Meet Ricardo Ainslie

Since 1999, the Sigmund Freud Foundation and the Austrian Fulbright Commission invite American scientists for a study visit which is combined with a visiting professorship on a university in Vienna. We introduce you to this year's grantee Ricardo Ainslie, who arrived in March and took office in Berggasse 19.

What does it mean to you, working at Berggasse 19?

For me this is, of course, sacred space. I am a few meters away from where Sigmund Freud wrote the oeuvre that helped shape the 20th Century, intellectually and culturally. These are also texts that I have studied and turned to throughout my professional life (and once again in the work I am doing while a visiting scholar at the museum!).


Since you are here for the first time: How did you expect Vienna to be?

I had a vague impression of Vienna as a European city, but few details. I had read things like Bücher’s Fin-De-Siecle Vienna and for two decades I have had a copy of Edmund Engelman’s Berggasse 19 in my office. But I had very little sense of the city as a modern space, nor of the city’s rich and complex history. What I have discovered is that the city is an amazing, dynamic urban space which every day brings novel experiences which I cherish.


Does the city meet your expectations?

The city has exceeded my expectations by a large measure. I am grateful to have the privilege of living here for an extended period.


You came here in a very tense situation: the pandemic is still not over, and there is a war raging in Ukraine, which is not too far from Austria. Being an Educational Psychologist, can you imagine the effects the crisis combined with a threat caused by this war inflicts upon young people?

The pandemic, and the radical way in which it has transformed our lives, regardless of age, is a terrifying phenomenon that we have endured. But young people, especially school-aged children, have born the brunt of it. Not in raw deaths, of course, which we know have most affected our elderly citizens, but in terms of experiences that are critical to children’s development such as school and social contact with friends and even with family. And of course the shadow of fear cast by the pandemic is very real to them; for over two years they have lived with the ever present awareness (masks, sanitizers, the avoidance of public spaces, and friends and family who have fallen ill) that their health and the health of loved one’s is in danger.  It has been our modern-day plague.

The war in Ukraine brings a different stress to the lives of young people. Awareness of the war is inescapable in Vienna. Ukrainian refugee children are entering their schools, Ukrainian flags, displayed in solidarity, are ever-present reminders of the crisis, and the news is followed closely. I was taken aback when my wife and I received an email from our children’s school seeking permission to administer iodine pills in the event of an incident involving the Ukrainian nuclear powerplants in the war zone. I understand that this directive came from the Austrian educational authorities. The war, in this sense, feels quite palpable and must infiltrate children’s consciousness in complex ways. Thus, young people have are facing two very substantive threats to their sense that they are safe and that their world is reliably stable.


Why did you apply for the Fulbright-Freud Scholarship?

I applied for the Fulbright-Freud Scholarship because for some time I have had a book project in mind focusing on the idea that cities are psychic spaces that shape who we are in both conscious and unconscious ways. The idea is derived from a line in Civilization and its Discontents which has stayed with me since I first read it in graduate school, in which Freud invites the reader to consider Rome as a “psychical entity”. The scholarship is allowing me focused time to research and write, which is critical to advancing this book project.


Please let us know more about your general fields of interest as a scholar.

I have always been a rather eclectic scholar/academic. Psychoanalysis, both as a theory and as a clinical practice, is the basis for my work, however, my research is always quite interdisciplinary. My psychoanalytic ethnographies have explored problems of social transformation, race and ethnic conflict, and of violence in communities in Texas and Mexico. These have of necessity brought me into the fields of sociology, cultural studies, and history to find theoretical reference points to help me understand these communities, although my methodology is always descriptive and based on the way in which I approach my patients in the clinical setting: curious, empathic, and intent on creating a space where interesting and unanticipated narratives can emerge.


You are working as a filmmaker, photographer and as an author: What are the upcoming projects in these fields?

Historically, I have alternated between film/documentary projects and book projects. When I finish my current City and Psyche book, I know a new project will emerge to become the object of my obsession. I have faith in that process, and the truth is that many of my projects have begun with an incident in a city or community that draws my interest and which I begin to explore – an exploration that often as not eventuates in a focus that I had not anticipated. As I begin to do the work in that setting, the way(s) in which I might represent the narratives also becomes clear. It may be a journal article, or a book, or a documentary film, or a photographic exhibit or, not uncommonly, a combination of these ways of narrating what I have encountered. It is hard to predict!


Ricardo Ainslie

In his books, documentary films, and photographic exhibits, Ricardo Ainslie engages social and cultural topics through a psychoanalytic lens. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, the Philosophical Society of Texas, and a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency, among other awards. In addition to publishing regularly in academic journals, his books include The Fight to Save Juárez: Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War (University of Texas Press, 2013), and Long Dark Road: The story of Bill King and Murder in Jasper, Texas, (University of Texas Press, 2004). His most recent documentary is The Mark of War (2018), a film about the lives of seven men who served in the Vietnam War.

Ricardo Ainslie holds the M.K. Hage Centennial Professorship in Education at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Educational Psychology, serves as director of research and education for AMPATH Mexico at Dell Medical School, and is director of the LLILAS Benson Mexico Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

As the 2022 Fulbright-Freud Visiting Scholar, he is working on a book manuscript titled “City and Psyche”. He will also give a public lecture at the University of Vienna (“Individual and collective anxieties: A psychoanalytic reflection on the psychological impact of immigration and social transformation”), and three seminars on “Psychoanalysis beyond the consulting room: Understanding, intervention, and methodology” at the Research Unit ‘Psychoanalysis and Education’ at the Department of Education of the University Vienna.


Visit Ricardo Ainslie's lecture "City and Psyche: A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Architecture and Subjectivity" on June 30, 2022 at the Sigmund Freud Museum!