Élisabeth Roudinesco  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Élisabeth Roudinesco (born 1944, Paris) is a French academic historian and psychoanalyst, Professor of History at University of Paris VII - Denis Diderot. She is a prominent intellectual figure in France, and her work has been translated into thirty languages.



She is the daughter of Jenny Weiss (whose sister is feminist Louise Weiss) and Alexandre Roudinesco, of Romanian origin, both physicians. She has been educated at Sévigné Collège in Paris. She graduated in Literature and Linguistics at the Sorbonne; her master degree was supervised by Tzvetan Todorov and her doctoral thesis, entitled Inscription du désir et roman du sujet, by Jean Levaillant at the Université Paris VIII-Vincennes in 1975. At this time, she was also the student of Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Then, she defended her habilitation à diriger des recherches (H.D.R – needed to supervise doctoral dissertations) in 1991 with Michelle Perrot as supervisor. Members of the Jury: Alain Corbin, Dominique Lecourt, Jean-Claude Passeron, Robert Castel, Serge Leclaire. This work is published under the title: Généalogies.

From 1969 to 1981, she was a member of the École Freudienne de Paris founded by Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, where she received her psychoanalytical training. Meanwhile, she was also a member of the Revue Poétique’s editorial board (1969–1979). She contributes to French national newspapers: Libération (1986–1996), then Le Monde since 1996.

Academic position

  • Director of research in History, University of Paris 7 - Denis Diderot since 1991.
  • Member of the editorial advisory board of scientific journals "L'Homme" (EHESS Editions - 1997-2002), "History of psychiatry" (Sage Publications) since 2003 and "Cliniques Méditerranéenne" (Eres Edition) since 2000.
  • Contributor to French national newspapers Libération (1986–1996), then Le Monde since 1996.


In the 1970s, Elisabeth Roudinesco's first works are dealing with literary criticism and notably with Raymond Roussel, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht or Louis-Ferdinand Céline. At this time, it was about to link a singular trajectory and an author's work without having recourse to psychobiography, that is to say the psychologization of literary work by the clinical study of its author. This way of proceeding enables to show that most of 20th century literature has been influenced by the history of Freudianism and mental medicine issued from the theory of degeneration.

From 1979, Elisabeth Roudinesco is encouraged by Michel de Certeau to start writing an history of psychoanalysis in France. At this time, the main model was still the biography because archives and documents of the psychoanalytical movement were still in the hand of Freud's heirs.

Indeed, this model corresponded to the historiographical trend centered on the notion of the founding father figure ; trend which is at the core of any quest of the origin. However, the model is little by little declining as scholarly historiography is emerging with such work as Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry published, for the first time, in 1970. Though this book has been known in English-speaking countries since this time, the book (published in french in 1974) remained unnoticed until Elisabeth Roudinesco republished it with a new long preface in 1994 in France. In his work, Ellenberger is elaborating a conceptuality of freudianism founded on archivistics and a reference to the notions of “mental tools”, “long length” and “system of thought”. This last category invites to present doctrines in their own terms and structures. The study of system of thought of dynamic psychiatry, psychotherapies and psychic medicines no longer sends back to a single founder but to a plurality of singular itineraries which shatters the biographic model. From Ellenberger's thesis, Elisabeth Roudinesco keeps several guiding principals while adding a methodology deriving from the french epistemological school's works : Georgues Canguilhem and Michel Foucault. Thus, the study of system of thought becomes the form in which, at a given time, knowledges get independents, find their balance and enter in communication: a history of man who think , systems which intertwine but also a critical analysis of the notion of consciousness and subject of knowledge.

Considering how psychoanalysis is established as a movement and system of thought, Elisabeth Roudinesco shows that France is the only country where all the necessary conditions have been gathered, over a long period of time, to get a successful establishment of Freudianism in the scientific and cultural life. According to Elisabeth Roudinesco, this favorable situation dates back first to the French Revolution of 1789 which has given a scientific and legal legitimacy to the reason heed/gaze over madness, giving birth to the asylum institution. Then, the Dreyfus affair which has precipitated the arrival of intellectuals' self-awareness as a class. Designating themselves as an 'avant-garde', they set fruitful and innovative ideas. Finally, the emergence of literary modernity with Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Lautréamont, who enunciate, in a new writing, the project of changing man through “I is another”.

