Institutional economics and psychoanalysis: how can they collaborate for a better understanding of individual-society dynamics? Arturo hermann* may 2005

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1 For a detailed analysis of these issues refer, among others, to Hodgson (1993, 1998, 1999, and 2002), Rutherford (1994) and the Elgar Companion to Institutional and Evolutionary Economics (1994). For an analysis of Veblen's and Commons's contributions related to the issues addressed in the following chapters refer also to Hermann (1993 and 1994).

th For an analysis of the potentialities and the problems of collaboration between the OIE and NIE refer to the previous quotations. In another work we have shown the usefulness of employing some concepts of the NIE (in particular, informational asymmetries and pricipal/agent relations) developed in particular by the contributions of the new regulatory economics (refer, in particular, to Laffont, 2000; Laffont and Tirole, 1993; Laffont and Martimort, 1998) in connection with important concepts of the OIE (in particular, habits, social valuing, path-dependency, culture and evolution) in order to obtain a better understanding of the problems underlying policy action.

2 Refer, among others, to Arthur (1994); Bhaskar (1986); Dosi, Giannetti and Toninelli (1992); Dosi, Nelson and Winter (2000); Etzioni (1988); Etzioni and Lawrence (1991); Hodgson (1993 and 2002); Hodgson, Samuels and Tool (1994); Lundvall (1995); Nelson and Winter (1982); Nisbett and Ross (1980).

3 In this sense, the process of habit formation has many parallels with the characteristics of tacit knowledge, which was studied in particular by M.Polanyi (1958).


Cfr.Veblen (in particular, 1914, 1919 and 1934). For an analysis of Veblen’s concepts and the contributions of institutional economics to the analysis of the role performed by norms and habits in human action and decision-making, refer to, in addition to the editors' introductions to the above quoted books, Hodgson (1993, 1998 and 1999), Rutherford (1994) and the Elgar Companion to Institutional and Evolutionary Economics (1994). From partly different perspectives, important contributions were provided by Etzioni (1988) and Sen (1982).

5 In Veblen's analysis the instinct of "idle curiosity" also plays an important role in social evolution, especially through its effects upon scientific and technological progress. In this sense, such an instinct can be considered as the more "abstract" and intellectual aspect of the instinct of workmanship.

6 In Veblen's analysis the instinct of parental bent is conceived as a general sense of solicitude extending itself beyond the family sphere.

7 Veblen's discussion is not very clear on this point: he seems to impute these disturbing factors to the changes due to the expansion of societies. However, as we will see later on, this hypothesis runs into some difficulties.

8 We can define the ISEF, in a broad sense, as the entire set of institutions and of socio-economic structure of a given reality at a given time, with its related set of values, habits, knowledge, customs and working rules.

9 As observed before, Veblen employs in his analysis important concepts from the philosophy and psychology of Pragmatism; the reason why he includes Pragmatism in the list of the "anti-technological" tendencies may lie in the fact that there are two versions of Pragmatism — the first, set forth by the founder of Pragmatism, C.S.Peirce, meant as a theory of knowledge and a method of scientific investigation, and the second, developed later on by, among others, W.James, J.Dewey and F.C.S.Schiller, meant as a theory of the truth, experience and values — and that Veblen considered the latter version as antithetical to the "immanent rationality" of technological progress.

