as theory and as practice, emerged within the field of psychoanalysis.
Michael Balint was one of the first to extend the model by pointing
out that the clinicians subjectivity and counter-transference
are present in every caring relationship, and that its influence
extends beyond the professional identity of the clinician. Balint captured
this by stating that in most cases the doctor is the first medication
administered to the patient through the expression of himself or herself
in the clinical setting (Balint, 1957).
In summary, counter-transference
is a concept that recognises that the analyst as well as the patient
is affected by unconscious processes in the construction of his/her
personal and professional identity and in interactions with patients.
It acknowledges that the analyst is not a neutral expert and that "working
through" unconscious attitudes ought to form a continuous part of the
analysts everyday practice that may lead to a greater understanding
of the therapeutic relationship.
in behavioural research
was the first scientist to attempt to generalise the notion of counter-transference
beyond the field of therapeutic practice and introduce it into the practice
of social and behavioural sciences. Devereux had trained in both anthropology
and psychoanalysis and he developed a method for studying social phenomena
that drew on these two disciplines in a complementary manner. He elaborated
the theory of the counter-transference of the researcher in his most
important book - "From anxiety to method in the behavioural sciences"
published in 1967. Roger Bastide, a French anthropologist, noted
that the assessment of the implication of the observer inside the observed
subject had been well-known since the work of Marx and Mannheim and
the foundation of sociology of knowledge (Bastide, 1970). However, the
recognition of the importance of the social and political interests
of the scientist relating to social class and nationality did not take
into account the subjective, unconscious dimensions at work in the construction
of knowledge. The social influences affecting the scientist can be considered
as a form of ideological functioning involving "false consciousness".
Some social scientists, inspired by psychoanalysis had already observed
this influence on the researcher in the collection and the treatment
Siegfried Kracauer, a literature historian and a media scientist, once
a member of the Francfurt School and of the Institute of Social Research
at Columbia University, had already noticed the importance of taking
into account what he called a "disciplined subjectivity" (or a "discipline
related subjectivity") in scientific work. "Far from being an obstacle,
subjectivity is in effect indispensable for the analysis of material,
which vanishes before our eyes when subjected to a treatment confounding
them with dead matter. Quantitative analysis is not free of such nihilistic
influence. Many quantitative investigations in effect mark the spot
where a misplaced desire for objectivity has failed to reveal the inner
dynamics of an atomized content." (Kracauer, 1952, p. 642.). The important
point is that Kracauer did not confine the presence of subjectivity
to qualitative research, but also recognised its presence in quantitative
research when he remarked that quantitative treatments transform "live"
data into "dead matter". All fields of scientific practice, considered
as a human and social activity, involve the subjective influence of
the researcher and therefore need to take account of counter-transference.
The anxieties of the researcher are being projected in quantitative
as well as in qualitative methodology.
In the methodological
chapter of The Authoritarian Personality, Adorno and his
colleagues noted the influence of the interviewers social appearance
on data collection. They tried to take this influence into account and
control it in their study of anti-Semitism by using Jewish and Gentile
interviewers. By doing so they attempted to control the influence of
the interviewers personality on data collection (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik,
Levinson, Nevitt Sanford, 1950).
not locate the origin of his own insights in the field of social science.
Indeed, he acknowledged Albert Einstein as his most important source
of inspiration when he quoted the phrase: "we can only observe the phenomena
that occur near or inside the experimental apparatus and the observer
himself is the most important part of this apparatus". Devereux considered
that he had gone further than Freud by suggesting that counter-transference,
rather than transference, was the central datum in the behavioural sciences.
In other words, Devereux introduced a major change by focussing on the
role of the researcher and by proposing that the influence of the researcher
in the construction of knowledge is the central phenomenon in the social
and behavioural sciences.
Devereux , in behavioural sciences data comprise three elements. These
elements are: (1) the behaviour of the observed subject; (2) the "perturbations"
induced by the presence of the observer and by the activities he performs
in the context of observation and, last but not least, (3) the behaviour
of the observer including his anxieties, his defence mechanisms,
his research strategies and the ways in which he chooses to attribute
meaning. Thus scientific knowledge is produced from these three sources.
