolution, uprising or mass movement from below is always a
surprise and cannot be contained within pre-existing discourses.
Psychological and sociological discourse cannot contemplate ordinary
people as agents of transformation, except in and through a theory of
government and hierarchical leadership that privileges political action
and whose inverse is the hysterical mob that does not know what it is
doing. In these traditional discourses, social change is always described
as political transformation. These theories of the social in which the
state has a central place contain an implicit notion of hierarchically
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 189

ordered sociality, a notion of ordinary people as disempowered, and a

notion of ordinary behaviour as irrational. Hence crowd emotions,
unorthodox spirituality and the spontaneous actions of ordinary
people are forever pathologized.
The idea that ordinary people could understand something that
others had missed through all the hyperbole thrown at them by the
media, and could recognize what they wanted to do about it in a
practice of profound social and political comment and indeed protest,
is beyond the comprehension of many of the broadsheet and intellec-
tual commentators. They were either duped into mass hysteria by the
media or produced a people power that would only make sense when
harnessed and guided by the state. This is why sections of the
broadsheet press began the week with wild claims about mass hysteria
and ended it in serious discussion about the fall of the House of
Windsor: only these extremes could be countenanced within the
discourses that the press and the ‘so-called’ experts had set up.

Psychological selfhood and self-invention

If the civilizing project of liberal democracy was to produce a rational

subject capable of accepting the moral and political order, a self-
governing citizen, the production of a rational autonomous subject was
central to that project (Henriques et al. 1998). What has been practised
for most of this century, with increasing urgency and increasing
acceptance, is a project through which the animal, instinctual subject
(taking the emotions as the object of rational discourse), the subject of
the masses, is to be remade as a subject capable of understanding,
judging and amending his or her own psychology, one indeed who can
understand self-transformation as a key issue in both self-improvement
and managing the exigencies of daily life. The huge number of self-
help volumes and the insistence of television chat shows (from Oprah
to Parkinson to Letterman) to invite their audiences to public scrutiny
is mirrored by the work equally accomplished in the social work office,
school or law court, for example. At the end of the twentieth century,
this was a culmination of what was a scientific project at its beginning.
Ordinary people are not made in the image of the autonomous psycho-
logical subject: they are to become it. Blackman (1999a) argues that
Diana stood as an icon for that ordinary transformation and, in doing
so, placed herself as a subject in need of change, just like the masses and
unlike the cold and distant Royals.
190 Mass Hysteria

This opposition should be seen as an opposition between two

forms of rationality; the expression of emotionality is, after all,
championed by Oprah Winfrey and others, as being a rational act, a
claim that has done much to undermine older notions of emotional
self-control. Indeed, Blackman argues that Diana displayed the very
features that had been understood by Le Bon and his predecessors as
the dangerous characteristics of the masses: sympathy, oversensitivity
and a feminine irrationality. Emotionality, irrationality, fragility and
passivity were markers of a femininity that lay outside the rational
celebrated in western cultures. These very characteristics had,
however, also become part of a project of self-development in which
the ability to feel, to nurture, to empathize and to confess were
valorized and celebrated as part of a new ‘culture of intimacy’ (p. 1).
Blackman argues that it was Diana’s appeal to these characteristics,
and her presentation as someone who was both capable of self-
transformation and rising above and beyond her circumstances with
courage, that appealed to many ordinary women struggling to adapt
themselves. Blackman (1999a) continues:

Diana’s confession of suffering was constituted within a discourse of self-

help and coping. In the contemporary cultural sphere transformations in
the way psychopathology signifies are occurring. Madness is no longer
constituted as irretrievably Other, but an(other) which can be worked
upon and transformed (Rose 1996b). From the confessional spaces of chat
shows to the pages of women’s magazines, problems of personal existence
are presented as stimuli for change and self-transformation. Failure and
psychopathology can be overcome and transformed on a route to self-
development. These cultural practices promote a desired image of
femininity where women are addressed ‘as if ’ they have the capacity to be
autonomous, in control, independent and choosing. Failures in these
capacities signify as failures in coping which can be improved on the path
to self-betterment and self-empowerment. (p. 4)

