The queer cases of psychoanalysis: Rethinking the scientific study of homosexuality, 1890s-1920s

Birgit Lang, Katie Sutton

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    This article charts the development of psychoanalytic cases of homosexuality in the early twentieth century against the backdrop of seemingly stable sexological understandings of congenital homosexual identity and behaviour. It argues that psychoanalysts offered alternative models to the taxonomies of sexology, which had remained intellectually tied to discourses of pathology and difference. It contrasts Freud's approach to homosexuality in several famous early cases, such as 'Dora' and Daniel Paul Schreber, with rarely considered cases and writings by Isidor Sadger and others. This analysis reveals nuanced distinctions between early psychoanalytic positions: whereas Freud's approach created the potential for greater equality between homosexual and heterosexual subjectivities by abolishing straightforward categories of the 'normal' and the 'pathological', and by arguing for a universal bisexuality and polyvalent sexuality, Sadger and others remained focused on the question of a cure, and continued to prioritize a heterosexual norm. From this early psychoanalytic focus on male homosexual cases, the article traces a shift towards female homosexuality in the interwar period, including consideration of wider environmental and social factors in homosexual development and identification. Throughout, this article considers how the search for authenticity led psychoanalysts to scrutinize the evidentiary status of patient statements rather than take these at face value, opening up new possibilities and frameworks for the representation of queer subjectivities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)419-444
    Number of pages26
    JournalGerman History
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


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