The mirror stage (French: stade du miroir) is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. The mirror stage is based on the belief that infants recognize themselves in a mirror (literal) or other symbolic contraption which induces apperception (the turning of oneself into an object that can be viewed by the child from outside themselves) from the age of about six months.
Initially, Lacan proposed that the mirror stage was part of an infant’s development from 6 to 18 months, as outlined at the Fourteenth International Psychoanalytical Congress at Marienbad in 1936. By the early 1950s, Lacan’s concept of the mirror stage had evolved: he no longer considered the mirror stage as a moment in the life of the infant, but as representing a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of “Imaginary order”. This evolution in Lacan’s thinking becomes clear in his later essay titled “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire”.
1 History of development
3 As phenomenon
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
History of development
Lacan’s concept of the mirror stage was strongly inspired by earlier work by psychologist Henri Wallon, who speculated based on observations of animals and humans responding to their reflections in mirrors. Wallon noted that by the age of about six months, human infants and chimpanzees both seem to recognize their reflection in a mirror. While chimpanzees rapidly lose interest in the discovery, human infants typically become very interested and devote much time and effort to exploring the connections between their bodies and their images. In a 1931 paper, Wallon argued that mirrors helped children develop a sense of self-identity. However, later mirror test research indicates that while toddlers are usually fascinated by mirrors, they do not actually recognize themselves in mirrors until the age of 15 months at the earliest, leading psychoanalytically trained critic Norman N. Holland to declare that “there is no evidence whatsoever for Lacan’s notion of a mirror stage”. Similarly, physician Raymond Tallis notes that a literal interpretation of the Lacanian mirror stage contradicts empirical observations about human identity and personality: “If epistemological maturation and the formation of a world picture were dependent upon catching sight of oneself in a mirror, then the [mirror stage] theory would predict that congenitally blind individuals would lack selfhood and be unable to enter language, society or the world at large. There is no evidence whatsoever that this implausible consequence of the theory is borne out in practice.”
Wallon’s ideas about mirrors in infant development were distinctly non-Freudian and little-known until revived in modified form a few years later by Lacan. As Evans writes, “Lacan used this observation as a springboard to develop an account of the development of human subjectivity that was inherently, though often implicitly, comparative in nature.” Lacan attempted to link Wallon’s ideas to Freudian psychoanalysis, but was met with indifference from the larger community of Freudian psychoanalysts. Richard Webster explains how the “complex, and at times impenetrable paper … appears to have made little or no lasting impression on the psychoanalysts who first heard it. It was not mentioned in Ernest Jones’s brief account of the congress and received no public discussion.”