views updated May 29 2018


In a general sense, the term projection refers to the displacement of something from one space to another, or from one part of a single space to another (the Latin word projectio translates as "throw forward"). More specifically, this term denotes an operation that consists of transporting a form, or certain elements of that form, onto a receptive support that may be real (as is the case with cinematographic projection) or imaginary (as is the case in projective geometryfor example, the projection of a cube onto a plane, which presupposes laws of transformation). Thus, the concept always involves a distinction between two spacesthe space of origin and the space of destinationthat are complementarily defined by this very operation.

This basic definition is found in the psychoanalytic notion of projection, whose specifics raise difficult problems with regard to the two spaces thus distinguished, their distinction, and their complementarity. The spaces in question are known, following Sigmund Freud, as the space of mental reality and the space of the reality of the outside world, that is, internal and external reality.

From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, projection is an intrapsychic process that creates or shapes a perception (or a collection of perceptions) with reference to an object in the outside world, which, although the subject believes he or she is perceiving it "objectively," is actually being perceived according to the subject's own characteristics; the most interesting case is when this object is a real person (sometimes called an external object ). Passing through all possible intermediary cases, this ranges from cases where the perception is entirely invented, in the absence of any concomitant sensory reference (as in hallucinations, but also nighttime dreams), to cases involving the subject's "coloration" of an otherwise objective perception (for example, an unknown person's attitude is perceived as being vaguely hostile by one person, while another perceives it as being fairly friendly).

Freud did not write any text specifically on this notion, although it seems he wrote such a draft in 1915, in the framework of his metapsychological writings of this period. In fact, the idea of projection was already well established in his work. It appeared, still in a very simple form, as early as "On the Grounds for Detaching a Particular Syndrome from Neurasthenia under the Description 'Anxiety Neurosis"' (1895b [1894]): In anxiety neurosis, the psyche, to protect itself from excessive excitation, "behaves as though it were projecting that excitation outwards" (p. 112). What is described is thus a cathartic evacuation of a an overflow of excitation. But it is in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess dated January 24, 1895 (Manuscript H) that the first version of what Freud would subsequently develop under the term projection is found. No longer is it merely this evacuation that is involved, but also the transposition outward toward an exterior support, of representations and affects that are linked to it. Freud defined this process as being characteristic of the paranoid subject: "[T]he purpose of paranoia is thus to fend off an idea that is incompatible with the ego, by projecting its substance onto the external world" (p. 209).

Freud returned several times to the problems raised by the notion of projection, in particular in his "Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defence" (1896b) and, later, in "Totem and Taboo" (1912-1913a). Above all, this notion took on a very special importance in his discussion of his case of Judge Daniel Schreber in "Psycho-Analytical notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)" (1911c [1910]).

From the outset, Freud distinguished two clearly distinct mechanisms in this regard. One corresponds to "normal" projection, defined by the following passage from "Totem and Taboo": "Under conditions whose nature has not yet been sufficiently established, internal perceptions of emotional and thought processes can be projected outwards in the same way as sense perceptions; they are thus employed for building up the external world, although they should by rights remain part of the internal world" (p. 64). Thus, this "normal" projection is a component of perception itself and of construction of the real.

The other mechanism involves a "pathological" projection in which the process gets carried away, so to speak, and results in a construction of the real that is so distorted that mental functioning can indeed be considered pathological. This is seen in the phobias, as Freud noted on several occasions, notably in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c). But it is above all the workings of projection in the paranoiac, analyzed in connection with the Schreber case, that best illustrate this mechanism. Schreber's initial, homosexual position, as constructed by Freud, is essentially: "I (a man) love him (a man)" (1911c, p. 63); but this basic proposition, actively combated, undergoes a double transformation that is in fact a double reversal. The inversion of subject/object and active/passive (it is not I who love him; it is he who loves me) and inversion of love/hate (I do not love him; I hate him) culminate in a justification: "I hate him because HE PERSECUTES ME" (p. 63). For Freud, Schreber's entire delusion was constructed on the basis of this mechanism, which could be seen to involve denial, and, more generally, the figures of the negative, the workings of which have been thoroughly analyzed by André Green.

