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Our Master’s Voice, the Practice of Melancholy, and Minor Sciences

By Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Cite As:
Wolf-Meyer, Matthew. 2015. “Our Master’s Voice, the Practice of Melancholy, and Minor Sciences.” Cultural Anthropology 30, no. 4: 670–691.


How do scientists and experts in marginal scientific fields think about themselves, their knowledge production, and their practices in relation to dominant sciences? In this article, drawing on fieldwork with a group of Lacanian psychoanalysts, I argue that what motivates much of the training, practice, and thought of some contemporary psychoanalysts is their place as practicing a minor science in relation to dominant forms of psychiatry and neuroscience in the United States. They are exemplary marginalized experts who articulate themselves and their work against mainstream forms of neuroscientific and psychiatric expertise. I adopt the concept of minor sciences from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who characterize them by their eminently political nature, their challenging of dominant sciences through intensive uses of language, and their disenfranchisement. Yet Deleuze and Guattari are relatively silent on the experiential qualities of practicing minor sciences. I turn to Sigmund Freud’s distinction of mourning and melancholia in relationship to lost objects, suggesting that one of the constituent components of minor sciences is a persistent state of melancholy related to the minor sciences’ struggling for relevance. Drawing on my fieldwork with a Lacanian community and their interest in who and what belongs to psychoanalytic thought, what threats endanger the status of psychoanalysis, and what is at stake in keeping psychoanalysis alive in the United States, I suggest that the power of melancholia proves vital to keeping minor sciences alive for marginalized experts.


expertise; knowledge production; science; marginality; psychoanalysis; Jacques Lacan