Wilhelm Reich: Vitalism and Its Discontents

  • Sebastian Normandin
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 2)


In order to understand the work of the radical psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich in wider context, I ask whether or not he can be considered a vitalist. Beginning with some brief discussion of the idea of vitalism, this chapter moves to look at Reich’s seminal writings and the details of his life in an effort to properly situate him in the context of the vitalist tradition. I argue that Reich encountered deep resistance to, and criticism of, his ideas, and his role as an outsider in relationship to mainstream psychological paradigms was coveted but also unavoidable. Not only does Reich clearly fit into the vitalist paradigm – understanding him in these terms actually helps explain why he struggled for legitimacy and recognition in the psychiatric field throughout his career. Regardless of this peripheral role, or perhaps because of it, much interest remains in Reich’s thought, and his insights can still give us a more nuanced sense of sexuality and its relationship to life, spirituality, society and politics.


Animism Counter culture Sigmund Freud Orgone Outsiders Psychiatry Wilhelm Reich Vital force Vitalism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lyman Briggs CollegeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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