1. The use of Kuhn theory of paradigms and of scientific revolution in recent Winnicott studies 

Winnicott was and still is acknowledged by many as an outstanding practitioner who, however, did not make any decisive contribution to psychoanalytic theory. It is not uncommon for his contributions to psychoanalysis to be seen as a mere extension of Freudian psychoanalysis enhanced by M. Klein. That view was challenged long ago by several of his contemporaries Already in the 1950s Masud Khan claimed that Winnicott’s distinction between the needs of the ego and those of the id makes up a ”revolutionary change” in emphasis within contemporary psychoanalytic thought and practice. In 1968, M. Balint hailed Winnicott as the most versatile inventor of new technical terms in psychoanalysis, suggesting that a “new language” proper to the “managing school” and different from the ones used in the Freudian and Kleinian schools might be developed under the influence of Winnicott’s ideas. In 1975, André Green observed that Winnicott’s contributions put on the agenda the question about the future of psychoanalysis, which is still today often marred by outdated theoretical views and practices. Psychoanalysis nowadays shies away, says Green, from the need to search for alternatives and renewal in the face of theoretical and practical impasses, from the need to extend its reach and to subject its concepts to radical changes, and from committing itself – as it used to be, with Freud – to self-criticism. In their Boundary and Space (1981), Davis and Wallbridge underscore that the novelty of Winnicott’s contribution lies in having introduced “another language” for the phenomena of human life and clinical practice that were until then unnamed in psychoanalysis.

Soon afterwards, Greenberg and Mitchell (1983), continuing the research done earlier by Modell (1968), Kohut (1975), and Lifton (1976), among others, took a crucial step by reading Winnicott as having effected a Kuhnian type of revolution in psychoanalysis, and not as merely extending or updating the Freudian paradigm. The use of Kuhn’s work is justified as follows:

We are suggesting that Kuhn’s approach to the development of scientific ideas and his definition of models as metaphysical commitments are highly applicable to the history of psychoanalytic thought and constitute a useful way to approaching different strategies of theory-construction. 

More recently, a historical reading of psychoanalysis from a Kuhnian perspective was put forth by Joyce McDougall, and in 2000 Mitchell stated again the theses he defended in 1983 with Greenberg. 

The fact that Winnicott made revolutionary changes and introduced a new “paradigm” or “matrix” into psychoanalysis was acknowledged more strongly from the 1980s onwards – albeit nearly always without an explicit reference to Kuhn – by A. Phillips (1988), P. C. Horton, H. Gerwith and K. J. Kreutter (1988), J. Hodges (1989), Th. H. Ogden (2001), D. Widlöcher (2006), K. Wright (2009), R. Roussillon (2010), N. Thompson (2012) and Ofra Eshel (2013). Ogden, for example, claims that Winnicott introduced a large number of “silent revolutions” into psychoanalysis, having especially “revolutionized” the notion of “analytic frame”. In 2011, Caldwell and Joyce, in turn, observed that Winnicott was a central figure in the elaboration of British object relations theory, which, while remaining rooted in Freud, revolutionized modern psychoanalysis”.

The Kuhnian concept of paradigm shifts was also used to characterize the contributions of other authors in the field of psychoanalysis. The first to do so systematically were Greenberg and Mitchell, in the work quoted above. Prior to them, Heinz Kohut found inspiration in Kuhn when giving to his own view of narcissistic personality disorders the sense of a modification of psychoanalysis similar to a biological “mutation”, and saying that this was a contribution “that provides access to a whole new aspect of reality”, and conjugates a new revolutionary technique with a new explanation theory, both having paradigmatic value. 

In 1992, Paul Ornstein, in his introduction to the seminal ideas of Michael Balint on the psychoanalytic treatment process, observed that those ideas were received in the field of psychoanalysis in two conflicting ways. One group of readers viewed Balint’s technical alterations as something acceptable, but only as clinical parameters that needed to be interpreted and eventually discarded, and not as a change in the basic [Freudian] paradigm, which had already been duly enhanced by the ego psychology. Another group refused that reduction and sought in Balint’s work a better solution to their clinical problems, thus overcoming group pressure and the stranglehold of a dominant paradigm. In this group’s view, the repair and expansion of Freudian psychoanalysis by ego psychology was not enough, a major overhaul was needed. 

  1. The Kuhnian reading of Winnicott in the São Paulo Winnicott School 

In the 1980s, Z. Loparic began an independent and systematic Kuhnian reading of the history of psychoanalysis, especially of Winnicott’s place in it – in accordance with a research line created for that purpose and adopted by a group of researchers in different Universities in Brazilian Federal State of São Paulo. Although there were, as said, prior attempts at this kind of reconstruction of the history and structure of Winnicottian psychoanalysis, this research group – currently working within the Brazilian Intitute of Winnicottian Psychoanalysis (IBPW) – was the first to take systematically into account all the elements of the Kuhnian theory of scientific revolutions adapted to the case of psychoanalysis – and for this reason it came to be known as the “São Paulo Winnicottian School”. In particular, the Kuhnian concept of paradigm was not reduced – as it is in Greenberg and Mitchell’s work – to metaphysical commitments but is used in all its complexity. Today, one of the main goals of this research project is to contribute to the publication in a not-too-distant future of a Winnicott Dictionary