It was ordinary women who knew more than others about the
dreams of self-transformation, who lived in marriages where princes no
longer stayed forever and often left for a younger model, leaving them
to bring up children alone while struggling to earn a living. It is these
women, who, throughout the Tory 1980s and 90s, struggled to hang
on to ‘love’, caring and kindness against a Thatcherite tenet of self-
promotion. No wonder then that Diana’s confessions left them feeling
that someone had at last articulated just how bloody hard it was to
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 191

attempt to become an autonomous woman and just how sick the

struggle could make you. Small wonder also that the invectives of the
tabloid press – ‘[Diana] was pathetic. And anyone who thinks
otherwise is as disturbed as she is’ (Daily Express, 23 November 1995) –
produced a massive groundswell of indignation and dissent on the part
of those very subjects who had been struggling so hard. It is as though
a gigantic wave of identification with that struggle flooded all before it
at her death. Nothing was going to be allowed to silence that struggle
any more, and if she articulated the desperate hurt that people had
been feeling, who would not want to mourn the embodiment of all
that pain and love?
It was that wave which momentarily flooded the country in the
aftermath of her death, and when the water receded, the barrenness of
the Conservative era, with its greed and selfishness, was left for all to
see. It is deeply ironic that Diana rather than Margaret Thatcher
turned out to be the icon of the 1980s. As Blackman points out, it is
predominantly women who were the ‘ordinary people’ who valorized
Diana, but, as we want to show in the next section, this was at a
moment of profound class and gender transformation within Britain
and elsewhere. Becoming a psychological subject is not a simple
human accomplishment but a struggle in which the push to become an
autonomous being is managed and regulated, pathologizing other
characteristics through which difficult lives are lived but which exist in
the margins of modern life. That those characteristics mix together to
produce a rebellion of the damned is hardly surprising.

Gender, class and labour in New Britain

It was perhaps the hit film The Full Monty, released in 1997, that first
captured the mood for popular culture of what had been happening
for some time in Britain and elsewhere. The manufacturing base of the
country had been eroded during the 1980s, leaving the industrial
heartland as a wasteland, supplanted by financial industries, which,
along with the communications and service sectors, became the
mainstay of the British economy. Traditional male working-class
occupations dried up, and, as the film graphically shows, many
working-class men struggled to find new forms of work, having to
cope as they did with the rise in women’s employment and economic
power, although many women were of course still employed in low-
paid, part-time work.
192 Mass Hysteria

Another media product, the BBC serial The Missing Postman,

perhaps illustrates well the gendered reactions to the huge and terrifying
changes that were taking place. The missing postman is a man who is
made redundant but refuses to give up his work, by cycling around the
country personally delivering his last sack of letters. He becomes a cause
célèbre and a fugitive in the process. On his travels he meets many men
who have themselves lost their jobs and are now working in service
industries. It is they who most count him as their hero, the man who
refuses to give up. The desperate experience suffered by these men leave
them with no sense of how to cope with their loss and where to move on
to. As they struggle to comprehend the savageness of the changes that
confront them, many such men are also overwhelmed by wives who
cope with this change in different ways and who face the prospect of
self-transformation with more accomplishment and positivity than they
do. In the serial the missing postman’s wife ‘comes to life’ after her
husband’s disappearance, demolishing the interior of her home and
remaking it with such panache that the media crews eventually sent to
interview him turn instead to her dramatic interiors. She is remade as an
interior decorator with a lucrative living at the very moment he is
broken by defeat. His only way out it seems is to leave again on an
adventure to deliver one more letter to Italy.
At the moment of Diana’s self-transformation, many women were,
economically as well as domestically and personally, having to remake
themselves. This process, sometimes referred to as the ‘feminization of
the economy’, produces not only a huge change in class relations, but
also a huge shift of gender. It may be that many of the men who had to
face the terrible mourning of their work and manhood began also to
have to face the emotionality and self-transformation that Diana
embodied. It is at this moment that so many commented on the loss of
the British stiff upper lip and dwelt on the image of men too laying
flowers and crying in mourning. Indeed, one television documentary
highlighted a man who said that he had not been able to mourn the
death of a parent but was openly and publicly mourning the death of
Diana. It was a time at which there was much loss to mourn about,
doubtless mixed with the catharsis of the end of the Tory years and the
end of the feeling perhaps that the lid still had to be kept on things in
order to keep going in the dark days that it seemed would never end.
Thus, for the ordinary people of Britain, so much was changing, and
those changes were, and are still, painfully difficult. It was the
discourse of self-help that gave many the psychological resources to
cope and that provided a heroine of self-transformation.
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 193