In 1993, Elisabeth Roudinesco publishes the first biography of Jacques Lacan, the last great interpretator of an original freudianism born in the fin-de-Siècle Vienna. From 1938, Lacan feels concerned by the generalized decline of the patriarchy and tries, like Freud and the English school, to promote the father figure within the western society, under the form of a symbolic function. Roudinesco highlights the fact that the genius of his work is the introduction of elements from German philosophy within the Freudian doctrine (Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger). Thus, it happened an act whom Freud would have never thought about, since he built his theory from a biologic model (darwinism) by consciously refusing to consider and include any philosophical discourses, contemporary or ancient, in his thought process.

The study of the melancholic Théroigne de Mericourt (1989), early feminist and famous case of the annals of french alienism – she has been 'gazed' by Etienne Esquirol in La Salpêtrière – helped Roudinesco to understand how important the paradigm of the French Revolution is in the french situation of Freudianism. Furthermore, it became clear for Roudinesco that it was more than ever necessary to include the analysis of patients into the analysis of doctrines as a major constituting element of the discourses of psychopathology.

Roudinesco also shows that invariant conditions are required to introduce Freudian ideas and establish psychoanalytical movement in a given space. First, a psychiatric knowledge must have been previously constituted, namely a gaze over madness able to conceptualize the notion of mental illness to the detriment of explanation such as divine possession. Secondly, the existence of a State of right capable of guaranteeing the free practice of a transmission like the transferential kind.

Whenever one or both of theses elements are lacking it explains why the establishment of Freudianism has not been possible (era of the world influenced by Islam or whom the organization is still tribal) or its disappearance ( under totalitarian regime, nazism and communism). She also notices that military dictatorship didn't refrain the expansion of psychoanalysis in South American (notably Brazil and Argentina). Roudinesco assesses that caudillo regimes didn't try to eradicate psychoanalysis as “jewish science” like did nazism in the years 1933-1944 nor as a “bourgeois science” like did communism over the period 1945-1989.

Political standing

Since 1997, She has expressed political standing in various public debates. She is in favour of homosexuals' right to adopt children and against affirmative action. Once more, She stands in debates such as laicity, cloning, genetics, innate and acquired. She fiercely criticized INSERM's reports of experts over psychotherapies. In that sense, she is one of the very first signer of Pas de Zéro de Conduite's petition against systematic detection of delinquency of children under three years of age, as advocated by another INSERM's reports.


Available in English

  • Jacques Lacan & Co.: a history of psychoanalysis in France, 1925-1985, 1990, Chicago,Chicago University Press
  • Madness and Revolution: The Lives and Legends of Theroigne De Mericourt, 1993, Verso.
  • Jacques Lacan, 1999, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Why Psychoanalysis? 2003, New York, Columbia University Press (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)
  • The Mirror stage: an oblitarated archive in The Cambridge Companion to Lacan, Jean-Michel Rabaté dir., 2003, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • For What Tomorrow... : A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida, 2004, Palo Alto, Stanford University Press.
  • "Psychoanalysis" in The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, Lawrence D. Kriztman dir., 2006, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida, 2008, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • « Lacan, The Plague »,Psychoanalysis and History, ed. John Forrester,Teddington, Artesian Books, 2008.
  • "Humanity and its gods: atheism",Psychoanalysis and History, ed. Julia Borossa and Ivan Ward, Volume 11, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
  • Our Dark Side, a History of Perversion, 2009, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Available in Spanish

  • Diccionario de Psicoanalisis, con Michel Plon, 1998, Ediciones Paidos.
  • Pensar La Locura, Ensayos sobre Michel Foucault, con J.Postel y G. Canguilhem, 1999, Paidos Argentina.
  • Por Que El Psicoanalisis? 2000, Paidos Argentina.
  • Lacan - Esbozo de una vida, Historia de un sistema de pensamiento, 2000, Fondo De Cultura Economica USA.
  • La Familia en Desorden, 2003, Fondo De Cultura Economica USA.
  • El Paciente, El Terapeuta y El Estado, 2005, Siglo XXI.
  • Nuestro lado oscuro - oskuro, Anagrama cheto.