However, in the introduction to his book, Devereux warns that information
concerning the behaviour of the observer is rarely available or taken
into account in scientific work.
counter-transference can be defined as the sum of unconscious and emotional
reactions, including anxiety, affecting his/her relation with the observed
subject and situation. These reactions produce distortions in the process
of knowledge construction that remain hidden from the researcher. Notions
of "inappropriateness" and "resistance", as defined by Schimek, become
central in understanding the cognitive processes affecting the researcher,
because they highlight the researchers reactions to aspects of
reality emerging in fieldwork. Counter-transference points to the researchers
difficulty in clearly distinguishing material that comes from outside
(the subject, the field) and from inside (his/her own emotional reactions).
The researcher has to struggle with these emotional reactions and anxieties.
defense or sublimation ?
the opposition between the use of methodology as a defence mechanism
against anxiety that prevents the researcher from gaining knowledge,
and the sublimatory use of methodology when tools appear appropriate
to the scientific work and help to gain knowledge. According to Devereux,
methodological tools are sublimatory when, at the same time, they help
to reduce the researchers anxieties and produce valid knowledge.
Devereux contrasts the given reality of the external world, which can
sometimes be unbearable for the researcher, and the subjectivity of
the researchers internal world that has the potential to reduce
the unbearable aspects of the external world. He suggests that the relation
between the internal and the external world is mediated by a complex
cultural matrix that imposes meanings on contents. According to this
view, culture, and especially the researchers local culture can
approach originates in the view that psychoanalysis can provide an epistemology
for the behavioural sciences. This approach questions the nature of
objectivity, of subjectivity and of the relation between the "researched"
as a subject and also the researcher as a subject. In other words, the
observer is also observed by the research subject. Data are not only
produced in an objective way but they are co-constructed in the complex
interaction between the researcher and the subject.
the social sciences it is quite common to analyse bias. These biases
include those related to the subject of research, to the chosen research
tools and to the investigator. Classic methodological work on questionnaire-based
surveys often considers the interviewer to be one of the major sources
of measurement error and bias during data collection, independent from
the subject of the survey (Hyman, 1954; Turner and Martin, 1980). More
recently, Johnson and DeLamater, working in the field of sex research,
have suggested that the "major problem is the attitude of researchers
and interviewers to research into sexuality". Concerning methodology,
they state that "concern with the threat of the subject matter is a
projection of the interviewer's own discomfort". They suspect that as
researchers they have been "insensitive to the important source of sensitivity
in research on sexuality -ourselves and our interviewers- and have overestimated
the extent to which our respondents are sensitive to these topics and
to reporting them." (Johnson and DeLamater, 1976, p. 181).
As an illustration
of this, it is interesting to note that the British survey on sexual
attitudes and lifestyles did not include any questions on the topic
of masturbation, an omission that is quite rare in surveys on sexual
behaviour. The authors of this survey justified the absence of such
a question as follows: "It is regrettable that questions about masturbation
were excluded from the survey because discussions addressing this practice
led to disgust and embarrassment among subjects questioned during the
qualitative pre-survey to establish the formulation of the questions."
(Wellings et al., 1994, p134). There was absolutely no mention of the
researchers or interviewers discomfort about "this practice" which may
well have been projected onto the respondents. The omission of the question
had a negative outcome in that we do not now know the frequency of occurrence
of masturbation in Britain. However, it also serves as a valuable source
of information about the discomfort that talking about this practice
raises with women. One possible interpretation of this reluctance to
address questions about masturbation is that the researchers on this
project were all women and it has been established that women tend to
underreport the practice of masturbation (Béjin, 1996).
insistence on taking account of researchers counter-transference
provides a new perspective in the consideration of bias. Researcher
bias is not only viewed as having negative effects but further, that
these biases become part of the construction of the research object.
Subjectivity should not only be viewed as an obstacle in the research
process but may also provide a "royal path" to knowledge.
and Stoller proposed another perspective inspired by Devereux. They
defined a new form of ethnography called "clinical ethnography": "Clinical
ethnographies are reports that study the subjectivity of the researcher
as well as the people who inform him/her." (Herdt and Stoller, 1990,
p. 29). Major sources of knowledge for the clinical ethnographer are
gained through subjective experiences of discomfort and shock occurring
during fieldwork. Herdt and Stoller operationalized the analysis of
counter-transference through discussions among themselves of their own
subjective reactions as well as scientific ideas that arose during fieldwork
in Sambia. The conversation between both of them became the basis for
the analysis of narratives gathered among the Sambia. The confrontation
between their differing points of view allowed them to consider the
limits and the benefits of subjectivity over and above their rational,
scientific work. This approach can therefore be understood as an enhancement
of rationality rather than as regression away from rationality.