It is significant that 1997 also produced a new tome from

the Labour Party think-tank, Demos. Entitled Tomorrow’s Women
(Wilkinson et al. 1997), it set out a version of the feminization of the
economy thesis, drawing on market research data. Its tone was highly
celebratory, stating that ‘as male jobs disappear, women’s importance in
society is set to rise, as is their confidence’ (p. 8). The publication
divides women into five ‘personality’ groups, which themselves provide
an important indication of the type of self-invention favoured in Blair’s
Britain. This classification put forward by Demos speaks of the
necessity of being able to transform oneself in relation to the new
labour market discussed above.
The five groups are ‘Networking Naomi’, ‘New Age Angela’,
‘Mannish Mel’, ‘Back to Basics Barbara’ and ‘Frustrated Fran’. Of these
it is Frustrated Fran who would be categorized as being the most
traditionally working class, although class is never mentioned. They
are understood as coming from social groups C1, C2 and D and are
often single parents in poorly paid, often part-time work. It is these
women who, claims Demos, are locked out of the brighter future
offered to their better educated and middle-class sisters. The use by
Demos of market research categories builds patterns of identity based
on models of consumption: these are the new wage earners, the
women who, like the missing postman’s wife, must go and create
themselves a work identity, one which accords with the new labour
market and the new labour force. Demos talk of ‘Fran becoming
increasingly marginalized and frustrated at the success of other
women, resulting in anger, pessimism, frustration and rage, which
could be set to explode’ (p. 31). In September 1997 it did not so much
explode as implode. Indeed, it seems as if Demos could only
understand angry sentiments expressed as rage but not as love, or loss,
or a desire for kindness or spirituality. It seems as if the same tired old
notions of angry working-class masculinity have been dressed up in
the service of the new femininity.
Indeed, excluding Fran, the four types of femininity discussed by
Demos suggest the avenues of remaking and self-invention that belie
the struggles of the ordinary people with which this chapter has been
concerned. For Demos these are mere descriptions and not discourses
through which new feminine subject positions are produced and
regulated. There are, however, those in Britain who argue that the
feminization thesis presented by Demos and others blurs another
change that has happened and continues to happen within Britain, that
is, that women are being allowed to enter the professional and manage-
194 Mass Hysteria

rial labour market at precisely the time at which the status of professions
in particular are changing. Adonis and Pollard (1997) argue that:

the thirty years since the mid-1960s have seen the rise of the Super Class –
a new elite of top professionals and managers, at once meritocratic yet
exclusive, very highly paid yet powerfully convinced of the justice of its
rewards, and increasingly divorced from the rest of society by wealth,
education, values, residence and lifestyle. It is a seminal development in
modern Britain, as critical as the rise of organised labour a century ago,
and rivalled in contemporary significance only by the denigration of the
manual working class. (p. 67)

These authors argue that the professions now have far less status
and are paid far less than this new élite in the financial and multina-
tional sector. Woman are thus being allowed entry into professions at
precisely the time when these professions are being devalued and high-
flying men are going elsewhere. It is this new, largely male, superclass
that eighteen years of Tory rule allowed to flourish and that witnessed
the huge changes in gender and class relations that we have mentioned.
This period then is one of massive transformation for the social
fabric of Britain, but a transformation that leaves patterns of inequality
no less stark but differently organized. Hence, the terror of those
working in the public sector concerning the loss of security, status and
salary, the loss by most people of any sense of job security, the
uncertainties meeting young people with low or no qualifications,
which have so dramatically changed the patterns of gendered employ-
ment. All this is occurring in a context in which Britain is witnessing no
absence of wealth, especially in the South East. Indeed, the media are
full of stories of executives on million-pound bonuses enjoying a
spending spree. In all of this turbulence, a longing for love, kindness,
caring and stability is hardly surprising.
Such momentous changes have certainly not destroyed inequality
but they have changed it, so that the old certainties of community
support in traditional working-class areas have been badly dented. In
this scenario, constantly remaking oneself is a necessity for all, no
matter where their social location. The loss of jobs for life has affected
all sectors of the working population, and in the realm of consump-
tion, late capitalism in the west operates saturation marketing
techniques that attempt to create demand for marginal goods and
services. These marketing techniques use refined emotionality to feed
an ego desperate for self-invention and convinced of the need for
Conclusion: Princess Diana and practices of subjectification 195

