Care, Intimacy, Vulnerability: an Introduction to Psychosocial Theory

The details
Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
25 August 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA C890 Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies,
BA C89A Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA C89B Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA C89C Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (Including Foundation Year)

Module description

Does care play a role in socio-political and psychic life? At a time of increasing alienation and loneliness, how can we rethink meaningful, caring relationships? How can we address the pervasiveness of carelessness in the social world? This second-year undergraduate module provides a grounding in theories of the psychosocial with a special focus on care, dependence, intimacy, and vulnerability. It enables students to critically engage with a range of theoretical approaches from psychoanalysis, sociology, critical theory, postcolonial and decolonial theory. Using 'care, intimacy and vulnerability' as its main pillars encourages students to reflect on practices of care, being cared for and caring for others, as well as how these phenomena intersect with social and clinical processes. The module encourages students to engage with academic debates in a robust way and strengthen their reflexivity by enabling them to explore their own lived experiences of care. It is suitable for students wishing to work with people in various professional roles such as psychotherapy and mental health, social policy and research, human resources, education, and management. The module tallies with the University's ongoing commitment to tackling the under-representation of ethnic minority groups and follows the principles of a decolonial curriculum by incorporating scholarship from BAME scholars. Finally, in building a solid, decolonial curriculum, the module also promotes greater visibility and inclusion for BAME students.

Students may find some of the readings included in this curriculum challenging. Whenever possible readings from non-scholarly sources are included to enable students to engage with ideas written in more accessible ways. The readings will be discussed in the lecture and seminars. Students are encouraged to engage with the readings as much as they can manage.

Questions considered include:

1. What is care? What is intimacy? Are care and intimacy central to cultivating strong interpersonal relationships?
2. What circumstances and structures – social, political, and personal – enable the emergence of caring relationships?
3. In what ways and to what extent does care play a crucial role in the organisation of socio-cultural and psychic life?
4. At a time of increasing alienation and loneliness, how can we reclaim meaningful, intimate relationships?

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

• To introduce students to key psychosocial, social, and critical theories of care and intimacy
• To enable students to think critically about the term ‘care’ in diverse contexts
• To enable students to explore forms of care and intimacy in their personal and social experiences and develop their understanding of their emotional life
• To provide students with an understanding of the mechanisms through which discourses around care, intimacy, and dependence manifest in contemporary clinical and professional practice
• To enable students to explain and critically discuss key debates in psychosocial theory
• To enable students to apply insights from psychoanalytic and psychosocial theory to their personal and professional lives
• To enable students to describe and critically reflect on the complexities of care, maintenance, and intimacy
• Explore how self-observation methods enhance our understanding of individuals and society

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will be expected to be able to:

1.Demonstrate an ability to discuss the intricacies and complexities of caring relationships
2. Explain what psychosocial and psychoanalytic theories say about interdependence, relationality, care, and intimacy
3. Critically engage with contemporary debates about what enables caring relationships and societies
4. Analyse connections between social and political configurations and individual experiences

Module information


Part One: Care
The first three weeks focus on mapping structures and practices of care in the social world. We begin with a sociological understanding of what makes a caring society and what prompts a breakdown in care. This mapping includes the contemporary organisation of relations, the value of 'meaningful' and 'less meaningful' jobs, the availability of mental health support, and the clinic as a site of care. The aim of this cluster of lectures is to help students identify and contextualise contemporary economies of care and reflect on how these have been shaped by complex social, historical and political phenomena.

Careless Worlds
An introductory lecture that offers a definition of care and carelessness as concerned with the recognition of dependence between people. This includes discussing contemporary intimate relations as well as how dependence is regulated by state policies, welfare provisions, and the organisation of labour. We also look at how intimate relationships are increasingly determined by bargaining, exchange, and equity.

Indicative Reading:
The Care Collective., (2020). The Care Manifesto: the politics of interdependence. London: Verso. Introduction: Carelessness Reigns.
Illouz E., (2019). The End of Love: a sociology of negative relations. Chapter 1:
Histories of care (possibility of a guest lecture from the 'Free Clinics' team)
This lecture traces some key moments in the history of psychoanalysis that enable us to think about the provision of mental health care today, like the availability and accessibility of psychotherapy. This lecture is based around the question of a free, and widely accessible available mental health care. It traces the links between care, community, the welfare state, and a national health care service.

Indicative Reading:
Ryan, J. Class and psychoanalysis, London: Routledge. Chapter 4: Psychotherapy for the people? Psychoanalysis in some public sectors.
Bell, D. (2006), Primitive mind of state, in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 10:1, pp. 45-57.
Arnold-Forster, A. (2022), Charitable health service, February 11, London Review of Books.

Care in the Clinic
In this lecture we turn to psychoanalysis and explore the ethics and practices of care which emerge from the site of the clinic. We focus on psychoanalysis as a method of paying attention to unconscious communication, which derives from the premise that we need a receptive other to understand ourselves. In addition, we look at the ways modern societies defend against this form of interdependence by exploring the histories and aims of self-care apps, online therapies, and mental health chatbots.

Indicative Reading:
Frosh S., (1997). For and against psychoanalysis, London: Routledge, 2nd ed. Chapter 1: The Psychoanalytic heritage.
Grosz S. (2013) The Examined life: how we lose and find ourselves. London: Chatto&Windus
Zeavin, H. (2021) The Distance Cure: a history of teletherapy, MIT Press. Chapter 6: Auto-intimacy.

