Winnicott, Donald

Zittoun, Tania and Stenner, Paul (2021). Winnicott, Donald. In: Glaveanu, V. P ed. The Palgrave Encyclopedia of the Possible,. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.



Winnicott was a British psychoanalyst famous for identifying an area of experiencing between inner psychic life and social reality called the potential space. In his work, potentiality is what can emerge on the basis of what is already there, or, in other words, it is there, where new possibilities can emerge. The idea of potentiality – and a practical concern with the possibility of possibility – can be found at the heart of all aspects of his work. First, as a researcher, he pragmatically expanded the psychoanalytical tradition on the basis of his unique clinical experience. Second, as a theoretician, he developed an understanding of human development whereby the child emerges as a person within a good-enough environment, and, in a first phase, differentiates from the carer thanks to a complex and paradoxical process of self-formation through symbol use. These observations led him to propose the ideas of transitional phenomena or potential space. What might be called “potential phenomena” (or phenomena of potentialization) mark the beginning of symbolism in the play between infant and carer and evolve via more elaborate child’s play into the cultural experiencing and creativity that can continue throughout adulthood. Third, in his clinical work, Winnicott considered psychotherapy as a technique for creating a potential space to engage in a form of shared play. For children or adults who lacked the possibility to play, these therapeutic spaces aimed to provide a good enough environment
–institutional, relational – within which the person can come to experience phenomena of potentialization which render the possible, possible.

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