personal transformation as a means of keeping at bay loss of status and

poverty in this changing world.
We are proposing therefore that ‘the necessity of self-invention’
attributed to Diana in the Guardian extract quoted earlier in this
chapter is a painful necessity for the ordinary people who mourned
her and a way of coping with today’s uncertainties when it is no longer
possible to know who, what or where you are or are supposed to be. It
is also clear that the state and the market encourage these transforma-
tions as long as they stay within certain defined boundaries. It is the
Diana experience that shows to us where these ‘official boundaries’ of
self-transformation lie. It is revealing that, in the weeks following
Diana’s funeral, it emerged that production and attendance at, for
example, cinema had been dramatically reduced in the week of her
death. This revelation corresponded with apparently officially
sanctioned requests from Elton John and Diana’s children for
mourning to be curtailed, a request that corresponded with the
decision to begin the removal of flowers and that was repeated on the
anniversary of her death one year later. The limits of allowable
personal transformation had been clearly defined. Ordinary people are
obviously not only more modern, as the Guardian suggests, but also
more creative and inventive, and more of a danger, than they are
usually given credit for being.
It is this point which brings us back to the issue of the political
place of the ordinary people in modernity, that is, that both the
psychological and sociological projects depend upon a complex
intertwining of subject and state. The people who sat around the trees
of Kensington Palace Gardens lighting their candles were not waiting
to be led – they were leading. They were daring to express those
maligned characteristics of emotionality and spirituality, and they were
making new practices of sociality, fashioning them out of the cast-off
detritus of rational government. The regulation of them as subjects was
of course formed from the discourses and practices through which
their psychological and social reinvention was socially sanctioned to
appear, but they made something out of what they had. It is they who
showed what can be done without the benefit of any intellectual
leadership to show them the way. Perhaps that is why the person they
mourned presented herself as, albeit an educational failure, one smart
enough to become a major international figure.
At the start of the new century, we are witnessing the possibility of
a different kind of politics. New ceremonies, new ways to live, new
ways of coping all offer testimony to the ways in which ordinary people
196 Mass Hysteria

struggle with the exigencies of self-invention in a rapidly transforming

world. In this world self-invention has both to be sanctioned and
intensely regulated: Demos women and crying men are OK, but
extended mourning practices are not. This is not a reading of an
autonomous self-reflexivity in a ‘third way’ but an attempt to
understand the complexities of self-production and the ways in which
that self-production cannot be contained even by the very forces of
government that deemed it necessary. Despite everything, modernity
does not have the measure of the subject.
What are the practices through which people are both constituted
by and constitute their own responses to media fictions? One of the
aims of this book has been to demonstrate that we need to examine
media consumption as one of the aspects of being a subject, not as a
separate field such as audience research that attempts to construct its
object with assumptions concerning the psychological characteristics of
audiences. If media fictions are part and parcel of the living of life in the
present, these need to be explored as one aspect in which the fictions
and fantasies of the subject are constituted through, or in relation to, the
regimes of deeply interdiscursive meaning through which subjects
understand themselves and others. Although we have not laid out a
foolproof method for that kind of work, we hope that we have at least
sketched out what might fruitfully be the basis of a different and more
productive way of understanding the psychology–media relationship.
The rest of the work remains to be done.

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Zizek, S (1989) The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.

A civilized 28
abuse, cycle of 145 human behaviour 28
academic psychology 90 see also aggression; violence
active audience 51–4, 57, 163–4, 181 behaviourism 49, 53, 95
active/passive dichotomy 3, 14, 56, Bhabha, Homi 23–4, 119, 152–3
58 bipolar disorder 128
Adorno, Theodor 63 black experience 158
aggression v. white experience 159
media violence and 43 black men, as objects of fear and
see also violence desire 163–4
Aids 170–5 black people 119
film projects 175–7 and IQ tests 155–6
alienation 97–8 black psyche, v. white psyche 159
Althusser, Louis 66–7, 69, 70, 182 black psychology 158–9
on ideology 66–7, 69, 91 Brady, Ian 9–10, 12, 147
animality 35 Braidotti, Rosi 86, 88, 89
animals v. humans 28 Bulger, James 37, 41–2
antiessentialism 67–8 Burt, Sir Cyril 155
antihumanisms 90 Butler, Judith 86, 87–8, 88
anti-realism 109
antisocial behaviour, media as cause of C
39–40, 43, 45 castration complex 72, 75
audience catatonia 100
active 51–4, 57, 163–4, 181 chat shows
active/passive dichotomy 3, 14, 56, and co-dependency 103–4
58 and self-control 41
and cultural resources 52 children
empowerment of 57 aggressive behaviour 43
audience research 51, 52–3 development process 40
authenticity 97 murderous 37–8
authoritarian personality 63 working-class 41
autism 98, 184 cinema, see films
autonomous self 4–5, 113, 115 Cixous, Helene 84
fiction of 4, 104, 115, 123, 134 class 41, 191–5
see also self race and intelligence 155–6
autonomous selfhood 5 Super Class 194
ethic of 125–6 see also working class entries
Clement, Catherine 84
B co-dependency 103–4
Barthes, Roland 21 cognitive mapping 95
Baudrillard, Jean 96–7, 97–100 cognitive psychology 53
behaviour collective mind 32
antisocial, media as cause of colonial stereotype 7, 23–4, 152–3,
39–40, 43, 45 154–5, 159

