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Elisabeth Roudinesco

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Title: Elisabeth Roudinesco  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Jacques Lacan, Jean-Paul Sartre, Paraphilia, Structuralism, Jacques Derrida, Georges Canguilhem, Psychopathology, Adam Phillips (psychologist), Société Française de Psychanalyse, Theroigne de Mericourt
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Elisabeth Roudinesco

Élisabeth Roudinesco
Élisabeth Roudinesco in 2007
Born 10 September 1944
Paris, France
Nationality French
Fields Psychoanalyst
Influences Jacques Lacan

Élisabeth Roudinesco (Romanian: Rudinescu; born 10 September 1944) is a French academic historian and psychoanalyst. She is head of research at University of Paris VII – Denis Diderot since 1991.


Born to half-Jewish parents, she was the daughter of Jenny Aubry (né Weiss - whose sister was the feminist Louise Weiss) and Alexandre Roudinesco, of Romanian origin. Her parents were both physicians. She received her secondary education in Paris at Collège Sévigné. She studied Literature at the Sorbonne, with a minor in Linguistics; her master degree was supervised by Tzvetan Todorov, and her doctoral thesis, entitled Inscription du désir et roman du sujet, by Jean Levaillant at the Université Paris VIII-Vincennes in 1975.

She also took classes of Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault at the time of her master's degree . She next defended her "habilitation à diriger des recherches" (H.D.R – the French accreditation needed to supervise doctoral dissertations) in 1991 with Michelle Perrot as supervisor and Alain Corbin, Dominique Lecourt, Jean-Claude Passeron, Robert Castel, and Serge Leclaire as members of the examining committee. This work was published under the title Généalogies.

From 1969 to 1981, she was a member of the École Freudienne de Paris, founded by psychoanalyst and philosopher Jacques Lacan. Meanwhile, she was also a member of the editorial board of Action Poétique (1969–1979). She has written for French national newspapers, Libération (1986–1996), and then Le Monde since 1996.

Academic position

  • Since her H.D.R. diploma in 1991, she supervises PhD thesis in the graduate program ENS- Rue d'Ulm.
  • Researcher at University of Paris VII – Denis Diderot.
  • Part-time lecturer at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (E.P.H.E.) from 2001 to 2007.
  • Part-time lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (E.H.E.S.S.) from 1992 to 1996.
  • President of the Société Internationale d'Histoire de la Psychiatrie et de la Psychanalyse – S.I.H.P.P. (International Society of History of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis).
  • Member of the editorial advisory board of scientific journals "L'Homme" (EHESS Editions – 1997–2002), "History of psychiatry" (Sage Publications) since 2003 and "Cliniques Méditerranéenne" (Eres Edition) since 2000.
  • Member of the Société Française d'Histoire de la Médecine (French Society for the History of Medicine) since 1997.
  • Visiting Professor at Middlesex University – London since 2006.
  • Contributor to French national newspapers Libération (1986–1996), then Le Monde since 1996.


In the 1970s, Elisabeth Roudinesco's first works dealt with literary criticism, notably with Raymond Roussel, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. At that time, her work concerned linking a singular trajectory and an author's work, without resorting to psycho-biography, in other words, the psychologization of literary work by the clinical study of its author. This approach allowed her to demonstrate that most of 20th century literature has been influenced by the history of Freudianism and psychological medicine based on the theory of degeneration.[1]

From 1979, Elisabeth Roudinesco writes a history of psychoanalysis in France. At that time, the main model was still the biography, because the archives and documents of the psychoanalytical movement were still in the hand of Freud's heirs.

Indeed, this model corresponded to the historiographical trend centered on the notion of the founding father figure; a trend which is at the core of any quest of origins. However, this model has gradually declined, as scholarly historiography emerged with such work as Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, first published in 1970. Though this book had been known in English-speaking countries since that date, the book (published in French in 1974) remained largely unnoticed in France until Elisabeth Roudinesco republished it with a lengthy new preface in 1994.[2]

In his work, Ellenberger developed a conceptuality of freudianism founded on archivistics and reference to the concepts of “mental tools”, “long length” and “system of thought”. This last category proposed presenting doctrines in their own terms and structures. The study of the system of thought of dynamic psychiatry, psychotherapies and psychological medicine no longer echoes back to a single founder, but to a plurality of singular itineraries, shattering the biographic model.[2]

From Ellenberger's thesis, Elisabeth Roudinesco retained several guiding principles, while adding methodology derived from the works of the French epistemological school: Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault. Thus, the study of system of thought becomes the form in which, at a given time, knowledge achieves independence, finding balance and entering into communication: a history of a man who thinks, systems which intertwine, but also a critical analysis of the concepts of consciousness and subject of knowledge.[2]

