Ogden’s article examines Winnicott’s theory of “potential space” with a view toward applying Winnicott’s original theory to various stages of psychoanalytical development and to psychoanalytical paradigms which may be made more complete or more readily applicable in practice by an infusion of the potential space theory.
Of particular interest to Ogden is the application of the potential space theory to aspects of cognitive development including subjectivity, the emergence of a dialectical process by which individuality is paradoxically attained by recognition of the “other” and also the application of the potential space theory to specific areas of child developmental processes which are closely attuned to the “infant-mother unit” and the transition from recognition of other to recognition of self.
Among Ogden’s other assertions is the notion that potential space is clinically useful because the corruption of it can be seen as central to the development of neurotic behavior, and also potential space grants a window into early cognitive development which — as will be discussed in the ensuing paper — is deeply tied to the mother-child separation process, which leads early cognitive development toward individuation, (Ogden).
Winnicott’s original concept of potential space is complex, difficult to state succinctly, and nearly impossible to paraphrase with any real merit; Ogden avoids lengthy examinations of the plausibility or specific definition of Winnicott’s theory, instead transcribing his definitions word for word and letting his concepts stand on their own. Potential space, loosely, is a third area of experience which is neither fantasy nor reality but a place between them.
This space is related to cognitive development because it links to the individuation process by being the area of consciousness which learns to create symbols and also to engage in a dialectical process of separation . In terms of childhood development, potential space is the area of consciousness when a child begins to recognize that the mother is different than himself.
In potential space, the child operates in a third area of experience where the mother is neither “me” nor “not-me. ” By investigating the psychopathology of potential space, Ogden does attempt to elucidate a particular area revealed by Winnicott’s theories: that of the origin and emergence of symbols within consciousness which, according to Winnicott, are created by consciousness in potential space.
Ogden uses the theory of potential space to unify the dialectical paradigm with the individuation process. Throughout each of the examinations of the potential space theory in relation to stages of individuation, Ogden applies her theories to the “infant-mother” unit which begins as an indistinguishable whole, then becomes a duplicity, then a trinity, and finally through the intervening modes of potential space, the process of individuation through dialectic is reached, (Ogden).
Symbols are created in potential space by the use of transitional objects such as a favorite toy or blanket which during times of absence from the mother bring comfort and then are made symbolically significant as symbols of comfort and care. Throughout Ogden’s ruminations the dialectical process is key and the fact of potential space viewed as a crucial mode of consciousness in individuation.