Several major problems arise at this point. The notion necessarily presupposes a distinction between "inside" (the intrapsychic) and "outside" (the outside world). Freud pointed out in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" that this distinction is fundamental and necessary from the very beginnings of biological life: The single-celled organism, for example the paramecium, constitutes a functional unit separated from its environment by a membrane; it must import from the environment the nutrients it needs and export the toxic metabolic by-products it produces. This dual, import/export movement, which, in biological terms, involves incorporation/excorporation, is extended and transposed to the level of mental functioning in the form of introjection/projection. Freud in effect deemed it necessary to define introjectiona notion he borrowed from Sándor Ferenczias the necessary complement of projection. Thus, he wrote in this essay: "In so far as the objects which are presented to [the ego] are sources of pleasure, it takes them into itself, 'introjects' them . . . and, on the other hand, it expels whatever within itself becomes a cause of unpleasure" (p. 136).

From that point, we are led to consider the processes of identification, which have been defined, precisely, in terms of the pair introjection/projection. But if one goes back to the biological model, one observes that the paramecium, taking from its environment the substances it needs, runs the risk of reimporting the harmful metabolites that it itself has rejected. Similarly, the mind runs the risk of reincorporating from the outside the "bad" elements with which it has, in a sense, polluted it. The fantasmatic aspects of this dialectic between good and bad, in this continual coming-and-going between inside and outside, were in particular developed by Melanie Klein and her followers, based on this fundamental biological schema and within the perspective of Freud's second theory of the instincts; the notion of projective identification developed by these authors becomes easier to understand in light of these considerations.

To what extent does this dual, inside/outside movement blur or, on the contrary, confirm, the boundaries between psychic reality perceived as such by the subject himself, and the surrounding world, conceived of as existing as a function of its own existence, beyond any omnipotence of thought? The question is clearly raised in the case of dreams, and more generally, that of the hallucinatory satisfaction of desire of which nighttime dreams are a particular case. Generally, daydreams or reveries maintain a clear distinction between the two, and this is the source of the richness of the imaginary developments in the "transitional space" whose importance was so clearly shown by Donald Winnicott: Here the world is transformed, even created, by psychic reality, but by a psychic reality that is aware of this creative free play. Nighttime dreams thus involve a hallucination through which psychic reality creates illusory perceptions out of whole cloth, in the sense that they do not correspond to any "objective" sensory data. Is it possible, then, following the distinction that Freud consistently sought to maintain, to speak of "pathological" projection? The question arises even more crucially in the case of the hallucinatory satisfaction of desire in the infant, whose disappointment, according to Freud, presides over the birth of the earliest representations, defined, precisely, by the feeling, "This is inside Me, and not currently and really outside of Me." Clearly, in no case can such a foundational process of psychic life itself be considered "pathological."

We are thus led to distinguish two different functions for projection, which, moreover, exist in tight complementarity. On the one hand, a defensive function that involves expelling from the intrapsychic space that which is unpleasurable, threatening, and so forth. On the other hand, an elaborative function in which this expulsion establishes and consolidates the indispensable inside/outside differentiation. From there, many different balances between the two modes of functioning can be established. If the defensive function predominates, projection occurs in the service of misapprehension, and the world thus constructed is inhabited by hostile figures: This is what Freud termed "pathological" projection, from its relatively minor operations in neurotics to the delusional constructions of psychosis. If the elaborative function predominates, this involves, through the extension of the earliest processes of individuation, maintaining and affirming a complementarity between the ego and what is given to it to know.

The notion of projection is among those, which, after Freud, underwent interesting further elaboration, in particular in the British School, in the work of Klein and her successors, with the related notion of projective identification. Wilfred Bion, in particular, distinguished between an excessive form of projective identification that serves the pleasure principle, and which essentially corresponds to what Klein was describing, and a "realistic" projective identification, a primitive mode of communication that serves the reality principle. The latter no longer involves fleeing reality but rather modifying it in order to be able to reintegrate bad projection without being harmed and to better accommodate introjection of good objects.

Roger Perron

See also: Externalization-internalization; Introjection.


Freud, Sigmund. (1895b [1894]). On the grounds for detaching a particular syndrome from neurasthenia under the description "anxiety neurosis." SE, 3: 85-115.

. (1896). Further remarks on the neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 157-185.