An appeal to
psychoanalysis brings with it an openness about subjectivity on the
one hand but on the other hand it suggests a blind-spot. Freuds
theory of the unconscious, which was one of Devereuxs starting
points, does not take into account the social and ideological position
of the individual as a component in the construction of knowledge and
"mis-knowledge". It is primarily concerned with the psycho-sexual dimension
of subjectivity in the construction and reconstruction of knowledge
and to a lesser extent the researchers cultural positioning.
In his book "Homo
Academicus", a study about the academic institution and academic actors
in France, the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1984) gives an overview
of the social dimension of "misknowledge" grounded in the
specific position occupied by the researcher in the field. He poses
these questions. How can a prominent French sociologist occupying a
central place in the French academic system study the functioning of
an institution to which he belongs? And in what ways does his specific
position in the field influence his representation of the field? In
other words, he places himself at the same time, both as the subject
and the object of his own research. Bourdieu brings us back to Marx
and Mannheims initial insights by reminding us of the interests
that the researcher brings to the study through his/her involvement
in a (local) milieu and as a member of a social class. By integrating
both dimensions of counter-transference: the psycho-sexual and the social-ideological,
we can generalise and expand Devereuxs work.
analysis of counter-transference
While it is important to recognise
the existence of subjective, active and unconscious influences on the
researcher and in his/her research work, it is even more important to
ask the pragmatic question; how these influences be detected and analysed?
In other words, how are we to perceive these effects in the research
process? In a study of the representations of sexuality of the mentally
retarded (Giami, 1987; Giami, Humbert, Laval, 2001) developed a specific
research tool to confront the different points of view that arose in
data analysis. Herdt and Stoller developed a similar approach by commenting
upon the material they had collected either separately or together.
The conversations that ensued can be understood as equivalent to the
kind of supervision that is practiced among clinicians. That is, the
clinician discusses the difficulties that he/she comes across in work
with a patient with others who share a psychological insight yet who
do not share the clinicians position with respect to the patient.
The confrontation between these different points of view may help to
uncover blind spots in the clinician or researchers perspective.
Nevertheless, the analysis of the effects of counter-transference in
research cannot go far beyond some insight into the "inappropriateness"
of the researchers reactions. After that, the researcher remains
free to decide what to do with the information.
components of counter-transference
is, in one way or another, the subject and object of the knowledge that
he/she elaborates. The specific position he/she occupies in the field
allows at the same time for a specific kind of focus and for specific
blind spots. From any one position, there are aspects of the world that
one can perceive and aspects that one cannot. Absolute objectivity is,
by definition, impossible and one has to find the appropriate focus,
the "good distance", according to ones research objectives. The
position of the researcher in the field defines (1) what he/she can
know, (2) what he/she might be able to know, (3) what he/she cannot
know and last but not least (4) what he/she actively refuses to know
for some social or psychological reason 
. In some cases, researchers know what they do not know and what they
cannot know; in others they do not even take account of what they cannot
the researchers position the first component to take into account
is gender. Gender identity and sexual orientation allow one to know
some aspects of reality and prevents one from knowing and understanding
The second component
is the researchers age and position in the cycle of generations.
The third component
is the researchers position and social attitudes towards the topic
The fourth component
is the way the researchers is positioned and understood within
society as a whole.
In some instances
the researcher is recognised as an individual but in most cases he/she
is referred to as a collective subject. The notion of the researcher
as a collective subject can be tracked according to the way science
has developed as technology, a processes documented by historians of
science such as Ludwig Fleck and Thomas Kuhn. This kind of historical
analysis has brought to light the role of folk theories in the production
of scientific theories on the one hand and to the way scientific paradigms
(or general conceptions) are shared and assessed by communities on the
other. What is recognised as knowledgeable and true in one social-scientific
community, is not necessarily recognised as such in another.
These four components
play different key-roles depending on the topic that is being researched.
The methodological intention that underpins counter-transference theory
is to go beyond the limitations that the four components impose on the
production of knowledge so as to allow new ways of making sense to emerge.
Thus it can be seen that when researchers draw on research tools without
this awareness, unconscious fears surrounding the research topic and/or
ideological beliefs act to limit the production of knowledge and methodology
comes to act as a defence mechanism. Devereux refers to this as the
sublimatory use of methodology.
