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Digital Freud: The refiguration of inequality, sociality, and personhood in clinical work

Pablo J. Boczkowski (Northwestern University) will present his study about the socio-material dynamics that underpin the access, adoption, and use of digital technology in mental health professionals' practices.

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Salle Goguel, 27 rue Saint Guillaume, 75007 Paris


For over a century, the practice of the “psy” professions—such as psychiatry, clinical psychology, and social work, among others—primarily consisted of conversations during in-person sessions and the occasional phone call between sessions. Furthermore, it was rare that mediated information became a topic of conversation during sessions. This communication and technology matrix was tied to longstanding conceptual and procedural models, and to distinct notions of personhood and their place in modernity. But over the past decade it has gone through a fundamental shift—and one that has intensified since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients increasingly communicate with professionals by text and email between sessions, thus extending the frequency of therapeutic exchanges and the workload. They also share audio, photo, and video files to “show rather than tell” about their predicament. Moreover, professionals and patients can—and usually do—know more about each other than before by resorting to search and social media technologies. Finally, the handling of content and interactions over smartphones, social media, and various apps has become a recurrent topic of conversation within sessions. Taken together, these transformations have destabilized the previously dominant matrix, and made visible dynamics that bind communication and technology with transformations in knowledge, culture, and society. In this talk I will draw from an interview-based ethnographic study with mental health professionals (N= 100) in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to examine how they use communication technology in their work practices. The analysis will show that digitizing mental health work is tied to major transformations in broader issues of inequality, sociality, and personhood in contemporary life.


Pablo J. Boczkowski is Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University, and a Member of the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton during 2023-24. He is the author of seven books, five edited volumes, and more than sixty journal articles.ƒ. 

Practical info

The seminar will be held on the Sciences Po campus, located 27 rue Saint-Guillaume (Room Goguel), 75007 Paris.

Mandatory registration.