Later we will discuss some difficulty of Veblen's analysis regarding these aspects. For an analysis of the different conceptions of Pragmatism refer, among others, to the volume edited by L.Menand, Pragmatism: a Reader, New York, Vintage Books, 1997. With reference to our issues, of particular interest is Commons's work (1934, especially chapters 4 and 10), since he adopts an interdisciplinary approach that helps to shed light on the interrelations between Pragmatism, institutions, reasonable value and negotiational psychology, also by making an interesting comparison between his own theory and Veblen's analysis (cfr. also below). The following passages express these concepts neatly, "....We are compelled, therefore, to distinguish and use two meanings of pragmatism: Peirce's meaning of purely a method of scientific investigation, derived by him from the biological sciences but applicable also to economic transactions and concerns; and the meaning of the various social-philosophies assumed by the parties themselves who participate in these transactions. We therefore, under the latter meaning, follow most closely the social pragmatism of Dewey; while in our method of investigation we follow the pragmatism of Peirce. One is scientific pragmatism—a method of investigation—the other is the pragmatism of human beings—the subject-matter of the science of economics....Not until we reach John Dewey do we find Peirce expanded to ethics, and not until we reach institutional economics do we find it expanded to transactions, going concerns, and Reasonable Value", (Commons, 1934: 150-151, 155).

10 As is well known, Veblen considers the role of capitalism in fostering technological progress far from straightforward, since the contradiction between the "pecuniary gain" and "material serviceability" objectives of economic action entails a similar, and even more complex, contradiction at firms' level as whether to speed up or retard the pace of technological progress. For a more detailed analysis refer to Veblen [in particular, (1904), (1919: 279-323), and (1921)].

11 For more details on these issues, and in particular on the related problem of policy co-ordination, refer also to Hermann (2003).

12 For an analysis of the main aspects of this definition refer in particular to Freud (1900, 1905, 1911, 1915a, 1915b, 1915c, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1937, 1940), Fenichel (1945), Fine (1979), Laplanche and Pontalis (1967), and Nagera (1969). It is important to note that in Freudian theory neurosis does not comprise all the psychological disturbances, which include also perversions and psychoses. However, as psychoanalysis stresses that the above definition of neurosis constitutes a common ground for all psychological disturbances and that, furthermore, even “normal” minds undergo the same processes in their development — in this sense, the difference between the normal and neurotic personality tends to be more a question of different degrees of psychological disturbances than one of sharp distinctions between "pure neurosis" and "pure normality" — we utilize the term neurosis, only for the purpose of our work, as a synonymous with psychological disturbances.

13 For a deeper discussion of these aspects refer to the quotations of the previous footnote.

14 In this regard, Freud hypothesized a sexual instinct (for the meaning of instinct cf. footnote 15) in the person acting from the beginning of his or her life and stressed the importance of such instinct for the development of the person and the etiology of neurosis. These assumptions have perhaps constituted the most controversial and "scandalous" aspects of his theory. In this respect, anticipating our subsequent discussion, we can observe that: (i) sexuality assumes in Freud a complex meaning — extending well beyond the mere biological dimension — which covers all aspects of the affective life of a person. In this sense, as remarked by Freud, sexuality is synonymous with eros or love. (ii) In this instance, infantile sexuality cannot be correctly regarded through our adult-based vision, as it presents a complex evolutionary pattern which psychoanalysis tries to understand as regards its effects on child development. For a more detailed analysis refer to the quotations of footnote 9 and in particular Freud (1905 and 1924), Fenichel (1945), Fine (1979), Laplanche and Pontalis (1967), and Nagera (1969).

15 For an analysis of the characteristics of these disturbances refer, among others, to Freud's renown case studies, Fenichel (1945), and the quotations in the next chapter, in particular Bion, A.Freud, Kernberg, M.Klein and Winnicott.

16 For a discussion of these issues refer, among others, to Bastide (1950), Elliott (1994), Fine (1979).

17 In this regard, we can recall the conflict occurred between A.Freud and M.Klein on the role of pre-oedipical stages of developments. However, apart from these aspects, M.Klein accepted the basic concepts of Freud's analysis, including his theory of death instincts that, as we will see later, has been widely criticized among later psychoanalysts. It is also important to note that both A.Freud and M.Klein provided important contributions to the analysis of aggressiveness.

18 For a deep analysis of these theories refer to, among others, Eagle (1984), Fine (1979), Greenberg and Mitchell (1983), Rayner (1991), Tyson and Tyson (1990).

