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Intersubjectivity is something which is shared by two or more subjects.
Intersubjectivity is "The sharing of subjective states by two or more individuals." (Scheff 2006). It refers to shared emotion (attunement), shared attention, and share intention.
The term is used in three ways.
- Firstly, in its weakest sense it is used to refer to agreement. There is said to be intersubjectivity between people if they agree on a given set of meanings or definition of the situation.
- Secondly, and somewhat more subtly it has been used to refer to the "common-sense," shared meanings constructed by people in their interactions with each other and used as an everyday resource to interpret the meaning of elements of social and cultural life. If people share common sense, then they share a definition of the situation.
- Thirdly, the term has been used to refer to shared (or partially shared) divergences of meaning. Self-presentation, lying, practical jokes, and social emotions, for example, all entail not a shared definition of the situation, but partially shared divergences of meaning. Someone who is telling a lie is engaged in an intersubjective act because they are working with two different definitions of the situation. Lying is thus genuinely inter-subjective (in the sense of operating between two subjective definitions of reality).
Intersubjectivity emphasizes that shared cognition and consensus is essential in the shaping of our ideas and relations. Language is viewed as communal rather than private. Hence it is problematic to view the individual as partaking in a private world, which is once and for all defined.
Intersubjectivity is today an important concept in modern schools of psychotherapy, where it has found application to the theory of the interrelations between analyst and analysand.
Intersubjectivity in psychoanalysis
Among the early authors who use in psychoanalysis this conception, in explicit or implicit way, we can mention , Heinz Kohut, Robert Stolorow, George E. Atwood, Jessica Benjamin in United States and Silvia Montefoschi in Italy.
Adopting an intersubjective perspective in psychoanalysis means, above all, to give up what Robert D. Stolorow defines “the myth of isolate mind”.
In the last 20 years a new direction in psychoanalysis often referred to as relational psychoanalysis or just relational theory has developed. A central person is Daniel Stern . Empirically, the intersubjective school is inspired by research on infants non-verbal communication . A main issue is how central relational issues is communicated at a very fast pace in a non-verbal fashion. They also stress the importance of real relationships with two equivalent partners. The journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues is devoted to relational psychoanalysis.
Intersubjectivity in treatment
The central role of intersubjectivity in human development is being increasingly understood by developmental theorists (Trevarthen, 2001; Stern, 1985). Intersubjectivity is the shared, reciprocal, experience between the parent and child whereby the experience of each is having an impact on the experience of the other. For example, children experience themselves as being loved, loveable, valued, valuable, and clever whenever their parents experience them as manifesting those characteristics. In a similar way, parents experience themselves as being capable and caring whenever their children experiences them as manifesting those traits. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to experience oneself as possessing these traits if the important people in our lives do not experience us as having those traits. Intersubjectivity is not a process whereby the parent (or therapist) evaluates the child (or client) as possessing a trait and then presents a verbal summary of the evaluation. Intersubjectivity represents a comprehensive emotional, intentional/motivational, attentional, reflective, and behavioral experience of the other. It emerges from shared emotions (attunement), joint attention and awareness, and congruent intentions.
Intersubjectivity and attachment
The psychiatric diagnosis Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) (DSM-IV-R 313.89) can be understood as the result of significant impairment in the intersubjective sharing of experience between caregiver and child. This discordant intersubjectivity results in impairment in core social, psychological, and interpersonal domains. RAD may be best understood within the framework of intersubjectivity (Trevarthen, C., 2001, Diamond, N., & Marrone, M., (2003), which has a central role in the healthy development of brain systems (Shore, 1994), social functioning, and interpersonal relationships. Therefore, treatment should focus on these domains of impairment. Specifically, one would expect effective treatment to focus on the intersubjective sharing of experience and on relationship processes.
Children with chronic histories of early maltreatment within a caregiving relationship are at particular risk of developing RAD and have impairment in several domains, which has been broadly defined as complex trauma. Treatment for RAD that focuses on intersubjectivity, which has a central role in the development of brain and social functions, is suggested as the preferred approach.