Considering how psychoanalysis was established as a movement and system of thought, Elisabeth Roudinesco asserted that France was the only country where all the necessary conditions were gathered together, over a long period of time, to successfully establish Freudianism in scientific and cultural life. According to Elisabeth Roudinesco, this favorable situation dated back first to the French Revolution of 1789 which provided a scientific and legal legitimacy to reason, heed/gaze over madness, giving birth to the institution of the asylum. Then, the Dreyfus affair, which has precipitated the arrival of intellectuals' self-awareness as a class. Designating themselves as an 'avant-garde', they furnished fruitful and innovative ideas. Finally, the emergence of literary modernity with Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Lautréamont, who enunciate, in a new style of writing, the project of changing man through “I is another”.

In 1993, Elisabeth Roudinesco published a biography of Jacques Lacan, an interpreter of the Freudianism that was born in the fin-de-Siècle Vienna. From 1938, Lacan felt preoccupied by the generalized decline of the patriarchy and tried, like Freud and the English school, to promote the father figure within Western society, under the form of a symbolic function. Roudinesco highlighted the fact that the genius of Lacan's work is the introduction of elements from German philosophy (e.g., Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger) within the Freudian doctrine – creating a phenomenon Freud would have never conceived himself, since he built his theory on a biological model (darwinism), by consciously refusing to consider and include any philosophical discourses, contemporary or ancient, in his thought process.

Physician and philosopher Raymond Tallis wrote a scathing review of the first English language translation of Roudinesco's biography, stating "The innocence with which Roudinesco reports all kinds of clinical cock-ups [in Lacan's medical career] makes this book a particularly disturbing read for a medic."[3]

The study of the melancholic Théroigne de Mericourt (1989), early feminist and famous case of the annals of French alienism – she has been 'gazed' by Etienne Esquirol in La Salpêtrière – helped Roudinesco to understand how important the paradigm of the French Revolution is in the French situation of Freudianism. Furthermore, it became clear for Roudinesco that it was more than ever necessary to include the analysis of patients into the analysis of doctrines as a major constituting element of the discourses of psychopathology.

Roudinesco also shows that invariant conditions are required to introduce Freudian ideas and establish psychoanalytical movement in a given space. First, a psychiatric knowledge must have been previously constituted, namely a gaze over madness able to conceptualize the notion of mental illness to the detriment of explanation such as divine possession. Secondly, the existence of a State of right capable of guaranteeing the free practice of a transmission like the transferential kind.

Whenever one or both of theses elements are lacking it explains why the establishment of Freudianism has not been possible (era of the world influenced by Islam or whom the organization is still tribal) or its disappearance ( under totalitarian regime, nazism and communism). She also notices that military dictatorship didn't refrain the expansion of psychoanalysis in South American (notably Brazil and Argentina). Roudinesco assesses that caudillo regimes didn't try to eradicate psychoanalysis as “jewish science” like did nazism in the years 1933–1944 nor as a “bourgeois science” like did communism over the period 1945–1989.[4]

Political standing

Since 1997, she has expressed political standing in various public debates. She stands in debates such as laicity, cloning, genetics, innate and acquired. She fiercely criticized INSERM's reports of experts over psychotherapies. In that sense, she is one of the very first signer of Pas de Zéro de Conduite's petition against systematic detection of delinquency of children under three years of age, as advocated by another INSERM's reports.


Available in English

  • Jacques Lacan & Co.: a history of psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985, 1990, Chicago,Chicago University Press
  • Madness and Revolution: The Lives and Legends of Theroigne De Mericourt, 1993, Verso.
  • Jacques Lacan, 1999, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Why Psychoanalysis? 2003, New York, Columbia University Press (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)
  • The Mirror stage: an oblitarated archive in The Cambridge Companion to Lacan, Jean-Michel Rabaté dir., 2003, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • For What Tomorrow... : A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida, 2004, Palo Alto, Stanford University Press.
  • "Psychoanalysis" in The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, Lawrence D. Kriztman dir., 2006, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida, 2008, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • « Lacan, The Plague »,Psychoanalysis and History, ed. John Forrester,Teddington, Artesian Books, 2008.
  • "Humanity and its gods: atheism",Psychoanalysis and History, ed. Julia Borossa and Ivan Ward, Volume 11, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
  • Our Dark Side, a History of Perversion, 2009, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Available in Spanish

  • Diccionario de Psicoanalisis, con Michel Plon, 1998, Ediciones Paidos.
  • Pensar La Locura, Ensayos sobre Michel Foucault, con J.Postel y G. Canguilhem, 1999, Paidos Argentina.
  • Por Que El Psicoanalisis? 2000, Paidos Argentina.
  • Lacan – Esbozo de una vida, Historia de un sistema de pensamiento, 2000, Fondo De Cultura Economica USA.
  • La Familia en Desorden, 2003, Fondo De Cultura Economica USA.
  • El Paciente, El Terapeuta y El Estado, 2005, Siglo XXI.
  • Nuestro lado oscuro – oskuro, Anagrama cheto.