19 In particular, the very definition of “instinct” has always been extremely problematic to formulate not only in Freud’s analysis but also in every other theory dealing with this issue. As is known, Freud’s instinct theory is highly complex, as he distinguishes between instinkt and trieb. Instinkt tends to refer to the prevailing concept of instinct existing at his time, whereas the notion of trieb — which was formulated with the main aim of identifying a theoretical framework for his theory of sexual development and of psychoneuroses — may be defined (see in particular Freud 1915a, 1915b, 1915c; Laplanche and Pontalis, 1967) as a dynamic process consisting of a pressure — having its source in a state of bodily excitation — which pushes the organism to discharge it (the aim of the trieb). However, Freud was well aware that the distinction between instinkt and trieb presents many problems also because the definition of these two concepts is very difficult to formulate. Consequently, he continuously enlarged and restructured his theories throughout his research activity, even if, as observed by subsequent studies, his theory of sexual development may also be accommodated within the classical theory of instinct. Within this scope, Freud’s central contribution lies mostly in having discovered the role of the unconscious and sexuality in human behaviour (for a deeper analysis of these issues refer, among others, to Fenichel, 1945; Fine, 1979; Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983; Laplanche and Pontalis, 1967; Nagera, 1969, Tyson and Tyson, 1990). It is also interesting to observe that trieb has been translated into the English version of Freud's complete work as “instinct”, although the term “drive” could also be employed. In our work we prefer to employ the term "instinct" to indicate both instinkt and trieb.

20 The theory of sublimation plays an important role in Freud's theory but, as also observed by Freud himself and subsequent authors, presents complex aspects that require further investigation. For our purpose, we can observe that Freud defines sublimation as a psychological orientation toward human activities apparently not in relation with sexuality — for instance, intellectual and artistic creations — which nonetheless draw most of their inner force from the psychosexual instinct. As far as we understand Freud's analysis, sublimation plays such a complex role because it may constitute, in manifold combinations, (a) a means for the expression of neurotic conflicts, and (b) a means for the expression of normal motivations of human personality. These different concepts of sublimation are outlined but not always clearly distinguished in Freud's analysis, and this may be one of the reasons, as we will see later, for some entangled aspects of his analysis of society.

21 Needless to say, we employ the term aggressiveness only in its negative connotation, as implying all kinds of hostile feelings and behaviour involving both individual and collective dimensions.

22 For more details on these issues refer to Freud (1920).

23 Among the numerous contributions which address from different perspectives the analysis of aggressiveness refer to A.Freud (1936), Fine (1979), Kernberg (1976, 1992, 1998), M.Klein (1964, 1975), Rayner (1991), Winnicott (1958, 1974, 1988). For a partly different perspective see also May (1972).

24 However, it is important to note that Freud was aware of this process even though he has not fully developed this insight. See, for instance, the final part of his "Das Unbehagen in der Kultur" (1930), where, although within the death instinct framework, he suggests that the child's aggressiveness could be reinforced in particular by the Oedipus complex experience, that is, by the anger experienced towards the "rival" parent because of his or her real (or supposed) role in repressing the satisfaction of its desires. Of course, as observed before, the dynamics of the Oedipus complex are far more complex than this simple outline.

25 Refer, among others, to the references in the previous footnotes.

26 For an analysis of the main aspects of this debate refer to, among others, Eagle (1984), Fine (1979), Greenberg and Mitchell (1983), Rayner (1991) and Tyson and Tyson (1990).

27 Refer to, among others, the references in the previous footnote.

28 See, among others, Bion (1970), Kernberg (1998), Kets de Vries and Miller (1984), Klein, Heimann and Money-Kyrle (1955).

29 See to the references in the previous footnote

30 The complexity and multifarious aspects of these cultural forms have been stressed by virtually all anthropological studies, for instance, in addition to the authors already quoted, by the field-studies of Bastide and Levy-Strauss. For an example of this approach applied to the study of "candomblê" among black populations in Brazil, refer also to Sagone (1985).