208 Index
colonial subject 158, 160 dangerousness, scale of 127
colonial subjectivity 23 Darwin, Charles 29
communication decentring of the individual 112–13
breakdown of 16–25 defences 72
media distortion of 17 delirium 96
message content 16 de Saussure, Ferdinand 71
models 16, 17, 18 desensitization 40
noise in 16 desire, unfulfillability of 73
process of 16 desired self 103
see also language; meanings; media detachment, politics of passionate
companionship, media as 49 detachment 82
connotation 22 developmental psychology 32
consciousness Diana, Princess of Wales
constructed nature of 68 mass hysteria? 186–8
and Marxism 64–5 media representation 142–3,
consciousness raising 79, 80 143–4, 147–50
coping, madness as inability to cope self-invention 186, 195
127–8 self-transformation 189–91, 192
criminality 122–51 dictatorship 62
associated meanings 152 diminished responsibility 130
media portrayals 124–6 discontinuity v. continuous
criminal personality 129, 135 progression, alternative
criminals historiographies 27
characteristics 6 discourse(s) 25, 117
as psychological subjects 11 psy discourses 103, 104–5, 110,
critical polytextualism 115 119, 124
critical psychology 55, 93, 101–21 racial 117
crowds 1, 31–2 self-discourses 112
characteristics of 186 discourse analysis 54, 114–15
collective mind 32 discursive psychology 107, 108
contagion of 32, 35 diversion, media as 49
oversuggestibility of 31, 32, 33, drag 88
35, 38 dreams 72–3
revolutionary 187–9 interpretation of 72–3
see also masses; mass mind drugs 172–3
Cullen enquiry 123 Dunblane 123
culpability 135
cults 36 E
cultural backgrounds of viewers, and economy, feminization of 192
media text 52 écriture feminine 84
cultural studies, importance of ecstasy 96
psychological issues 59–60 education, media education 77–8
cultural theory, postmodernist, effects theories v. Marxism 65
psychological concepts in 93–5 Ellis, Ruth 141, 142
cyborg 89, 111, 185 empowerment, of audience 57
cycle of abuse 145 escapism, media as 49
essentialism 18, 88
D ethic of autonomous selfhood 125–6
Dallas fans 86 ethnomethodology 54
Dance with a Stranger (film) 141 exclusion systems 124
Index 209

exogamy, law of 70 psychoanalysis of 76–7

experience 118 women in 81, 81–2
Eysenck, Hans 155 see also individual film titles
film theory
F feminism and 81
Fanon, Frantz 159–61 see also screen theory
fantasy 71–2 Findley 126–7
Butler’s views on 87, 87–8 Foucault, Michel 27–8, 32, 88, 91
as defensive structure 72 on anxiety of judging 11
Fanon on 159–60 approach to truth 33–4, 109
in films v. audience’s 177 on repression and sexuality 168–70
of hetero-masculinity 171–2 France
infantile fantasies 62, 74 feminist writers 82–4
and masculinity 81 liberalism v. colonialism 22–3
of primordial dispossession 160 psychology theory 93
projective fantasy 159 student revolts 66
and race 159–61 Frankfurt School 18, 61–4, 65,
social fantasy 49 181–2
woman as 75, 81, 87 Freud, Sigmund 34–5, 61–2, 71–2
Fascism 62, 99–100 feminists’ views about 80–1, 82–3
fascist potential in population 63 sexuality theory 35
father, law of the 71, 82, 83, 84 Freudo-Marxism 62, 66
fear 160 F Scale test 63
on the streets 126–8 The Full Monty (film) 191–2
female impersonators 88
feminine painting 84 G
feminine writing 84 Galton, F 154
femininism, French writers 82–4 gay men 172
femininity gender 88
achievement of role 80 and rationality 138–42, 157
attributes of 136, 137, 140, 141, gendered pleasures 177
145 government
Imaginary 82 and the masses 32
as masquerade 88 and social problems 29
postmodernity and 84, 86–8 gratification, see uses and gratifications
and rationality 138–42 research
feminism 184–5 group membership 54–5
feminists’ views about Freud 80–1, group psychoanalysis 35–6
82–3 group psychopathology 34
and film theory 81 groups, irrationality as problem of 34
and psychoanalysis 79–89
second-wave 79 H
feminization of the economy 192 hallucinations 60, 61, 73, 126
fiction of the autonomous self 4, 104, of the absent breast 72
113, 115, 123, 134 Hamilton 123
fictions functioning in truth 103, 121 The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (film)
field-dependent thinking 41 140
film-making, avant-garde 82 Haraway, Donna 88, 89
films Harré, R 106–7
female viewers 86
210 Index
hearing voices 103, 126–7 individual/society dualism 3, 34, 47,
evidence of chemical imbalance 65, 91, 107
133 critiques of 68, 70
Peter Sutcliffe and 122, 129–30 infantile wishes/fantasies 62, 74
Hearing Voices Network (Hvn) infants 91
132–4 insanity, see madness
hetero-masculinity, fantasies of 171–2 inspiration 96
Hindley, Myra 9–10, 11, 12, 136–7, instability, psychological, words
144, 147 describing 10
historiography of psychology 26–7, intelligence 90
102–3 eugenics strategies in protection of
history 154
of the present 28 race and 154, 155–8
see also historiography intelligence quotient, see IQ tests
Hollywood films, women in 81, 81–2 interdiscursivity 183
homosexual stereotype 170–3 interpellation 67, 68, 69
Hudson, Rock 171–2 intertextuality 6, 180
human behaviour 28 of texts 20, 21, 23
humanism 90 IQ tests 155–6
human nature, in critical psychology Irigaray, Lucia 82–3
102 irrationality 32, 33
humanness, rationality as definition of as group problem 34
27, 29–30 irrational mind 57
humans v. animals 28 ISAs essay (Ideology and ideological
hypodermic model of media effects state apparatuses) 66
I Jameson, Frederick 94–5
identification 87 Jamieson, Redfield 129
overidentification 86 jealousy 114
projective 162, 166 journals, self-published 91–2
identity 87 judiciary, and the media 37
overdetermination of 164–5
problems with 54–8 K
self-identity 54 killers
socio-cognitive approach to 54 insane 124–5, 134–5
use of media to understand 49 serial killers 146–7
Althusser’s approach 66–7, 69, 91 L
and identities 67 Lacan, Jacques 67–8, 69, 182
Marxist theories 36, 64 fantasy and femininity 81–2
use of term 119 psychoanalysis 70–5
Ideology and Consciousness 91–2 language 106, 108
the Imaginary 74, 98 in creating moral structure 20
Imaginary femininity 82 dualisms 19–20
Imaginary Order 74, 182, 184 as endpoint of discourse 115
impersonators 88 interpretation problems 17
inauthenticity 97 reflecting/describing subjectivity
individual, decentring of 112–13 25
Index 211

