This article examines the foundations of social experience from a psychoanalytic perspective. In current developmental psychology, social cognition debate, and phenomenology of empathy, it is widely assumed that the self and the other are differentiated from the outset, and the basic challenge is accordingly taken to consist in explaining how the gap between the self and the other can be bridged. By contrast, in the psychoanalytic tradition, the central task is considered to lie in explaining how such a gap is established in the first place. My article develops this latter idea. I focus on the infant’s early experience of care, show how the presence of the caregiver can be interpreted in terms of an interoceptive experience, illustrate the gradual self/other differentiation from this perspective, and thus argue that the other is granted ‘otherness’ gradually. By emphasising this graduality, I challenge the assumption that self/other differentiation dominates the infant’s life from the outset. In this manner, I show how the psychoanalytic theory may be used in contesting one of the cornerstones of the current research paradigm.
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