Penn conference focuses on Freud and fatherhood

Sigmund Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis, shaping theories that inform what we know about human development and sexual desire.

One of his most famous theories about familial relations and roles, the Oedipus complex, is at the center of an upcoming conference at Penn. The three-day event, “All About Father: Psychoanalysis, The Oedipus Complex, and the Modern Family,” will explore the role of the father and conceptions of fatherhood, with experts weighing in from the humanities, social sciences, and medicine. The event will be held from March 20-22.

Critics of Freud’s theory have pointed out the historic specificity of the Oedipus complex, and how it relies heavily on ideas about family and traditional gender roles. Conference organizer Liliane Weissberg, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor in the School of Arts & Sciences, explains that feminist criticism has focused attention on new ideas about gender and motherhood.

“Fatherhood has not been explored in quite the same way and is now a subject of great interest as gender roles have become more fluid,” Weissberg says.

The conference is free and open to the public and will feature keynote addresses, panel discussions, and workshops.

Harold Blum, the executive director, emeritus, of the Sigmund Freud Archives and a well-known psychoanalyst and author, will deliver the Friday night lecture: “The Discovery of the Oedipus Complex: A Tale of Two Letters.” The following evening, Avital Ronell, the University Professor in the Humanities and professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, will talk about “Itineraries of the Paternal Metaphor: Paging Kafka’s Father.”

On Saturday, there will be four panel discussions on the Oedipus story’s origins in Greek mythology, theoretical observations, the role of fatherhood in the modern family, and questions of gender. On Sunday, clinicians will pair with academics to lead workshops on anthropological concepts of family, childhood, gender, and the nuclear family.

The conference is organized in conjunction with the Year of Health initiative and Penn Humanities Forum, and is supported by the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. Weissberg says she hopes to bring together people from various disciplines around Penn, as well as other institutions and the general public.

“Psychoanalysis lends itself as a field to interdisciplinary work,” Weissberg says. “We want to cross schools and we want to cross fields and we want to do something that is good for the University community but leads beyond—beyond with other institutions, but also beyond with a general educated public who wants to be informed.”

For more information on all speakers and to register for the conference and workshops, visit the Penn Humanities Forum website.

Sigmund Freud