representing stable reality 17 see also crowds; masses

as self-expression 112 mass psychology 26–38
as signification 21 meanings 21
synchronic/diachronic 72 intended meaning 16
see also communication media as site for production of 20
Le Bon, Gustave 31–2, 34 preferred meaning 21
legal system regimes of, discursive and
attitude to violent women 140–2 productive roles of 24–5
and culpability 135 of televisual text 44, 51–2
Lévi-Strauss, Claude 70, 75 media
liberal humanist thought 113 as agent of socialization 18
lithium therapy 129 and aggression in individuals 43
Lyotard, JF 97 anti-democratic tendencies 40
banality 36
M as companionship 49
McCarthyism 101 compensating for personal deficits
madness 116 50
or badness? 122–3, 129–30 coverage of events 50
criminally insane 129 crime representation 135–6
as inability to cope 127–8 distortion of communication 17
insane killers 124–5, 134–5 as diversion 49
media portrayals 124–6 effects of, see media effects
men’s v. women’s 138–9 as escapism 49
not always easily identifiable 144 hysteria 13–15
ordinary 128–30 liberal-functionalist approach 50
reasoning madness 147 mass media 135–6
and violence 125 v. mind 20
male hysteria 96 perspectives of 39
manic depression 128 portrayals of madness 124–6
‘manipulationist’ thesis 58 reader positions 56
Marx, Karl 36–7 reporting of violence 39–42
Marxism 64–5 role 20
and consciousness 64–5 role in shaping public opinion 101
v. effects theories 65 semiotics of media production
Freudo-Marxism 62, 66 47–9
ideology 36, 64 as site for production of meanings
masculinity 96 20
fantasy and 81 studies, see media studies
law of the father 71, 82, 83, 84 subjectivity and 102
masses 1–2, 98–100 surveillance of world information
hysterical 187–9 50
oversensitivity of 31–3 television and meanings 44, 51–2
psychology of 3 television as agent of socialization
see also crowds; mass mind 44–5
mass media, see media triviality 36
mass mind 13–14, 57, 60, 135–6 to understand own personal
easy gratification 62, 65 identity 49
as irrational 1–2 and viewers’ cultural backgrounds
Marxism and 36–7, 64 52
political aspects 31 see also audience; communication
212 Index
media consumption Moors Murders, see Brady, Ian;
studies 39–58 Hindley, Myra
towards a science of? 44–5 morality 154
media education 77–8 Morley, David 59–60
media effects mourning, public 192, 196
antisocial behaviour 39–40, 43, 45 Mulvey, Laura 81–2
creating a ‘we-feeling’ 50–1 murderers, children as 37–8
on crime 37 myth 22
by desensitization 40
hypodermic model 44 N
influencing individuals’ thoughts narcissism 86
43 nation states 153
opposition to research 45–7 new paradigm research 106, 107–8
quantification 42–3 nomads 89, 111, 185
research 40–2, 52, 53 normalization, age of 153–5, 168
susceptibility of ‘ordinary people’ normative images 166–7
3 novels, romantic, women readers 86
media representations 7–8 Nussbaum 141
media studies
audience research 51, 52–3 O
communication models 17 objectivity 108–9
correlational method 43 object-oriented perception 41
effects research 40–2, 52, 53 Oedipus complex 72
experimental method 43 office viewing 86
importance of psychological issues Other, psychology of the 9–12
59–60 Otherness 10–12, 115, 119–21, 150,
measuring tools 43 185
methodological problems 44 and racial difference 158, 160–2
object of 20 of sexuality 169, 170, 176, 186
uses and gratifications research women’s 140
49–51, 52, 53 overidentification 86
melancholy 99 oversuggestibility, of crowds 31, 32,
mental illness v. personality disorder 33, 35, 38
Mercer, Koebena 162–5
merit 154 P
metaphor 72 Pagett, Nicola 128–9
metonymy 72 painting, feminine 84
micro-physics 33 Paris Match 22
mind patriarchal power 71, 75
irrational 57 law of the father 71, 82, 83, 84
v. media 20 Payne, Thomas 36
see also mass mind Peer Gynt 118
mirror stage in infancy 69 people power 2–3
Misery (film) 140 performativity 87, 88
misinformation 17, 18 personality disorder v. mental illness
The Missing Postman (television serial) 123
192 personality theory 63–4
Mitchell, Juliet 80–1 personhood 183
phallus 71, 75, 81, 83, 84
Index 213

