Skip to main content

Sites of the Unconscious

Hypnosis and the Emergence of the Psychoanalytic Setting

Translated by Christopher Barber, revised and expanded by the author

Sites of the Unconscious

Hypnosis and the Emergence of the Psychoanalytic Setting

Translated by Christopher Barber, revised and expanded by the author
In the late nineteenth century, scientists, psychiatrists, and medical practitioners began employing a new experimental technique for the study of neuroses: hypnotism. Though the efforts of the famous French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot to transform hypnosis into a laboratory science failed, his Viennese translator and disciple Sigmund Freud took up the challenge and invented psychoanalysis. Previous scholarship has viewed hypnosis and psychoanalysis in sharp opposition or claimed that both were ultimately grounded in the phenomenon of suggestion and thus equally flawed. In this groundbreaking study, Andreas Mayer reexamines the relationship between hypnosis and psychoanalysis, revealing that the emergence of the familiar Freudian psychoanalytic setting cannot be understood without a detailed analysis of the sites, material and social practices, and controversies within the checkered scientific and medical landscape of hypnotism.
Sites of the Unconscious analyzes the major controversies between competing French schools of hypnotism that emerged at this time, stressing their different views on the production of viable evidence and their different ways of deploying hypnosis. Mayer then reconstructs in detail the reception of French hypnotism in German-speaking countries, arguing that the distinctive features of Freud’s psychoanalytic setting of the couch emerged out of the clinical laboratories and private consulting rooms of the practitioners of hypnosis.

272 pages | 14 halftones, 4 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2013

History: History of Technology

History of Science


Psychology: General Psychology


"Mayer’s achievement in demonstrating how the most intimate of psychological encounters are shaped by social and material conditions is remarkable. Sites of the Unconscious provides an exemplary study of the ways introspective experience, as pursued by psychiatrists and psychologists, cannot be separated from the context of its production. It undoes the idea that ‘pure’ inner thoughts or feelings can ever be recovered."

Social History of Medicine

“Mayer’s brilliant Sites of the Unconscious (a revised and expanded translation of the author’s 2002 Mikroskopie der Psyche) is another path-breaking work. Mayer radically shifts conventional understandings of psychoanalysis by examining it alongside a broader set of practices, sites and materials connected to hypnotism in a wide range of historical contexts. It is a book that no scholar of Freud or psychoanalysis can ignore.”

Psychoanalysis and History

"A marvelous book for those who wish to read about the history of hypnosis and psychoanalysis. Although most psychoanalytic institutes have copious information available about Freud’s cocaine use and the origins of hypnosis, it is rare to find the rich detail that Mayer provides."

Albert Mason | The Psychoanalytic Quarterly

Rich in material, the book is a very fluent, informative, and enjoyable read and is recommended to any historian of psychoanalysis and psychiatry.

Martin Wieser, University of Vienna, Austria | Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"While the subject matter is mostly familiar, Andreas Mayer introduces a striking originality in terms of assumptions, conclusions, and, especially, methodology. Rather than situating hypnotism as a crude precursor to be superseded by psychoanalysis (as did Freud and most subsequent historians), Sites of the Unconscious argues for the centrality of hypnotism to the emergence in the late nineteenth century of various practices of investigating the mind. . . . Sites of the Unconscious makes a significant contribution by presenting an original, meticulously researched, and densely reasoned narrative. More broadly, it offers an alternative interpretation of scientific change."

Toby Gelfand, University of Ottawa | Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Using ethnographic and historical work on scientific laboratories, this superb study takes the reader through the emergence of hypnosis in the late nineteenth century, tracing the prehistory and the history of what was to become psychoanalysis. In a highly informed and fascinating manner, Mayer recounts the controversies that swirled around the practitioners of hypnosis and carefully considers the material conditions of clinics, laboratories, museums, and consulting rooms to show how hypnosis was central to the notion of the unconscious mind and how this notion was propagated in different clinical settings. Neither hagiographic nor discrediting, Mayer shows how the nineteenth century’s new scientific psychology, grounded in hypnosis, needs to be seen in its specific social setting. Among many other contributions, this work gives the most convincing explanation of why Freud abandoned hypnosis as a practice. It also persuasively shows how Freud’s consulting room, with its quiet environment of dim light and the famous couch, was in deliberate and direct opposition to the noise, bright lights, and public aspect of the clinical laboratories of hypnosis. A contribution of the first importance to the history of psychoanalysis, this book also makes for great reading.”