31 See, among others Elliott (1994), Fine (1979), Greenberg and Mitchell (1983), and Tyson and Tyson (1990).

32 For a discussion of these issues refer to, among others, Bastide (1950), Eagle (1984), Elliott (1994), Fine (1979), Greenberg and Mitchell (1983), Tyson and Tyson (1990).

33 In Freud's work there are many references to Goethe's Faust as an example of the symbolic expression of the never-ending opposition between instincts.

34 In this regard, it is important to stress that, as we will see in the next point, this interpretation represents only a part of a much more articulated theory. Even where this interpretation seems to prevail, as in the Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, Freud stresses that the repression of sexual instincts has gone too far in our society, thus causing an increase in neurotic conflicts which end up impairing the attainment of social goals. This implies, however, that the types of neurotic conflicts existing in any given society are not deterministic in nature but depend on the dynamic interplay of the individual in his or her ISEF; in this interaction, a crucial role is played by the ways in which individuals and institutions face their problems.

35 As already observed, the concept of innate biological constitution seems to refer in Freud's analysis to the in-born traits (biological and intellectual) of the person and in particular to the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of his o her instincts endowment. These concepts are complex to formulate and, in this regard, Freud always stresses that it is very difficult to be precise in an acceptable way about the real characteristics of any considered biological constitution.


As we will see later, neurosis, as a consequence of the interplay of these factors, presents an evolutionary character, the study of which would be particularly intriguing. In this sense, it is interesting to observe that the "institutional" transmission of the typical forms of neurosis is generally far from complete, owing to the complexity of the factors at stake in determining the evolution of social, economic and cultural forms. Within this context, the tendency of the person to overcome his or her problem is likely to play a paramount role. In this regard, psychoanalysis stresses that neurotic conflicts convey complex meanings, and hence also constitutes for the person an imperfect but important way to overcome his or her developmental difficulties.

37 As already observed, Freud suggests that in the child aggressiveness could be reinforced, in particular within the Oedipus complex experience, by the anger experienced towards the "rival" parent because of its real (or supposed) role in repressing the satisfaction of its desires. This theory introduces an important qualification as to the supposed ineluctable nature of human aggressiveness implied in the death instinct theory and has opened up the way for a more complete analysis of the neurotic reasons underlying human aggressiveness. Refer also to our subsequent analysis of these issues.

38 For the complex meaning of libido refer to the previous chapter.


It is important to note that conflicts need not necessarily be driven by neurosis. As it appears also from institutional analysis conflicts tend in a sense to be always present in collective action owing to difficulty for its members to reach a common agreement on economic and social issues.

40 Relevant concepts of cognitive psychology which assumes importance in institutional analysis can be found in, among others, Festinger (1957), Kahneman and Tversky (1988), Nisbett and Ross (1980). For a thorough analysis of recent developments in psychology see, among others, Lea, Webley and Young (1992), Miller (1983), and Pervin and John (1997). A more exhaustive treatment of these issues, including the ways of integrating these insights with institutional and psychoanalytic research, is beyond the scope of this work. In this regard, we believe that these attempts are moving along a rich avenue of research because, as we have tried to show, Freud's theory and subsequent psychoanalytic studies attach great importance to the role of cognitive and intellectual factors in the psychology of human development

41 Furthermore, in this study there is no clear definition of the meaning of "anarchy".

42 To give an example, it is easily observable that many people adopt a rational behaviour, for instance, in solving mathematical problems or computer games.

However, this observation is not sufficient to infer that the behaviour of these people is only determined by rational considerations and that emotional and affective factors do not enter the picture. For instance, let us suppose that a person, by eschewing every other activity, spends all his or her time solving mathematical problems or computer games.