Philadelphia (film) 175–6 critical psychology 55, 93, 101–21

plans of human life 106 developmental 32
pleasures discursive 107, 108
gendered 177 diversity of models 26
women’s 82, 83, 84–6, 185 emergence of 28, 48
politics of passionate detachment 82 essentialist approach 18
polytextualism 115 experimental method 105–6
population management, psychology French theory 93
as science of 30–1 historiography of 26–7, 102–3
positivist framework of psychology of individual 18
105 of masses 3
post-Fordism 58 mass psychology 26–38
postmodernity move from religious to biological
and femininity 84, 86–8 explanation 28–9
postmodern psychology 90–100, positivist framework 105
107, 108 postmodern 90–100, 107, 108
psychological concepts in cultural as progression from falsehood to
theory 93–5 truth 27, 29
postmodernization 120 ‘reformist’ psychologies 158
poststructuralism 31, 87 as science of population
power 117–18 management 30–1
people power 2–3 social learning model 44
prejudice 17, 18 social psychology 34–5, 63
premenstrual syndrome 140 of survival 166
projective fantasy 159 traditional v. discursive 25
projective identification 162, 166 psychopathology
psychiatry 125 of groups 34
psychical reality 71, 72 media portrayals 124–6
psychoanalysis psychoses 60, 61
and feminism 79–89 psy complex 28–30
in film interpretation 76–7 psy discourses 103, 104–5, 110, 119,
of groups 35–6 124
increasing influence of 93
Lacan’s concepts 70–5 Q
as metatheory 87 queer spectatorship 177
v. sociology 85 Quilt Project 173–5
turnback to 23
psychological complex 28 R
psychological instability, words race
describing 10 and fantasy 159–61
psychological knowledge 109 and intelligence 154, 155–8
psychological selfhood 189–91 see also colonial subject
psychology racial discourse 117
academic 90 racism 18–19
black psychology 158–9 racist stereotype 19, 24
claims to truth 27 ‘radical’, meaning of 90
cognitive 53 radicality 66
concepts in postmodernist cultural rationality 32, 34, 154, 156–8
theory 93–5
crisis in 105–8, 183
214 Index
as definition of humanness 27, self-discourses 112
29–30 self-expression 98, 112
and gender 138–42, 157 self-harm 135
see also irrationality self-help practices of 104
reader positions 56, 57 selfhood, psychological 189–91
realism, in critical psychology 102 self-identity 54
reality see also identity
depiction of 17 self-invention 189, 195, 196
psychical 71, 72 semiotics 19–20
and representation 17, 19, 20 serial killers 146–7
semiotic production of 19–25 sex 168–9
social 105 sexology 169
reason 157 sexuality 167–8, 169
‘reformist’ psychologies 158 masculine 130–1
regulation 98 Otherness of 169, 170, 176, 186
representation 96 theory of 35
politics of 173–7 signification 20, 71, 75, 97
and reality 17, 19, 20 language as 21
regime of 23 regulative role of 23
as signification 20 representation as 20
repression, age of 168–70 washing powders as example of 21,
repression hypothesis 168 22
research signifieds 20, 21
new paradigm research 106, 107–8 signifiers 20, 21
see also media studies indexical 22
resistance 100 polysemic 22–3
responsibility 135 signifier/signified relationship 20–1,
diminished 130 71, 97, 152
risk 127 signs 20–1
romantic novels, women readers 86 denotative level 21
rules of human life 106 materiality of 134–8
rupture v. continuous progression, silence 98
alternative historiographies 27 Silence of the Lambs (film) 147
Silverlake (film) 175
S simulacrum 97
St Theresa of Avila 60–1 simulation 97, 98
Saussure, Ferdinand de 71 soap opera, female viewers 86
schizophrenia 60, 103, 127 social class, see class
concept of 94, 94–5, 184 social fantasy 49
screen theory 76–7, 85, 110–11, 161, socialization, agents of 18, 44–5
182 social learning model, in psychology
see also film theory 44
self 18, 20, 24, 163–4 social problems, change in government
desired 103 strategies 29
making-up of 3–9 social psychology 34–5, 63
psychological selfhood 189–91 social reality 105
see also autonomous self; social subjects 53–4
autonomous selfhood society, see individual/society dualism
self-control 40 socio-cognitive approach to identity
chat shows and 41 54
Index 215