Available in French

  • Initiation à la linguistique générale, 1967, Paris, L'Expansion scientifique française.
  • Un Discours au réel : théorie de l'inconscient et politique de la psychanalyse, 1973, Tours, Mame.
  • L'Inconscient et ses lettres, 1975, Tours, Mame.
  • Pour une politique de la psychanalyse, 1977, Paris, La Découverte.
  • La Psychanalyse mère et chienne, avec H.Deluy, 1979, Paris, Union Générale d'Editions.
  • Théroigne de Méricourt. Une femme mélancolique sous la Révolution, 1989, Paris, Le Seuil.
  • Jacques Lacan. Esquisse d'une vie, histoire d'un système de pensée, 1993, Paris, Fayard.
  • Histoire de la psychanalyse en France, vol.1, 1994, Paris, Fayard.
  • Histoire de la psychanalyse en France, vol.2, 1994, Paris, Fayard.
  • Généalogies, 1994, Paris, Fayard.
  • Dictionnaire de la psychanalyse, avec Michel Plon, 1997, Paris, Fayard.
  • Pourquoi la psychanalyse?, 1999, Paris, Fayard.
  • Au-delà du conscient : histoire illustrée de la psychiatrie et de la psychanalyse, avec J.P. Bourgeron et P.Morel, 2000, Paris, Hazan.
  • L'Analyse, l'archive, 2001, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
  • La Famille en désordre, 2002, Paris, Fayard.
  • Le Patient, le thérapeute et l'État, 2004, Paris, Fayard.
  • Philosophes dans la tourmente, 2005, Paris, Fayard.
  • La part obscure de nous-mêmes – Une histoire des pervers, Albin Michel, Paris, 2007.
  • Retour sur la question juive, Albin Michel, Paris, 2009.

Available in Italian

  • Jacques Lacan : profilo di una vita, storia di un sistema di pensiero, Milano: R. Cortina, 1995.
  • Perché la Psicanalisi? prefazione di Giancarlo Ricci, Roma: Editori Riuniti, 2000.
  • Quale domani...? con Jacques Derrida, Torino : Bollati Boringhieri, 2004.
  • Antropologia della cura, A cura di Elisabeth Roudinesco e Roberto Beneduce, Bollati Boringhieri, 2005
  • Antropologia e Psicanalisi. Vol. I Etnopsicanalisi. Temi e protagonisti di un dialogo incompiuto. Vol. II Antropologia della cura, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2005. A cura di Elisabeth Roudinesco e Roberto Beneduce.
  • La famiglia in disordine, Roma : Meltemi, 2006.
  • La parte oscura di noi stessi.Una storia dei perversi, Colla Editore 2008

Available in German

  • Die Geschichte der Psychoanalyse in Frankreich. Band I, 1994
  • Die Geschichte der Psychoanalyse in Frankreich. Band II, 1998
  • Jacques Lacan. Bericht über ein Leben. Geschichte eines Denksystems, 1996, Kiepenheuer & Witsch.
  • Wozu Psychoanalyse?, 2002, Klett-Cotta.
  • Wörterbuch der Psychoanalyse, 2004, Wien, Springer.
  • Woraus wird Morgen gemacht sein? Ein Dialog, J.Derrida, 2006, Klett-Cotta.

Available in Portuguese

  • Jacques Lacan, Zahar, 1994.
  • Théroigne de Méricourt – Uma Mulher Melancólica durante a Revolução, Zahar, 1997.
  • Dicionario de psicanalise, Michel Plon, Zahar, 1998.
  • De Que Amanhã..., Jacques Derrida, Zahar, 2004.
  • Filósofos na tormenta,Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze e Derrida, Zahar, 2008.
  • A Parte Obscura de Nós Mesmo, Zahar, 2009.
  • Retorno à Questão Judaica, Zahar, 2010.
  • Lacan, a Despeito de Tudo e de Todos, Zahar, 2011.

Available in Polish

  • Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan. Jego życie i myśl, Wydawnictwo KR, Warszawa 2005.

See also


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