This person may be very clever and rational in these activities, but no one could easily maintain that the decision- making process underlying that choice is driven only by “rationality”. To consider another example, let us assume that an alcoholic (or any other kind of addictive behaviour) has to choose between two opposite alternatives, drinking or not drinking. If the person chooses drinking this could mean, in the theoretical framework of revealed preferences, that he or she prefers the alternative of drinking to that of not drinking. However, as is known, the more a person depends on alcohol the more difficult it is for him or her to make a truly free choice. In particular, when the addiction is severe, the individual’s will might not be sufficient to recover the person from his or her addiction, and specific recovery programs are needed.

With these remarks, we wish to point out the complexity of the analysis of the individual’s decision-making process. In fact, in order to understand the reasons underlying this process it seems necessary to consider the entire course of the individual’s actions within his or her ISEF. In many cases, the individual’s decision-making process is not so “rational and free” as one might first believe. This applies especially in situations of serious psychological disturbances (refer also to the appendix).

This reminds us of the problem of compulsive behaviour in decision-making. Obviously, especially in ordinary decision-making , "addictive" behaviour is often not so evident and can be difficult to define without a careful study of every single case. However, although blurred with other motivations, it would not be difficult for most of us to identify instances where our motivations are somewhat compulsory and contradictory: for instance, we think "rationally" of the limited usefulness of buying a new consumption item, but some compulsory desire might compel us to buy it anyway. Perhaps the clearest way to look into these compulsory psychological instances is through the analysis of our thought process: here, we can easily observe that we have little conscious power of determining the course of our thoughts — which come into our minds through a process rooted in the depth of our unconscious life — and still less "rational" power of getting rid of them once they have become conscious. Certainly, compulsory thought is more pronounced in obsessive neurosis, but it is hardly avoidable even in more neurotic-free ways of thinking. In this regard, compulsory thought can be considered as an expression of the Freudian notion of "compulsion to repeat", which plays an important role in the child's ways of dealing with the conflicts related to its development. For a deep analysis of these issues, including the Freud's metaphor of the ego likened to a person who cannot master what happens in his or her house, refer to the previous quotations.

43 For an analysis of these studies refer in particular to, in addition to Freud's works quoted in the previous section (especially 1912-1913, 1921 and 1930), Bastide (1950), Bion (1970), Eagle (1984), Elliott (1994), Kernberg (1998), Ketz de Vries and Miller (1984), Klein, Heimann and Money-Kyrle (1955), Milana and Pittaluga (1983), Winnicott (1988).

44 In this regard, an interesting field of research applies psychoanalytic concepts to historical analysis. For a good introduction refer to Gay (1985).

45 It is important to note that Veblen had significant intuitions in this regard: for instance, in his article "Dementia Praecox" (1922), he suggested that the stress related to the experience of World War I reinforced among the American population some of the typical traits of dementia praecox—in particular, a mania of persecution framed within an infantile-like emotional attitude of the person towards reality. In modern psychoanalytic language these traits, which characterize, to varying degrees, the psychic life of virtually every individual, are interpreted as a kind of "schizoid" attitude. As also made clear by the author himself at the the beginning of his article, his analysis cannot be considered an exhaustive treatment of the issue, but it is all the same important for the mutual links established between the characteristics of social conditions and psychological disturbances. In this regard, psychological effects of wars and other stressful experiences on populations have been, since Freud's numerous contributions to the issue, at the centre of psychoanalytic inquiry. Moreover, it is also important to remember the relevant contributions that Freud and subsequent psychoanalysts provided to the classification of the various types of psychological disturbances and to the psychoanalytic treatment of even the most severe forms (for a more detailed analysis of these issues refer, among others, to Fine, 1978; Klein, Heimann and Money-Kyrle, 1955; Rayner, 1991). As a result of these findings, the concept of "psychosis" — often referred to in social symbolism as "madness" — tends to be continually refined and no longer considered as a frightening and incurable mental condition but, rather, as a kind of psychological problem which, though causing considerable trouble to the person concerned, presents the same conflicting emotional structure of any other neurotic disturbance. Furthermore, it is important to note that even the "socially based" definition of psychological disturbances, including the concept of normality, neurosis and psychosis, depends heavily upon the characteristics of the cultural context.