Available in French

  • Initiation à la linguistique générale, 1967, Paris, L'Expansion scientifique française.
  • Un Discours au réel : théorie de l'inconscient et politique de la psychanalyse, 1973, Tours, Mame.
  • L'Inconscient et ses lettres, 1975, Tours, Mame.
  • Pour une politique de la psychanalyse, 1977, Paris, La Découverte.
  • La Psychanalyse mère et chienne, avec H.Deluy, 1979, Paris, Union Générale d'Editions.
  • Théroigne de Méricourt. Une femme mélancolique sous la Révolution, 1989, Paris, Le Seuil.
  • Jacques Lacan. Esquisse d'une vie, histoire d'un système de pensée, 1993, Paris, Fayard.
  • Histoire de la psychanalyse en France, vol.1, 1994, Paris, Fayard.
  • Histoire de la psychanalyse en France, vol.2, 1994, Paris, Fayard.
  • Généalogies, 1994, Paris, Fayard.
  • Dictionnaire de la psychanalyse, avec Michel Plon, 1997, Paris, Fayard.
  • Pourquoi la psychanalyse?, 1999, Paris, Fayard.
  • Au-delà du conscient : histoire illustrée de la psychiatrie et de la psychanalyse, avec J.P. Bourgeron et P.Morel, 2000, Paris, Hazan.
  • L'Analyse, l'archive, 2001, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
  • La Famille en désordre, 2002, Paris, Fayard.
  • Le Patient, le thérapeute et l'État, 2004, Paris, Fayard.
  • Philosophes dans la tourmente, 2005, Paris, Fayard.
  • La part obscure de nous-mêmes - Une histoire des pervers, Albin Michel, Paris, 2007.
  • Retour sur la question juive, Albin Michel, Paris, 2009.

Available in Italian

  • Jacques Lacan : profilo di una vita, storia di un sistema di pensiero, Milano: R. Cortina, 1995.
  • Perché la Psicanalisi? prefazione di Giancarlo Ricci, Roma: Editori Riuniti, 2000.
  • Quale domani...? con Jacques Derrida, Torino : Bollati Boringhieri, 2004.
  • Antropologia della cura, A cura di Elisabeth Roudinesco e Roberto Beneduce, Bollati Boringhieri, 2005
  • Antropologia e Psicanalisi. Vol. I Etnopsicanalisi. Temi e protagonisti di un dialogo incompiuto. Vol. II Antropologia della cura, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2005. A cura di Elisabeth Roudinesco e Roberto Beneduce.
  • La famiglia in disordine, Roma : Meltemi, 2006.
  • La parte oscura di noi stessi.Una storia dei perversi, Colla Editore 2008

Available in German

  • Die Geschichte der Psychoanalyse in Frankreich. Band I, 1994
  • Die Geschichte der Psychoanalyse in Frankreich. Band II, 1998
  • Jacques Lacan. Bericht über ein Leben. Geschichte eines Denksystems, 1996, Kiepenheuer & Witsch.
  • Wozu Psychoanalyse?, 2002, Klett-Cotta.
  • Wörterbuch der Psychoanalyse, 2004, Wien, Springer.
  • Woraus wird Morgen gemacht sein? Ein Dialog, J.Derrida, 2006, Klett-Cotta.

Available in Portuguese

  • Jacques Lacan, Zahar, 1994.
  • Théroigne de Méricourt - Uma Mulher Melancólica durante a Revolução, Zahar, 1997.
  • Dicionario de psicanalise, Michel Plon, Zahar, 1998.
  • De Que Amanhã..., Jacques Derrida, Zahar, 2004.
  • Filósofos na tormenta,Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze e Derrida, Zahar, 2008.
  • A Parte Obscura de Nós Mesmo, Zahar, 2009.
  • Retorno à Questão Judaica, Zahar, 2010.

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