Economics, semiotics, and psychoanalysis: a case for an interpretive science of economics.

This will be our first in-room seminar for a couple of years; note the new time of 8pm and the new venue, the New Seminar Room in the main college (St Johns' on St Giles'); there will be brisk ventilation in the room, and warm clothing is advised. There will be a later online version of the talk and a discussion with Kier Martin (Oslo) and Ivano Cardinale (Goldsmith's); the link for this will be sent to those registered and others expressing interest. Seating will be limited so that you *must* register in advance; please contact to do so.

On what ground can we bring psychoanalysis and economics into relation when, at first sight, they occupy quite opposite positions in the range of methods available to the social scientist. Psychoanalysis is particularistic, ‘idiographic’, and experience-near for the investigator, for whom the interpretive approach entails a critical self-reflection. Economics is highly general, ‘nomothetic’, abstract and distanced from experience, and both presupposes and requires the investigator’s neutrality.

I suggest that these apparent opposites come together dialectically under a common rubric: the management of resources necessary for life, under the constitutive constraint of unintended consequence. The human ethical problem on which economics could be said to be founded is that of dependence on others for the meeting of vital need, from the standpoint of a subjectivity that is self-mandated to survival through its own self-maintenance as a form of consciousness.

The resonances and references to German idealist thought are non-accidental here: psychoanalysis, as I shall indicate, arises out of that intellectual milieu, not as a testament to the thought of any particular thinker, such as Freud, but as a movement of Western thought at a time of scientific and historical-political change, towards a material psychology of a distinctive sort, in which mind, as embodied, and human beings, as minded in their nature, are caught in the causal nexus of vital resources.