Sunday, 28 November 2010

Visiting Freud and Mandela's homes and Freire's thoughts

Last wednesday I was in London to discuss (amongst other things) how we might best involve services users in the assessment of student nurses. As I was two or three stops away from Finchley Road Tube Station, I very cheekily took an hour off and when across to visit the Freud Museum, in Hampstead. I had always wanted to go and the opportunity was too good to miss. The museum is actually in the house that became the home of Sigmund Freud and his family when they escaped the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. The house stayed as a family home for Anna Freud, who died in 1982.

She lived in the house for 44 years and during this time continued to develop her pioneering psychoanalytic work, especially with children. It was Anna Freud's wish that when she died the house would become a museum to honour the work of her father. Somewhat fortunately, when they left Austria, they were able to bring all their furniture and Freud's enormous collection of different artefacts.

The house was an absolute oasis of peace and calm. It was hard to believe that just a 100 meters away was one of the main roads into and out of London. The centrepiece of the house was Freud's study. This had been left just as it had been during his lifetime. It was crammed to bursting with his huge collection of Egyptian, Greek and Oriental antiquities, many of which were ancient figures related to birth, fertility and early life.

For me, however, the most exciting element in the room was Freud's couch. The couch, covered in a richly coloured Iranian rug and bright cushions had presence. Freud's chair, battered but still functional was placed at the head of the couch. This was the very couch that the Wolfman (amongst others) had lain and conversed with Freud. Just being there was a hugely emotional moment.

It was sad that everything was roped off – but perhaps that is more a reflection of the state of our society. Strangely, while I was there I recalled also going to Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto.

Like Freud, Mandela's house in Soweto has become the Mandela Family Museum. However, unlike Freud’s house, in Mandela's house I was able to sit on his bed. Although not as grand a building as Freud's London house, visiting Mandela's former home provides for an equally emotionally turbulent experience.

Mandelas house is where the 1976 students' uprising began, where the youth leadership met to change the face of South Africa. Close by, in Vilakazi Street, is Desmond Tutu's house. Of course it is worth remembering that both Mandela and Tutu are Nobel Peace Prize winners. Like Freud's house, Mandela’s home has come symbolise the huge changes to society when oppressors are challenged and change occurs.

Sometimes, oppression can be slow and insidious. It was, for example, Florence Nightingale who warned nurses to keep the integrity of the nursing profession distinct from that of medicine. Despite her belief that Nursing's difference makes a difference in healing, she noted that in a hospital setting, nursing as a profession had tended to beome subsumed under medicine and in so doing, often displayed the characteristics of an oppressed group.

I was reminded of this while reading one of my student's draft doctoral thesis this week. Interestingly for me, part of the theoretical basis of the data analysis drew upon the work of Paulo Freire and in particular his classic ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.

Whilst there is not time or room in this blog to explore his ideas I recommend to readers to have a look at his work. However is it just me or is there an uncanny physical likeness between Freire and Freud.

Answers on a postcard please!