Affiliation without Filia? – Combining Capabilities Approach and Psychoanalysis

Boger, Mai-Anh; Störtländer, Jan Christoph (2014). 'Affiliation without Filia? – Combining Capabilities Approach and Psychoanalysis' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

In this case study we wish to draw a perspective on how the architectonical capability of affiliation is inhibited by pathological processes of psychological development. The portrait of a young woman shows the fragility of this fundamental capability and at the same time it reminds us that there is no right to be loved.


The portrayed young woman is a 10th grade comprehensive school student living with her mother and rather invisible father-figures. Her socioeconomic background as a western white middle class teenager is secured, since she enjoys horse riding and has a 'full schedule'. At the first sight, one might assume this is a prospering young life with all central capabilities in a decent state, but in fact this case shows a different form of poverty: a poverty of reliable social bonds. This state is described – in the words of her psychotherapist – as a borderline case, a diagnosis that can be validated by our own analysis of the structural level (Kernberg).


From a capabilities approach perspective questions on the conditions for affiliation (and emotional development) arise, especially if one is confronted with such cases in educational settings. We therefore investigate which 'rights to affiliate' can be claimed and which human conditions are forms of suffering that occur as neurotic self-inhibition. When it comes to affiliation it is crucial to the topic to distinguish between what is unjust, what is unfair and what is human tragedy beyond enforceable rights, as no one can be forced to (feel) love(d).


The methodical means of this analysis consist of a qualitative content analysis (Mayring) with the theoretical framework of the capabilities approach, and a grounded theory analysis with the theoretical framework of Lacanian psychoanalysis.


The first part of the analysis shows that in her narrative affiliation is in fact the central capability she addresses. As it is an architectonical capability the other capabilities in this structure covariate downwards. The portrayed student herself links her problems with affiliation to emotional struggles but the qualitative content analysis does not offer any procedure to reconstruct the latent meaning of central motives. Therefore, the second analysis traces, what is called 'zero-point' in post-structuralism: the symbol to which all these iterations are tied.

The psychoanalytic approach thereby confirms this finding in terms of a dominant symbiotic structure, due to severe problems in her social and emotional development. The young woman eliminates the Other in her narration by denying the others and her own independent existence. This mode of destruction of the filia takes her chances to truly affiliate.


An example for an obvious violation of rights is the penetration – metaphorically and literally – of her mother into her private sphere to 'search the room for my razor-blades'. Even  when she makes the claim in defense of her privacy, it is ignored by her family. This form of denying the integrity of her borders is one of the ways in which her development towards a flourishing life is compromised.

At the same time, she has a really close friend, a bosom-buddy, which could be seen as a perfect opportunity for flourishing affiliation, but her structure disables her to seize this opportunity by 'eating the Other'. In the first case, she has a right, which can be claimed to end injustice, but in the second case there is nothing that could be enforced.

Especially in school, as a representation of the Third, symbiotic relationships are highly dysfunctional and lead to conflicts that can diminish other capabilities. As her struggles occupy her with symbiotic defense, she cannot be respondent to attempted affiliation. What could help in such a case to facilitate a flourishing life? Our study cannot give an answer to this question, but rather show the complexity of an individual set of capabilities and its analysis as well as the insight that there is no via regia to 'the good life' that can be fully safeguarded by the scope of social justice.


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