In research practice
all or some of these components come to bear in complex ways. Political
and ideological constraints may reinforce and justify unconscious, personal
and counter-transferential attitudes of the researcher.
I will illustrate
these ideas with two examples. In the first one, I will demonstrate
how we attempted to reduce the negative bias of the researcher by constituting
a team of researchers to represent different positions with respect
to the research topic. Each member of the team had something in common
with one of the groups under study and less in common with others. Discussions
among team members helped to build a global perspective of the field.
In the second example, I will illustrate how the counter-transference
and personal involvement of the interviewers collecting data in a survey
on sexuality can itself be treated as an object for study in its
Representations of the sexuality of the mentally
retarded by parents and special educators (Giami, Humbert, Laval, 2001)
This was a comparative
study of the representations of two groups of individuals who had different
positions and different kinds of involvement with mentally retarded
individuals : special educators and parents. The aim of the study was
to describe the representations of both groups and to understand the
differences between them on the basis of their respective relationships
with the mentally retarded individuals. The most important underlying
principle of the study was that one cannot evaluate or compare representations
of sexuality with the so-called actual sexual life of mentally retarded
individuals. A logical extension of this principle meant that the primarly
research objective was to compare parents representations and
special educators representations with different aspects of the
global system of representation elaborated by the research team.
From a methodological
and political point of view, being a researcher in psychology placed
me in a closer position with respect to the special educators than to
the parents, particularly since I am not the parent of a mentally retarded
child. At some point in the research, I realised that my social proximity
with the group of special educators might be provoking a blind spot
in my analysis of both groups representations (the educators and
the parents). Since I had no experience of being a parent of a mentally
retarded child, the danger was that I would consider the representations
of the educators more "real" or "true" than the representations of the
parents. This in turn would reinforce the stigma attached to parents
of mentally retarded children, and maintained by special educators among
others. In order to make sure that the discourses collected from each
groups retained an equal status as complementary parts of the
same global, yet contradictory, system I decided to include one
person who worked as a special educator and one parent with a mentally
retarded child on the research team. In consequence, I was able to ensure
that that during analysis the two sets of narratives were treated with
the same level of understanding.
In this study,
the most important dimension of counter-transference was identified
as the researchers proximity and identification with one target
group rather than the other. The knowledge of the possible risk posed
by such an identification, in which the educators appeared to be more
similar to me and the parents more strange, was used to construct research
apparatus that included individuals from each these groups.
Interviewing on sexual behaviour
and AIDS (Giami, Olomucki, de Poplavsky, 1997, 1998)
In this project we tried to describe
and understand the attitudes and representations of the interviewers
that were selected to administer a telephone questionnaire in the French
National survey on sexual behaviour (Spira, Bajos, ACSF group, 1994).
The use of interviewers is not
the only source of bias in the production of data. The establishment
of an interviewer-respondent relationship is also one of the main requirements
in ensuring the successful collection of data. In this study we confirmed
the importance of the quality of the interviewer-respondent interaction
through the daily monitoring of the interviewers.
We tried to assess the psychological
processes and in particular incidents of counter-transference that were
affecting the interviewers. We took from Devereuxs work the assumption
that: "An interview about sex even in the case of a scientific interview
is in itself a kind of sexual interaction, which can be lived out on
a symbolic, verbal and emotional level as shown in the analysis of the
sexual transference in psychoanalysis" (Devereux, 1967, p. 29). This
assumption has the merit of emphasizing the importance of fantasies
developed during this type of communication.
Completing a questionnaire verbally
involves a relationship between two people. The situation is, however,
asymmetric. For the interviewer, the relationship forms part of a professional
activity, whereas it is the private life of the respondent that is being
addressed. During telephone interviews, the interviewer occupies his/her
place of work where he/she enjoys a professional status. Respondents,
however, are questioned in the privacy of their homes and asked questions
about the most intimate aspects of their private lives. The questionnaire
itself served as a mediator in the interviewer-respondents communication.
The interview was designed to proceed according to a well defined scenario
that progressed by alternating questions that were considered banal
with those considered sensitive.
However, the professional nature
of the involvement of the interviewer does not exclude conscious and
unconscious manifestations of his/her subjectivity even when interviewers
use tightly structured. We therefore considered it necessary to study
the interviewers' representations of sexuality and AIDS in order to
identify the difficulties we anticipated they would confront and to
investigate their spontaneous interpretations to responses that might
have affected the quality of the data collected.
