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Author: Barry Richards

This article offers a model of psychosocial inquiry in an analysis of the sources of the passionate desire for the UK to leave the EU. It proceeds from separate consideration of the ‘monocular’ modes of both societally- and psychologically-focussed approaches, towards bringing them together in a more ‘binocular’ vision. Firstly, familiar societal explanations are considered, in the perceived losses of material security, of national sovereignty and of indigenous community. It is noted that this level of explanation cannot account for the variations amongst Leave-supporting individuals in the intensity of their anger with the ‘establishment’. Secondly, a depth-psychological approach is explored, noting the contribution of theories of ‘othering’ and focussing on how pro-Brexit anger can be understood as a narcissistic rage against the ‘otherness’ of authority, as represented both by Parliament and the British elites, and by European institutions. Thirdly, a psychosocial ‘binocularity’ is outlined, in which societally-generated anxieties can be seen to interact with the intra-psychic vector of the narcissistic defence. That defence in turn can be seen to have become more prominent in late-modern societies due to cultural changes which have impacted adversely on the capacity for basic trust, so in historical context the psychic dimension folds back into the societal.

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Professor Volkan responds to questions about the emergence and development of his work as a psychoanalytic consultant and mediator in inter- and intra-national conflict situations. He outlines the circumstances of its beginnings at the University of Virginia and its subsequent growth including the development of interventions based on the ‘Tree Model’. He emphasises the centrality to this informal diplomatic work of the concept of large-group identity, and refers to some of the elaborations of this, for example in the influential concepts of chosen trauma and chosen triumph. He discusses the relationship of this non-clinical application of psychoanalytic ideas to the clinically-based schools of psychoanalytic thought, considers the conditions which lend themselves to effective interventions, and the possibility for improved management of political conflicts.

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