Intersubjectivity and treatment of attachment disorders
Effective treatment requires an affectively attuned relationship characterized by concordant intersubjectivity. Siegel (1999) stated, ‘As parents reflect with their securely attached children on the mental states that create their shared subjective experience, they are joining with them in an important co-constructive process of understanding how the mind functions. The inherent feature of secure attachment – contingent, collaborative communication – is also a fundamental component in how interpersonal relationships facilitate internal integration in a child. (p. 333).’ This has implications for the effective treatment of maltreated children. For example, when in a therapeutic relationship the child is able to reflect upon aspects of traumatic memories and experiences without becoming dysregulated, the child develops an expanded capacity to tolerate increasing amounts of affect. The therapist or parent intersubjectivly regulates the child’s level of arousal and affect, keeping the child regulated. Over time, the child internalizes this and so becomes able to self-regulate. This process is similar to what is seen in the healthy infant-parent relationship, where the parent regulates the infant’s states of arousal to maintain homeostasis. The concordant intersubjective sharing of experience (an attuned resonant relationship with shared intention and attention) between child and therapist and child and caregiver enables the child to make sense out of memories, autobiographical representations, and emotion.
Intersubjectivity is a major topic in philosophy. The duality of self and other has long been contemplated by philosophers, and what it means to have an intersubjective experience, and what sort of lessons can be drawn from them. Ethics, for example, deals with how one should act and what one owes in an intersubjective experience where there is an identifiable other.
In phenomenology, intersubjectivity performs many functions. It allows empathy, which in phenomenology involves experiencing another person as a subject rather than just as an object among objects. In so doing, one experiences oneself as seen by the Other, and the world in general as a shared world instead of one only available to oneself.
Early studies on the phenomenology of intersubjectivity were done by Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. His student, Edith Stein, extended the concept and its basis in empathy in her 1917 doctoral dissertation On the Problem of Empathy (Zum Problem der Einfühlung).
Intersubjectivity also helps in the constitution of objectivity: in the experience of the world as available not only to oneself, but also to the Other, there is a bridge between the personal and the shared, the self and the Others.
Studies of dialogue and dialogism have revealed how language is deeply intersubjective. When we speak, we always address our interlocutors, taking their perspective, and orienting to what we think they think (or more usually don't think). Within this tradition of research it has been argued that the structure of individual signs or symbols, the basis of language, are intersubjective and that the psychological process of self-reflection entails intersubjectivity. Recent research on mirror neurons provides evidence for the deeply intersubjective basis of human psychology, and arguably much of the literature on empathy and theory of mind relate directly to intersubjectivity.
Intersubjectivity and philosophy:
Intersubjectivity in psychoanalysis:
- ↑ Stern, D. (2004)The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. Norton Books.
- ↑ Beebe, B. and Lackhmann, F. (2002): "Infant Research and Adult Treatment. Co-constructing Interactions". The Analytic Press
- ↑ Linell, P. (2009). Rethinking language, mind and world dialogically. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing
- ↑ Gillespie, A. (2009). The intersubjective nature of symbols. In Brady Wagoner (Ed), Symbolic transformations. London: Routledge
- ↑ Gillespie, A. (2007). The social basis of self-reflection. In Valsiner and Rosa (Eds), The Cambridge handbook of sociocultural psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University press
- ↑ Rizzolatti, G. & Arbib, M. A. (1998). Language within our grasp. Trends in neurosciences, 21, 188-194.
- Beebe, B. and Lackhmann, F. (2002): "Infant Research and Adult Treatment. Co-constructing Interactions". The Analytic Press.
- Scheff, Thomas et al. (2006). Goffman Unbound!: A New Paradigm for Social Science (The Sociological Imagination), Paradigm Publishers (ISBN 978-1594511967).
- Stern, D. (2004): "The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life". Norton Books.
Intersubjectivity in psychoanalysis
- Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J. B. (1974). The Language of Psycho-Analysis, Edited by W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-01105-4
- Stolorow, R. D. & Atwood, G. E. (1992). Contexts of Being:The Intersubjective Foundations of Psychological Life. New York: Analytic Press.
- Stolorow, R. D., Atwood, G. E., & Orange, D. M. (2002). Worlds of Experience: Interweaving Philosophical and Clinical Dimensions in Pysychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books.
Intersubjectivity and philosophy
- Edmund Husserl Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texte aus dem Nachlass 1905-1920
- Edmund Husserl Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texte aus dem Nachlass 1921-1928
- Edmund Husserl Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texte aus dem Nachlass 1929-1935
Online papers about intersubjectivity theory in psychoanalysis
- Benjamin, J. (1995). Recognition and destruction: An outline of intersubjectivity
- Stolorow R. and Atwood G. (1992) "The myth of isolate mind” in "Contexts of Being: The Intersubjective Foundations of Psychological Life"
- Critique of intersubjectivity Article by Mats Winther