In contrast to the first example,
this study did not aim to use analysis of the researchers counter-transference
as a central research tool, but to map in a systematic fashion the dimensions
of the interviewers personal involvement and investment in the
interview process. The knowledge of these subjective attitudes helped
to establish a protocol of training and supervision of the interviewers,
which in turn helped them to deal with the personal and subjective difficulties
arising in the interviewer-respondent interaction.
Aside from its psychoanalytical
origin, counter-transference raises the broader question about the nature
and extent of human involvement in scientific work. A serious consideration
of this question may encourage a little more modesty in the desire for
absolute objectivity in science and remind us of the limitations in
our quest for knowledge.
version of the paper has been edited by Gabrielle Ivinson (Cardiff University)
Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswick,
E., Levinson, D., Nevitt Sanford, R. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality.
New-York, Harper and Brother.
Anzieu, D. (1959). L'auto-analyse
: Son role dans la découverte de la psychanalyse par Freud. Sa
fonction. Paris, PUF.
Balint, M. (1957). The Doctor,
his patient and the Illness. London, Pitman, Medic-Publ.
Bastide, R. (1970) Préface,
pp. VII-XIX in: G. Devereux: Essais d'ethnopsychiatrie générale.
Béjin, A. (1996). Female
Masturbation in France. The estimation of the underreporting of a practice
in : M. Bozon, H. Léridon eds. Sexuality and the Social Sciences.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Homo
Academicus . Paris, Editions de Minuit.
Devereux, G. (1967). From
Anxiety to Method in the Behavioral Sciences. The Hague, Paris Mouton
Giami, A. (1987). Coping with
sexuality of the disabled . A comparison of the physically disabled
and the mentally retarded. Int. J. Rehab. Research, 10 (1), pp.41-48
Giami, A. (1996). Non response
and Don't know answers in sex surveys. Social Science Information,
35 (1), pp. 93-109
Giami, A., Humbert, C., Laval,
D. (2001). L'Ange et la Bête - Représentations de la
sexualité des handicapés mentaux par les parents et les
éducateurs. Paris, Ed. du C.T.N.E.R.H.I. (1st edition : 1983).
Giami, A., Olomucki, H., de Poplavsky,
J. (1997). Surveying sexuality and AIDS : Interviewer Attitudes and
representations. pp. 61-77 in : J. Bancroft (ed.)
Researching Sexual Behavior . Bloomington, Indiana University
Giami, A., Olomucki, H., de Poplavsky,
J. (1998). Enquéter sur la sexualité et le sida : Les
enquêteurs de l'ACSF. in : N., Bajos, M., Bozon, A., Ferrand,
A., Giami, A., Spira, (eds). La sexualité aux temps du sida.
Herdt, G., Stoller, R., (1990).
Intimate communications - Erotics and the study of culture. New
York, Columbia University Press,
Hyman, Herbert, (1954). Interviewing
in Social Research Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Johnson, A., Wadsworth, J., Wellings,
K., Field, J. (1994). Sexual attitudes and lifestyles. London,
Blackwell Scientific Publications.
Johnson, W., Delamater, J. (1976),
Response effects in sex surveys. Public Opinion Quaterly, 40,
Kernberg, O. (1965). Notes on
Contertransference. American Psychoanalysis ASSOC Journal 13,
Kracauer, S., (1952). The challenge
of qualitative analysis. The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. XVI,
Laplanche, J., Pontalis, J.B.
(1967). Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse . Paris, P.U.F.
Schimek, J. (1983). The construction
of the transference: The relativity of the "Here and Now" and the "There
and Then". Psychoanalysis and contemporary thought, 6, pp. 435-456.
Searles, R. (1979). Countertransference
and related subjects. Selected papers. New York, International Universities
Spira A., Bajos N., and ACSF
Group, (1994). Sexual Behaviour and AIDS. Aldershot, Avebury.
Turner, C., Martin, E. (eds),
(1984). Surveying subjective phenomena. New York, Russell Sage
I wish to thank Professor Tobie Nathan (Director
of the Centre George Devereux at the University of Paris 8 Saint
Denis for having directed me towards biographical data about
Devereux. (cf. "Sarava " pp. 229-237 in T. Nathan : Psychanalyse
païenne. Essais ethnopsychanalytiques. Editions Odile Jacob,
French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan has named this process : the "passion