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Humanistic Transformation

3rd International Erich Fromm Research Conference International Psychoanalytic University (IPU) Berlin, June 8–10, 2023

Invitation and Call for Abstracts

The Erich Fromm Research Conference aims at bringing together international researchers engaged with the work of Erich Fromm, examining the actuality of Fromm’s social-analytical approach, as well as exploring the potential for further development of this approach with regard to contemporary social developments. The conference is in English. It is organized by the Erich Fromm Study Center at the IPU Berlin and conducted by Dr. Rainer Funk, Tübingen, and Prof. Dr. Thomas Kühn, Berlin.

Transformation is an omnipresent term in the current social, political as well as scientific discourse. Its increasing usage seems to express a widespread wish for change of society. At the same time, despite its frequent usage, the term often stays vague and underdetermined. On the one hand, it seems widely agreed upon that transformation processes should be turning the status quo into a better future, on the other hand, it often stays undefined, what a better future should look like. A critical discussion of the goals, a transformation should aim at, is often missing. The conference therefore aims at introducing the radical humanistic perspective of Erich Fromm to the analysis of ongoing social change, encompassing a critical debate on the directions this change should head at as well as the means it takes. With Fromm, we would like to shift the focus from technical innovations, a perspective that is predominant in current discourses on transformation, to human change. From a Frommian perspective, the question of human change inevitably encompasses aspects of technical innovation as well but does not stop there. Broadly speaking, we seek to analyze all aspects of society including unconscious forces that form the social character in a Frommian sense and therefore are important for a humanistic transformation.

We welcome contributions in five main thematic fields:

This thematic field aims at bringing the Frommian contribution to an understanding of social identity into discussion with current debates of political psychology. While uncertainty and instability in the experience of identity compose key problems of Western modernity, the escape to reactionary, right-wing populist or nationalistic forms of social identification seems to be an increasingly wide-spread answer to it. In order to identify reasons for this emerging trend, we ought to go back to Fromm’s analysis of social character, his theory of the need for a sense of social identity as well as his visionary and possibly transformative thoughts of humanistic alternatives to the often destructive forces of national identification. In addition to the nation, other relevant formations of social identity, as for example religion, should also be taken into consideration, when aiming at a comprehensive picture of social relatedness in multiple modernities. In this thematic field, we welcome submissions dealing with Fromm’s contributions to the theory of social identity as the answer to a basic need of social relatedness, explanatory approaches of recent forms of right-wing-populism and nationalism based on Fromm, Frommian social-psychoanalytic understandings of social narcissism, authoritarianism or necrophilia, and Fromm’s occupation with religion as a form of social relatedness, but also Fromm’s visionary thoughts on humanistic alternatives.

The focus of psychotherapeutic processes in clinical practice is often on the individual and its immediate social surroundings. From a Frommian perspective, this neglects the role of society. One example is human suffering due to socially patterned defects caused by the current socio-economic system and dominant social character orientations , which Fromm calls the pathology of normalcy. Society does not only shape definitions and diagnostics of pathologies, it also affects the scopes, methods and available resources within therapeutic processes as well as the therapeutic relationship. Neglecting such influences of society in psychotherapy conceals inhuman systemic and societal conditions, thereby ignoring important roots of human suffering today and impeding humanistic change. This thematic field aims at disclosing such influences and at suggesting and fostering humanistic approaches. We welcome submissions on the influence of social character on the therapeutic relationship, investigations of psychic defects and symptomatic (neurotic) illnesses referential to a pathology of normalcy, investigations of influences of the society on the health system and therapeutic methods, and submissions exploring pathways for a humanistic transformation of psychotherapy.

An ongoing trend in psychology is to draw conclusions on the nature of human beings based on findings from neuro- and affect psychology as well as social biology. Fromm intensively dealt with such questions, specifically in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, in which he investigated the causes of human aggression as a respective example. As we have experienced and are experiencing rapid developments in the aforementioned fields, we encourage a critical discussion of these developments. Understanding the nature of human beings from a Frommian perspective and thereby emphasizing the outstanding importance of social relatedness, human life can be viewed as a permanent reference system for human beings. From this perspective, it should be discussed whether current discourses tend to overlook the specific roles of social relations, environmental influences, and the ability of imagination and how these separate human beings from other beings (e.g., affect reactions of primates). In this thematic field, we would like to foster the dialogue with neuro sciences and human biology regarding the question of human nature. We welcome submissions on neuro- and social biological reasoning for conscious and unconscious (social) behavior, on the link between theories and findings from these fields and Fromm’s social psychoanalysis, and on implications of the related concepts of the human nature for transformation processes.