For all these reasons, such issues can become another useful area of collaboration between institutional economics and psychoanalysis.

46 It is interesting to note, as also indirectly emerges from the previous discussion on the different meanings of rationality, that even severe psychological disturbances do not necessarily imply a corresponding difficulty for the person concerned to carry an apparently "normal life"; in fact, neurotic behaviour can express itself even in an "ordinary life" if the unconscious reasons lying behind that behaviour are rooted in the neurotic conflicts of the person. A case in point is Freud's example reported earlier. In this regard, the reasons why a neurotic disturbance can be expressed in one form rather than another — that is, in psychoanalytic terminology, the factors underlying "the choice of neurosis" — are very complex as they involve the whole set of personal and social factors in their complex interaction. In this regard, Veblen's article quoted in the previous footnote provides interesting insights on the mutual links between the characteristics of social structures and the nature of psychological disturbances.

47 For an analysis of these issues refer to, among others, Fine (1979), and Desjarlais and others (1995).

48 As stressed by pragmatist and institutional economics thinkers and, within partly different conceptual frameworks, by many other scholars — for instance, in addition to the authors previously considered, Ayres, Bastide, Etzioni, Galbraith, F.Hirsch, Hirschmann, Marx, Myrdal, M.Polanyi, K.Polanyi — the issue of participation can be considered equivalent to the problem of creating an institutional system ensuring the growth of more and more effective democratic structures in the political, economic and social spheres. In this regard, we can observe that an insufficient process of participation — by bringing about an inadequate expression of the structure of “reasonable value”, that is, of the conflicts and motivations lying at the heart of social life — may constitute an important explanation of the failure of policies to respond to the profound needs of society and of the corresponding phenomena of "anomie", alienation and insufficient socio-economic development.

49 The problem of inadequate expression of social valuing has also been treated by important social psychologists—for a classic work in this regard see Nisbett and Ross (1980).

50 Needless to say, this interdisciplinary collaboration may be extended to other related fields of psychology, philosophy and social sciences: for instance, the analysis of emotional intelligence by Goleman (1995), Greenspan (1997) and Oatley (1992), the contributions of philosophy to the concept of rationality by De Sousa (1987) and Stich (1991), the socio-economic approaches of Etzioni (1988), Hirschman (1995), K.Polanyi (1944) and M.Polanyi (1958).

51 Although, as we have seen, neurosis is based on conflicts having their roots in the infantile history of the person, not every conflict is neurotic-driven. However, as asserted by Freud (1937) and many others, neurotic-free state tends to be more an ideal type than an observed reality. In this sense, personal conflicts are likely to be complex phenomena in which many intertwined factors are at play.

52 For psychoanalytic work showing the difficulty of decision-making for many individuals, refer to Rangell, quoted

53 For a discussion of the concepts and problems of rationality see, among others, De Sousa (1987), Hodgson (1993), M.Polanyi (1958), Rutherford (1994), Sen (1986) and Stich (1991).

54 For an extensive discussion of the concept, refer to Etzioni, (1988, especially chapters 2-5). The concept of multiple self (or multiple human nature) was also developed by other scholars such as Elster.

55 See, among others, Earl (1992), Festinger (1957), Kahneman and Tversky (1988), Miller (1983), Nisbett and Ross (1980), Pervin and John (1997). As observed before, psychoanalysis, especially in its more recent developments, stresses the importance of a joint consideration of cognitive and affective factors; this is also reflected in the circumstance that collaboration between psychoanalysis and cognitive psychology constitutes a growing area of research.

56 This may be the case, for instance, when the work-leisure allocation is chosen with the main purpose to comply with certain social rules.

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