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Death drive and emancipation: on the reception of a psychoanalytic concept in critical theory

Grant number: 20/01051-1
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): April 01, 2020
Effective date (End): March 31, 2024
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy - History of Philosophy
Principal researcher:Luiz Sérgio Repa
Grantee:Simone Bernardete Fernandes
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


This research investigates the reception of the Freudian concept of "death drive" by Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse, from the 1930s to the 1960s. The subject is elaborated by the perspective of these author's conceptions of the senses, obstacles and potentials for social emancipation, following the hypothesis that in their views on emancipation we can find the key to understand the references to the death drive. The interest in such theme is motivated by the importance of drive theory for critical theory in this period and by the renewed discussions about it in the last decades, by Amy Allen, Judith Butler, Benjamin Fong, and Joel Whitebook, that cast new light on the topic and on the work of the authors here investigated, by debating the relationship between death drive, negativity and emancipation. That entails facing the problems that permeate the bond between death drive and emancipation in 1930s-1960s critical theory and how they are reviewed contemporarily: the challenge that the definition of this drive as innate or biological and, therefore, as a permanent threat to social life opposed to these early critical theorist's concepts of emancipation, their distinct formulations of its statute and manifestation, and especially the contradictory aspect of their references to drive theory, insofar as subjectively rooted obstacles for emancipation are related to the products of drive repression and to the oriented liberation of drives, but the authors also consider the drives as a source of resistance against a repressive social order.