The Sociological Interpretation of Dreams
The Sociological Interpretation of Dreams
Translated by Helen Morrison
For Freud, dreams were the royal road to the unconscious: through the process of interpretation, the manifest and sometimes bewildering content of dreams can be traced back to the unconscious representations underlying it. But can we understand dreams in another way by considering how the unconscious is structured by our social experiences?  

This is hypothesis that underlies this highly original book by Bernard Lahire, who argues that dreams can be interpreted sociologically by seeing the dream as a nocturnal form of self-to-self communication. Lahire rejects Freud’s view that the manifest dream content is the result of a process of censorship: as a form of self-to-self communication, the dream is the symbolic arena most completely freed from all forms of censorship. In Lahire’s view, the dream is a message which can be understood only by relating it to the social world of the dreamer, and in particular to the problems that concern him or her during waking life. As a form of self-to-self communication, the dream is an intimate private diary, providing us with the elements of a profound and subtle understanding of who and what we are. Studying dreams enables us to discover our most deep-seated and hidden preoccupations, and to understand the thought processes that operate within us, beyond the reach of our volition.  

The study of dreams and dreaming has largely been the preserve of psychoanalysis, psychology and neuroscience. By showing how dreams are connected to the lived experience of individuals in the social world, this highly original book puts dreams and dreaming at the heart of the social sciences.  It will be of great value to students and scholars in sociology, psychology and psychoanalysis and to anyone interested in the nature and meaning of dreams.
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  • August 2020
  • 450 pages
  • 160 x 234 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $45.00
  • 9781509537945
  • Open eBook $36.99
  • 9781509537952
Table of Contents
Table of Contents


Introduction: A dream for the social sciences                                                              

1. Advances in the science of dreams     
The dream before Freud                                        
The need for an integrative theory

Scientific progress and relativism

The art of limping: the end of pure speculation

On the scientific interpretation of dreams

Beyond Freud

2. The dream: an intrinsically social individual reality 
Can the social be absorbed into the cerebral?

A few precedents in the social sciences

Limitations of environmentalist approaches: the ecology of dreams

Limitations of literal approaches: content analysis of dream accounts

In what sense are dreams a social issue?

A general formula for the interpretation of dreams

3. Psychoanalysis and the social sciences  
Between biological and social 

Psychoanalysis and the general formula for interpreting practices

Infantile hypothesis

Sexual hypothesis

The highs and lows of the dream: sexuality and domination

4. Incorporated past and the unconscious         
Ways in which the incorporated past is actualized

The statistician brain or practical anticipation

The internalization of the regularities of experience

Oneiric schemas and the incorporated past

A critique of the event-focused approach

5. Unconscious and involuntary consciousness 
The involuntary consciousness of the dreamer

Unconsciousness or involuntary consciousness

The unconscious without repression   

6. Formal censorship, moral censorship: the double relaxation    

The most private of the private: on stage and behind the scenes

All dreams are not the fulfillment of an unsatisfied wish

7. The existential situation and dreams    
Dream and outside the dream

The driving force of emotions

The therapeutic and political effects of making problems explicit

8. Triggering events      
The day residue: theoretical and methodological inaccuracies

The day residue: the inertia of habit

The deferred effects of triggering events

Nocturnal perceptions and sensations

9. The context of sleep   
Cerebral and psychic constraints

Withdrawing from the flow of interactions

Self-to-self communication: internal language, formal and implicit relaxation

10. The fundamental forms of psychic life
Practical analogy

Analogy in dreams

Transference in analysis as analogical transference

Association: analogy and contiguity  

11. The oneiric processes    
Verbal language, symbolic capacity and dream images 



Personal or universal symbolization



Inversions, opposites, contradictions 

12. Variations in forms of expression   
An expressive continuum

Forms of expression, forms of psychic activity and types of social context

The false ‘free expression’ of dreams and the varying levels of contextual constraints

The dream between assimilation and accommodation

The dream, as opposed to literature

Play and the dream

Dreams and daydreams

Psychoanalytic therapy: recreating the conditions of the dream

13. Elements of methodology for a sociology of dreams 
The fleeting nature of dreams and dream accounts

Do we need to know the dreamers to understand their dreams?

Access to the non-dream state: associations

Beyond associations

Access to the non-dream state: the sociological biography

Clarifications, associations, partial or systematic biographical accounts

Conclusion 1. A dream without any function  
Conclusion 2. Dreams, will and freedom                   
Coda. The formula for interpreting practices – implications and challenges  


About the Author
Bernard Lahire is Professor of Sociology at the École Normale Superieure de Lyon.  He has published over twenty books, including This is Not a Painting and The Plural Actor.
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Drawing on many disciplines, on little-known works about dream activity and on discoveries about consciousness and the workings of thought, Bernard Lahire puts forward a bold theory: we replay at night the unconscious schemas and determinisms that structure our personality and underlie our behavior.

This great theoretical work, which opens up a whole host of questions about what troubles us day and night, about what social structures do to our unconscious and about what the world does to our nocturnal imagination, awaits only its practical application in order to corroborate its stimulating insights.
Les Inrocks

"With insight and serious thought, Lahire builds a bridge between sociology and psychoanalysis. Across the bridge travel not only empirical and theoretical contributions to each field, but intellectual spurs to new creativity."
Craig Calhoun, Arizona State University

"Bernard Lahire has established himself as arguably the most creative and insightful French sociologist of his generation.  A leading global social psychologist, Lahire reveals how dreams transcend the line between fantasy and daytime reality. This masterwork persuades us that that the chasm between sleep and waking is not as deep as easily imagined. Every sociologist will learn from Lahire and every psychologist should learn from him as well."
Gary Alan Fine, Northwestern University

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