Transference, Desire, and the Logic of Emancipation

Psychoanalytic Lessons from the “Third Wave”
  • Antti SaariEmail author
Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


The modus operandi of many pedagogies indexed under the rubric “critical” and “transformative” is to acknowledge and overcome oppressive structures ingrained in dominant societal ideologies. Yet in practice, some of such pedagogies may be susceptible to what Gert Biesta has called the “logic of emancipation.” This means that those who are to be emancipated ultimately remain dependent on the “truth” provided by the critical educator.

This chapter provides a critical discussion of the possibility of overcoming the logic of emancipation from the point of view of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. Transformative learning process is analyzed as a formation and a subsequent unraveling of transferential fantasies and desires invested in the critical educator as a “subject supposed to know.”

As a case example, the chapter analyzes an (in)famous pedagogical experiment conducted in a Palo Alto High School in 1967. In a World History class, a teacher taught his students about the perils of fascism by using unorthodox teaching methods. While lecturing them about the history of the Third Reich, the teacher allured his students to adopt decidedly fascist discipline and forms of mutual persecution. The aim was to help students learn how easily almost anyone can willingly succumb to authoritarianism.

This provocative case is used to illustrate the power of transferential fantasies in education and the difficult process of trying to unravel them for the purposes of a transformative experience. Moreover, the case raises questions about the ethics of such pedagogic practices.


Psychoanalysis Critical pedagogy Emancipation Lacan Jacques Ideology 


  1. Adorno, T. W. (1998). Education after Auschwitz. In Critical models: Interventions and catchwords (pp. 191–204). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alcorn, M. (2002). Toward a pedagogy of symptoms, anxiety, and mourned objects. In J. Jagodzinski (Ed.), Pedagogical desire: Authority, education, transference, and the question of ethics (pp. 61–74). Westport: Bergin & Garvey.Google Scholar
  3. Alcorn, M. (2013). Resistance to learning: Overcoming the desire not to know in classroom teaching. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Atay, H. D. (2013). “Passionate ignorance”: Literary and pedagogical implications of Lacan’s style. Other Education, 2(2), 90–112.Google Scholar
  5. Atkinson, D. (2004). Theorising how student teachers form their identities in initial teacher education. British Educational Research Journal, 30(3), 379–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Biesta, G. (2014). The beautiful risk of education. Boulder: Paradigm.Google Scholar
  7. Biesta, G. (2017). Don’t be fooled by ignorant schoolmasters: On the role of the teacher in emancipatory education. Policy Futures in Education, 15(1), 52–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boldt, G. (2006). Resistance, loss, and love in learning to read: A psychoanalytic inquiry. Research in the Teaching of English, 40(3), 272–309.Google Scholar
  9. Bracher, M. (2006). Radical pedagogy: Identity, generativity, and social transformation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Britzman, D. P. (1998). Lost subjects, contested objects: Toward a psychoanalytic inquiry of learning. Albany: Suny Press.Google Scholar
  11. Britzman, D. P. (2009). The very thought of education: Psychoanalysis and the impossible professions. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  12. Britzman, D. P., & Pitt, A. J. (1996). Pedagogy and transference: Casting the past of learning into the presence of teaching. Theory Into Practice, 35(2), 117–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burbules, N. C. (2000). The limits of dialogue as a critical pedagogy. In P. Trifonas (Ed.), Revolutionary pedagogies: Cultural politics, education, and the discourse of theory (pp. 251–273). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Butler, J. (1997). The psychic life of power: Theories in subjection. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Cho, D. (2005). Lessons of love: Psychoanalysis and teacher-student love. Educational Theory, 55(1), 79–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cho, D. (2007). Wo es war: Psychoanalysis, Marxism, and subjectivity. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 39(7), 703–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cho, D. (2009). Psychopedagogy: Freud, Lacan and the psychoanalytic theory of education. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diamond, L. (2015). Facing up to the democratic recession. Journal of Democracy, 26(1), 141–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn’t this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 59(3), 297–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fink, B. (1994). The Lacanian subject. Between language and jouissance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fink, B. (2017). Lacan on love: An exploration of Lacan’s seminar VIII: Transference. Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  22. Freedom House. (2017). Nations in transit: The false promise of populism. Freedom House. Retrieved from
  23. Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  24. Freud, S. (1912). The dynamics of transference. In The Standard Edition Volume XII (pp. 97-108-144). London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  25. Jeffery, D., & Neel, P. (2011). Lesson plan. Surrey: State of Crisis Productions.Google Scholar
  26. Jones, R. (1972). The third wave. In A. Pines & C. Maslach (Eds.), Experiencing social psychology: Readings and projects. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  27. Klink, B. (1967). ‘Third wave’ presents inside look into fascism. The Cubberley Catamount, 11(14), 6. Retrieved from Scholar
  28. Lacan, J. (1977). The four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. London: Carnac.Google Scholar
  29. Lacan, J. (2001). Écrits: A selection. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lacan, J. (2008). My teaching. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  31. Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ogilvy, J. (2017). The forces driving democratic recession. Forbes. Retrieved from
  33. Ranciére, J. (1991). The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Roseboro, D. L. (2008). Jacques Lacan and education: A critical introduction. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Roudinesco, É. (2008). Freud, thinker of the dark enlightenment. Journal of Romance Studies, 8(2), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Saari, A. (2016). Tuskallista tietää: Psykoanalyyttinen teoria ja traumaattisen tiedon oppiminen. Kasvatus, 47(1), 22–33.Google Scholar
  37. Samuels, R. (2002). Being outside the circle: Postmodern composition, pedagogy, and psychoanalytic theory. In J. Jagodzinski (Ed.), Pedagogical desire: Authority, education, transference, and the question of ethics (pp. 45–59). Westport: Bergin & Garvey.Google Scholar
  38. Schleifer, R. (1987). Lacan’s enunciation and the cure of mortality: Teaching, transference, and desire. College English, 49(7), 801–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stahl, M. (1967). The axiom. The Catamount, 11(13), 2. Retrieved from Scholar
  40. Taubman, P. M. (2010). Alain Badiou, Jacques Lacan, and the ethics of teaching. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 42(2), 196–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Taubman, P. M. (2012). Disavowed knowledge: Psychoanalysis, education, and teaching. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Whiting, S.(2010, January 30). In ‘The Wave,’ ex-teacher Ron Jones looks back. SFGate. Retrieved from
  43. Zimbardo, P. (2011). The Lucifer effect: How good people turn evil. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  44. Žižek, S. (1989). The sublime object of ideology. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  45. Žižek, S. (2008). Violence: Six sideways reflections. New York: Picador.Google Scholar
  46. Žižek, S. (2013). Denial: The liberal utopia. Retrieved from
  47. Zupancic, A. (2000). Ethics of the real: Kant and Lacan. London: Verso.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tampere UniversityTampereFinland

Personalised recommendations