Françoise Meltzer, University of Chicago

“Can there be a truly innovative and surprising retelling of the origins of psychoanalysis? Andreas Mayer’s book demonstrates that possibility emphatically by reexamining the detailed set of practices associated with hypnotism that emerged first in France, to be transferred by Freud and others to German-speaking lands. These practices, Mayer demonstrates, are linked closely in Paris, Nancy, Vienna, and Zurich to the particular novel local sites and spaces—the newly configured clinics, laboratories, public demonstrations, and experimental programs—of the different schools that developed hypnotism and psychotherapy and contested very vigorously with one another for epistemic authority and influence. Perhaps for the first time, Freud’s work emerges as fundamentally novel but also completely embedded in the fine-grain development of these practices and debates. Mayer’s methodical and original research and argument leads to a fascinating reimagining of, through rigorous demonstration based on supreme command of historical evidence, the mythical origins of psychoanalysis.”

John Forrester, University of Cambridge

“There are few people with such deep knowledge of the early career of Sigmund Freud as Andreas Mayer, and probably no Freud scholar with his grasp of the history of science and medicine in late-nineteenth-century France, Austria, and Germany. Here Mayer couples great erudition with methodological innovations drawn from recent science studies to skillfully reexamine the key sites and experimental cultures of hysteria, hypnosis, and early psychoanalysis. Sites of the Unconscious is a tour de force that marks an important advance in our understanding of the origins of psychoanalysis.”

Robert M. Brain, University of British Columbia

“Ingeniously researched and insightfully argued, Sites of the Unconscious will revolutionize our understanding of histories and cultures of the mind in fields as diverse as anthropology, science studies, and psychiatry.”

Emily Martin, New York University

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Part I: French Cultures of Hypnosis
1. “Experimental Neuroses”: Hypnotism at the Salpêtrière Hospital
The Clinical Geography of Charcot’s New Research Center
The Experimentalization of the Unconscious
2. The Controversy between Paris and Nancy over Hypnotic Suggestion
Hypnotic Suggestion as a Therapeutic Method in Nancy
A “Suggestive Atmosphere”: Bernheim’s Clinic
The Problem of Simulation
Suggestible Subjects
Two Cultures of Hypnotism
3. “Amour expérimental”: Facts and Fetishes at the Musée Charcot
A “Museum of Clinical Facts”
Transferring Psychic Objects
Pinning Down Hallucinations
Fetishistic Object-Relations
The Tactical Intelligence of Subjects
4. The Question of Lay Hypnosis
Stage Magnetism and Lay Hypnosis
Enter the Critic: Joseph Delbœuf
Challenging the Medical Monopoly on Hypnosis
Part II: The Emergence of the Psychoanalytic Setting
5. Paris–Vienna: A Problematic Transfer
Translation Problems
Polemics Surrounding the “Wiener Nancyer”
The Krafft-Ebing Scandal
6. Freud and the Vicissitudes of Private Practice
Conflicting Ceremonies of the Cure
Factoring Out the Problem of Simulation
Freud’s Revision: Analysis without Hypnosis
7. The Psychotherapeutic Private Practice between Clinic and Laboratory
Voice Commands: The Soundscape of the Hypnotic Consulting Room
Introspective Hypnotism
The Fractionation Method: Oskar Vogt’s Laboratory of Hypnosis
“Psychical Analyses”: Vogt versus Freud
8. Experimentalism without a Laboratory: The Psychoanalytic Setting
“Self-Analyses”: Writing, Reading, and Dreaming
Tracking the Complex: Attempts at Stabilizing the Psychoanalytic Setting
Objects Blanked Out: Freud’s Scene of Treatment

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press