Joel Whitebook is a philosopher and psychoanalyst who was born in Los Angeles in 1947 and raised in a secular and liberal Jewish family. Joel attended the University of California at Berkeley in the late sixties where he majored in philosophy. The Berkeley experience was decisive in shaping his future career in two ways. After he joined the New Left and became more political in his outlook, the brand of analytic philosophy he was being exposed to in the university’s department increasingly appeared too restricted to him. And while he was a student and activist at Berkeley, Joel discovered the tradition of the Frankfurt School, largely through the work of Herbert Marcuse.
Seeking a different approach to the field, Joel became a doctoral student in the philosophy department of The New School For Social Research, where he had the good fortune to study not only with Hannah Arendt and Hans Jonas, but also with Albrecht Wellmer, a representative of the second generation of the Frankfurt School. Through his work with Wellmer, Joel’s involvement with Critical Theory and the other thinkers of that tradition deepened significantly. He became particularly interested in the Frankfurt School’s attempt to integrate psychoanalysis into critical social theory. In fact, he adopted that project as his own and has pursued it throughout his career.
After receiving his Ph.D. from the New School in philosophy in 1977, Joel decided to become a practicing psychoanalyst. To this end, he took a second doctorate in clinical psychology at CUNY and received his psychoanalytic training at The New York Freudian Society. Joel hung out his shingle in 1985, and for the next twenty-five years combined a life of private practice and teaching, first at New School, then at Columbia, as well as in a number of clinical settings. He is currently on the faculty of Columbia’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and is the former Director of its Psychoanalytic Studies Program.
In his book Perversion and Utopia and in numerous articles, Joel has sought to continue the Frankfurt School’s attempt to integrate psychoanalysis and Critical Theory in a particular way. Following the lead of Hans Loewald and Cornelius Castoriadis, he has examined the major developments in psychoanalysis since the middle of the last century — often grouped under the notion of “the preoedipal turn” — and attempted to work out their consequences for contemporary psychoanalysis and Critical Theory. He has also used preoedipal theory to explore the problem of “the missing mother” in his recent intellectual biography of Freud.
That he was a member of Slate’s discussion group on the Sopranos is one of Joel’s proudest credentials. During the second and third seasons of the show, he participated in a weekly roundtable discussion of Tony’s relationship with Dr. Melfi along with three psychoanalytic colleagues.