sociology, v. psychoanalysis 85 The Torch Song Trilogy (film) 167–8,

space 97 170
beyond the body 96 trances 96
spectatorship, queer 177 transformation, a politics of 165–7
Steinberg, Joel 140–1 truth 61, 103, 108, 109
stereotypes 17–18 claims to, of psychology 27
colonial stereotype 7, 23–4, Foucault’s approach to 33–4, 109
152–3, 154–5, 159 psychology as progression from
effect of 17–18 falsehood to 27, 29
homosexual stereotype 170–3 as a rhetorical device 183
psychological and social twilight states 96
components 17
racist 19, 24 U
structuralism 96 unconscious 67–9, 72–3
structural positioning/location 56, femininity and 80
163, 181 as structured as a language 182
stupor 96 universal subject 169
subject, theory of 182 uses and gratifications research
subject formation 153, 163 49–51, 52, 53
subjectification 24, 28
costs and consequences of 124 V
v. subjectivity 153 veridicality 33
technologies of 28 videos 42, 46
subjectivity 65, 69, 110, 111 female viewers 86
colonial 23 violence 46
and culture 71 viewers, see audience
discursive approach 112 violence
language reflecting/describing 25 and madness 125
and the media 102 on video 46
modernist approach 112 in women 138–42
in postmodernity 84 see also aggression
resistant 99 visions 60–1
v. subjectification 153 voices, see hearing voices
suggestibility 40 voting 32–3
oversuggestibility of crowds 31, 32, vulnerability 40, 48, 52, 60
33, 35, 38
surveillance 50
survival, psychology of 166 W
Sutcliffe, Peter 10, 122, 129–31 war neuroses 96
Symbolic Order 74, 75, 83, 182, 184 washing powders, example of
signification 21, 22
‘we-feeling’ 50–1
T West, Fred 9, 10, 136
talk 108, 117 West, Rosemary 9, 10, 11, 136,
television, see media 142–6
texts wish fulfilment 73–4, 75
decoding v. encoding 23 woman, as fantasy 75, 81, 87
intertextual 20, 21, 23 women
Thatcher, Margaret 142 aggressive capability 11
Theresa of Avila, Saint 60–1 in films 81, 81–2
Tomorrow’s Women 193
216 Index
law’s attitude to 140–2 Working Class 75
and masculine sexuality 130–1 in Marxism 64
media consumption 50 working-class people
objectification of 161 children 41
personality groups 193–4 easy gratification 65
pleasures 82, 83, 84–6, 185 infantile working class 62
prone to outside influences 137 and psychoses 60, 61
rise in employment of 191–2, 194 see also class
self-transformation 190–1, 192 writing, feminine 84
television characters 52 Wundt, Wilhelm 26
violent 138–42, 146
see also femininity; feminism Y
women’s bodies 83, 84 Yorkshire Ripper, see Sutcliffe, Peter
women’s liberation movement 80 youth culture 55
see also feminism