In this thematic field, we seek to investigate approaches that update the Frommian analysis of society’s means of production and its corresponding forms of socialized subjectivity, as described in the social character. Phenomena dominant in present Western societies like acceleration, self-optimization, quantification, a need for constant availability, a transformed use as well as production of (social) media but also a new level of self-determination call for a critical analysis of current forms of socialization, combined with the question of whether a new form of relatedness emerges within. Furthermore, the re-emergence of war in Europe emphasizes the question in which way this situation is not only caused by an avid for power on the level of the political elites but is also supported by a specific – e.g., necrophilic – character structure of the people. And last but not least, the increase of artificial intelligence has an influence on the dominant conception of man. This setting does not only call for a critical rethinking on the understanding of humanism or post-humanism but also implies an analysis of corresponding changes in dominant social character structure. From a critical Frommian perspective, a central question accompanying such potential change in social character structure, as described above, is whether current social structures prevent or enable an unfolding of the human potential. Hence progressive and regressive tendencies are equally addressed in this analysis of transformation. Therefore, in this thematic field, we welcome submissions dealing with transformation under the notion of current forms of socialization, its societal sources as well as its consequences for human action, thinking and feeling, on conceptualizations of new emerging social character types such as the ego-orientation and on related limitations and potentials for human thriving.

Global crises such as climate change or the Covid-19 pandemic are catalyzing debates on how to make our current economic and societal systems more sustainable and resilient. While there is widespread agreement on the need for change, the ongoing debates usually lack a comprehensive vision of a new economic and societal system and their impact on the productive or non-productive quality of social character. In proposing that the design and/ or transformation of such systems should primarily be guided by humanistic principles fostering the productive social character orientation, Erich Fromm offers a normative framework for transformation. Moreover, in his work, Fromm developed a model of a sane society with concrete suggestions for more humanistic societal and administrative structures, institutions, and regulations. In this thematic field, we would like to explore the implications of Fromm’s work for today’s debates on economic and societal transformation. We encourage research related to normative guidelines and general goals of transformation processes and suggestions for measurable parameters for sane societies and productive social character formations. Furthermore, concrete models, ideas, and (case) examples of successful implementations of humanistic principles in various areas of our society are of interest. We welcome submissions on the role of Fromm’s theory of social character (and especially productive character orientation) for current debates as well as submissions dealing with an actualization and application of theories on alienation for modern societies (related to Fromm’s reception of the alienation concept of Marx). Furthermore, we welcome contributions that link to the debates on a basic or guaranteed income and explorations of other prominent ongoing changes and suggested models in the working world and beyond such as new work, democratization processes, and sup-posedly more humanistic economic systems (e.g., degrowth, economy for the common good) from a Frommian perspective. We also welcome investigations of these matters of interest from the perspective of critical theory, environmental, and climate psychology and links between these approaches and the work of Fromm in this respect. Finally, we welcome submissions on the vision and design of humanistic alternatives to the current economic and societal system, especially with regard to communitarian and socialist approaches that also were of great interest to Fromm (e.g., models of communitarian socialism).

Call for Abstracts

We kindly ask to submit applications for participation in the conference as a speaker of a 20 minutes lecture until September 15, 2022. Please forward applications as PDF documents to Thomas Kühnand Rainer Funk.

Furthermore, it is possible to apply for a short input of 5-7 minutes, to present ongoing qualification work or running research projects with reference to the work of Erich Fromm. These short inputs can be, but do not have to be, related to the main thematic fields. Applications for this format shall also be submitted until September 15, 2022, to the aforementioned email addresses.

The applications for both options should contain the preferred format (lecture/ short presentation), title of the input, names and affiliations of contributing authors and marking of the presenting author, a short abstract on the content of one page maximum, and a short CV of the presenting author.

Further Information

Accepted speakers will receive a travel allowance of up to 500€ for overseas travelling or up to 200€ for arrivals from within Europe (by presenting receipts). Furthermore, we provide an allowance for ac-commodation of up to 100€ per night for up to three nights (by presenting receipts). We will also pro-vide suggestions for lodging close to the conference site.

Participants giving a short input will also receive travel allowance of the same amount as the speak-ers. Allowance for accommodation, though, cannot be provided. When applying for a short input, please mention if you are applying for travel allowance as well in your application.

The conference is open to people who are not presenting, but registration is necessary. We will upload a registration form when the event approaches on this website. A conference fee will not be charged. We are looking forward to your participation!

The conference will take place in the buildings of the IPU Berlin. The IPU campus is located in Berlin’s Mitte district and is right next to the river Spree:

Internationale Psychoanalytische Universität Berlin
Stromstraße 1
10555 Berlin


We would like to express our appreciation to the Karl Schlecht Foundation for generously supporting the International Erich Fromm Research Conference 2023.