Culture as the Bad Object

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How might we think about racism psychosocially through Ronald Fairbairn’s object-relations theory? How might doing so leverage creative reinstallation of Fairbairn’s relational thinking that has remained on the marginal space? I seek to respond to these questions by extending Fairbairn’s original concepts, such as ‘moral defence’ (1943), “endopsychic structure” (1944), and “object-relatedness” (1946), in reconceiving the Hostile Environment policy in the conjuncture between the historical, the political and the intersubjective. The populist mobilisation of the Hostile Environment policy here is not conceived simply as cultural- discursive practices, but also one that is charged with forces of violence upon the psychic reality of the racialised subject. Put differently, the hostile environment here can be seen as constituting in the social dimension the ‘bad object’, in a Fairbairnian sense, “too disruptive and threatening to the on-going relationship with the object to remain in awareness” (Celani, 2007, p. 123).

The potential of the Fairbairnian ‘bad object’ lies in its simultaneous holding of both the rejecting and tantalising elements in relation to the corresponding subject; essentially it is one which is capable of arousing a range of affective investment of the subject who fears and antagonises over the rejecting part of the bad object, but who also is helplessly desirous and engaged by the tantalising part of it. Explored in the context of anti-immigrant society, the hosting land of the UK on one hand embodies the rejecting outlook against the racialised other and on the other symbolises an enduring cultural capital of the Anglophone ‘West’ made seductive by the conceit of colonial supremacy. Addressing this, personal, reflexive account will be interweaved with theoretical complication of the hostile environment as a political phenomenon in order to generate entries into the compelling site of creative mobilisation of psychic defence against the culture as the bad object.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2021


  • Fairbairn
  • hostile environment
  • endopsychic structure
  • immigration
  • reflexivity


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