Part Two: Intimacies
The second part of this module turns to issues collectively categorised as 'intimacies'. It begins with the question of what are the ethics of attending to the other and their needs, and it goes on to explore economies of nurturance and sustenance. Finally, we conclude with ideas around separation and loss as a personal and social issue with central significance in culture and society.

The temporalities of care
This lecture begins with a contemporary, influential psychosocial theory of temporality deriving from the idea of caring and being cared for as demanding a particular form of attending to the other that demands a particular relation with time and repetition. This lecture offers a critical first encounter with the basics of theories of time and other ideas around domestic, caring work.

Indicative reading:
Baraitser L., (2017) Enduring time, London: Bloomsbury. Chapter 2: Maintaining.
Nanni, Giordano. (2016). The Colonisation of Time: Ritual, Routine and Resistance in the British Empire, Manchester University Press.

Another aspect of care includes feeding and nurturing, which many contemporary theorists have made central to their understanding of subjectivity, including psychoanalysis. This lecture explores how experiences of feeding and being fed shape psychological processes and our ability to trust others with our care. Focusing on the psychopathology of eating disorders this lecture explores how eating can be understood as a site where psychic conflict can be represented.

Indicative Reading:
Williams, G., (1997) Internal Landscapes and Foreign Bodies: Eating Disorders and Other Pathologies, London: Karnac.
Mol, A. (2021) Eating in theory: experimental futures, Duke UP. Chapter 5: Relating.
Tomkins, K. (2012), Racial Indigestion: Eating bodies in the 19th century America. NYU Press.

This lecture turns to loss as central to processes of individuation. This lecture explores the unconscious dynamics of separation, or what happens when we cannot access the object we love and aims to make links with contemporary forms of relating and the ways in which loss is managed.

Indicative Reading:
Freud, S. (1917) Mourning and Melancholia. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 14:237-258
Illouz E., (2011). Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation. Chapter 3: Commitment Phobia and the Architecture of Romantic Choice.
Cavell, S. (1981) Pursuits of Happiness: the Hollywood comedy of remarriage, Harvard UP. Introduction: Words for a conversation.

Part Three: Vulnerability
If care and interdependence are ordinary aspects of interpersonal relations and key to our survival, what does this mean for our psychosocial theorisation of subjectivity? This final cluster of lectures takes up the idea of 'vulnerability' and considers it in the aftermath of the global economy of slavery. It aims to articulate a critique of individualism and to imagine the social, political, and post-colonial implications for the psychosocial subject.

Dependence on others is more or less a universal aspect of human relations. This session takes up this idea to identify how relations of dependence manifest in the social world. Starting with psychoanalysis we discover the idea that the necessary vulnerability of the human infant can often produce a pull towards violence, denial, and aggression. In this context, we explore the mechanics of this phenomenon, and ask what kind of imaginary would enable relations of interdependence, empathy, and compassion to emerge in contemporary societies.

Indicative Reading:
Winnicott, D. W. (1963) Dependence in Infant Care, in Child Care, and in the Psycho-Analytic Setting. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 44:339-344.
Butler, J. (2020), The Force of non-violence: an ethico-political bind. London: Verso. Chapter 2: To Preserve the life of the other.
Benjamin, J. (2018), Beyond doer and done to: Recognition theory, intersubjectivity and the third, London: Routledge. Chapter 1: Beyond doer and done to: recognition, intersubjectivity and the Third.

Slavery afterlives
This session continues to explore the theme of dependence but takes a postcolonial vantage point to look at black life in the aftermath of a global economy of slavery. It explores key ideas from Afropessimism about what enables survival in an anti-black world and reflects on the modes of black imagination that can reclaim life in the aftermath of colonial domination.

Indicative Reading:
Sharpe, C. (2016), In the wake: on blackness and being. Duke UP. Chapter 4: The Weather
Cunningham V., (2020) The Argument of 'Afropessimism', The New Yorker.

Debates around forgiveness are fundamental in the post-colonial world. How do we bear witness to histories of racialised oppression and exploitation? How may these histories can be remembered today and what are the implications for contemporary forms of relationality, dependence, and care? In our final lecture we explore questions of social responsibility, guilt, recognition, and ethical ways of relating to others whilst attending to past and present histories of violence.

Indicative Reading:
Freud, S. (1914) Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis II). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 12:145-156.
Frosh, S., Those Who Come After: Postmemory, Acknowledgment and Forgiveness, Palgrave. Chapter 4: Acknowledgment and forgiveness.
Butler, J. Those Who Come After: Postmemory, Acknowledgment, and Forgiveness. Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society (2022).

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via: 1. One 1-hour lecture per week 2. One 1-hour small group seminar discussion and activities per week Possible seminar activities: (a) Concept mapping: students are asked to work visually to represent links between different theories and concepts. This is more effective as a group activity. (b) One-minute paper: students are asked to jot down (in 60 seconds) two ideas they came across in the lecture or their readings. They are then asked to introduce their ideas to the class. (c) Class debates: Students are given a thesis and are divided in two groups. Using ideas from the lecture and the readings, one team is asked to use arguments to defend a thesis, the other team argues against it.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay     

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Marita Vyrgioti, email:
Student Administrator Room 5A.202 telephone 01206 874969 email



External examiner

Dr Angie Voela
University of East London
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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