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Presenting the Past

Presenting the Past

Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Misremembering

Jeffrey Prager

ISBN 9780674004191

Publication date: 09/15/2000

Psychology is the dogma of our age; psychotherapy is our means of self-understanding; and "repressed memory" is now a universally familiar form of trauma. Jeffrey Prager, who is both a sociologist and a psychoanalyst, explores the degree to which we manifest the clichés of our culture in our most private recollections.

At the core of Presenting the Past is the dramatic and troubling case of a woman who during the course of her analysis began to recall scenes of her own childhood sexual abuse. Later the patient came to believe that the trauma she remembered as a physical violation might have been an emotional violation and that she had composed a memory out of present and past relationships. But what was accurate and true? And what evidence could be persuasive and valuable? Could the analyst trust either her convictions or his own? Using this case and others, Prager explores the nature of memory and its relation to the interpersonal, therapeutic, and cultural worlds in which remembering occurs.

Synthesizing research from social science, psychoanalysis, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, Prager uses clinical examples to argue more generally that our memories are never simple records of events, but constantly evolving constructions, affected by contemporary culture as well as by our own private lives. He demonstrates the need that sociology has for the insights of psychoanalysis, and the need that psychoanalysis has for the insights of sociology.


  • In his thought-provoking Presenting the Past, Jeffrey Prager examines the phenomena of recovered memory and the influences of therapy. Interweaving his theoretical stance with a single case study, he describes his work as 'a psychoanalytic treatment to explore the complicated relation between the individual and the collective, and the ways in which the cultural interpenetrates the most individual of pursuits, memory and self-constitution'...Prager skilfully moves the reader from the therapeutic setting to the wider social context and back again, allowing us insight into [his patient's] experience from two perspectives, her relationships with family and her therapist, and the influence of the culture in which she was living.

    —Janet Feigenbaum, Times Literary Supplement


  • Jeffrey Prager is Professor of Sociology at UCLA and a member of the faculty of the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 5 x 8 inches
  • Harvard University Press