From the Psychoanalyst's Couch to Social Networks

From the Psychoanalyst's Couch to Social Networks

Annamaria Silvana de Rosa (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy), Emanuele Fino (Psychologist, Psychometrician, Italy) and Elena Bocci (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7601-3.ch031


Given the important role that psychoanalysis has played in the field of intervention on mental health for many years and the controversial debate that as therapeutical practice has been always originated and recently reactivated, it is of particular interest to discusses the actuality of the SRT 50 years later in the era of social networks. It does so by exploring the dynamics of the interchange between scientific and lay knowledge regarding psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and mental health in light of a corpus of spontaneous conversations among Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo! Answers users from France and Italy compiled over a one-year period. The study enlarges psycho-social research on social networks, currently under the hegemony of sociometrics and computer science research. Briefly, in this new communicative scenario, the results of the study show how different target groups use new practices, showing their positioning: users act as “infomediaries” of expert knowledge, providing informal help and suggestions online; experts open the doors of their “physical rooms” to “cyber rooms.”
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It is important to recall here that the conventional approach of social sciences to the study of SN has been rooted in the field of sociometry since the introduction and diffusion in the late 1960s of such well-known theories as the six degrees of separation and the small world phenomenon (Travers & Milgram, 1969). These theories have influenced generations of social scientists intent on extending mathematical models to the study of social relationships in terms of network theory and relying on concepts such as nodes (individual actors within the network) and ties (relationships between those actors). Social network analysis (SNA) is the modern sociological evolution of this trend (Carrington, Scott & Wasserman, 2005; Scott, 2004). Thanks to the recent affirmation and visibility of the Web, this approach has become hegemonic in the study of SN (Catanese et Al., 2012; De Meo et Al., 2012).

On the one hand, this trend can be seen as the consequence of the increasing interest of social sciences in computationally intense methods with which to analyse and model social phenomena (Williford & Henry, 2012) leading to the reproduction of “’habitual practices’ employed by quantitative researchers using the procedures which they are comfortable and familiar with” (Stoneman, Sturgis & Allum, 2012:854). On the other hand, it is possible to identify a significant lack of theory in the study of “what lies beneath” the massive and multiform production of social interaction in new online communication channels, especially from a semantic perspective (de Rosa, 2012).

Research on SR investigated via interpersonal exchanges on SNS may be a valid response to this theoretical challenge. In fact, in the 1990s, Moscovici (1995; 1997:7) provided an anticipatory proposal; he emphasised the importance of investigating new communication phenomena by studying “how common sense, the language exchanged, groups themselves are shaped in this cyber-communication”.

We accordingly assumed that exploration of the representational fields underlying the ‘social discourse’ would provide track of the new type of common sense emerging from SN, as well as the social positioning of different actors and groups.

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