. (1911c [1910]). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoids). SE, 12: 1-82.

. (1912-1913a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.

. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.

. (1950a [1887-1902]). Extracts from the Fliess papers. SE, 1: 173-280.

Green, André. (1987). On private madness. Guilford, CT: International Universities Press.

Sami, Ali M. (1970). De la projection. Une étude psychanalytique. Paris: Payot.

Further Reading

Feldman, Michael. (1994). Projective identification in fantasy and enactment. Psychoanalytical Inquiry, 14, 423-440.

Loewald, Hans W. (1988). In search of nature: Metapsychology, metaphysics, projection. Annual of Psychoanalysis. 16, 49-54.

Sandler, Joseph (Ed.). (1986). Projection, identification, projective identification. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Scharff, Jill S. (1992). Projective and introjective identification and the use of the therapist's self. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.


views updated Jun 11 2018

pro·jec·tion / prəˈjekshən/ • n. 1. an estimate or forecast of a future situation or trend based on a study of present ones: plans based on projections of slow but positive growth | population projection is essential for planning. 2. the presentation of an image on a surface, esp. a movie screen: quality illustrations for overhead projection. ∎  an image projected in such a way: the background projections featured humpback whales. ∎  the ability to make a sound, esp. the voice, heard at a distance: I taught him voice projection.3. the presentation or promotion of someone or something in a particular way: the legal profession's projection of an image of altruism. ∎  a mental image viewed as reality: monsters can be understood as mental projections of mankind's fears. ∎  the unconscious transfer of one's own desires or emotions to another person: we protect the self by a number of defense mechanisms, including repression and projection.4. a thing that extends outward from something else: the particle board covered all the sharp projections.5. Geom. the action of projecting a figure.6. the representation on a plane surface of any part of the surface of the earth or a celestial sphere. ∎  (also map projection) a method by which such representation may be done.DERIVATIVES: pro·jec·tion·ist / -ist/ n. (in sense 2).


views updated Jun 11 2018


Because the earth is a sphere, all flat maps of its surface contain inherent distortions. Map projections represent a curved land surface in two dimensions while minimizing these unavoidable errors of shape, distance, azimuth, scale and area . Most projections accurately portray one type of geographical information at the expense of another type, and cartographers choose a projection based on a map's intended use. A conformal projection, for example, shows relatively undistorted shapes, but inaccurate areas, while an equal-area projection makes the opposite choice. The Mercator projection is accurate at the equator but becomes progressively more distorted toward the poles, while polar stereographic maps preserve high-latitude coordinates at the expense of equatorial regions. The Mercator map of the world is responsible for the mistaken impression that Greenland covers almost as large an area as Africa .

The method of projecting a sphere onto a two-dimensional surface defines three classes of map projections: cylindrical, conic, and azimuthal. The alignment of the projection cylinder, cone, or plane relative to the globe further divides these classes into subtypes. Cylindrical equal-area, Mercator, Miller cylindrical, oblique Mercator, and transverse Mercator are all cylindrical map projections. Mercator maps have straight, evenly spaced lines of latitude and longitude that intersect at right angles, and are undistorted in scale at the equator, or at two lines of latitude equidistant to the equator. Mercator maps are useful for marine navigation because straight lines drawn on the map are true headings. Transverse Mercator maps are created by projecting the global sphere onto a cylinder tangent to a line of longitude , or meridian. The British National Grid System (BNG), used by the British Ordnance Survey, and the Universal Tranverse Mercator projection (UTM) are widelyused transverse Mercator mapping techniques .

Conic and azimuthal projections are less common than cylindrical projections. In a number of specific cases, however, projection of the globe onto a cone or a plane presents the most suitable map scheme. Albers equal area, equidistant conic, Lambert conformal equal area, and polyconic are all conic projections used in maps of North America . Most United States Geographical Survey (USGS) topographic quadrangles use a polyconic projection. Azimuthal projections are variously used for aeronautical navigation (azimuthal equidistant), maps of the ocean basins (Lambert azimuthal equal area), maps of the hemispheres (orthographic), and polar navigation (stereographic).


views updated May 18 2018

Projection. The theory that God and gods are merely objectifications of human needs, ideals, or desires. With few exceptions, the theory in modern Western thought forms part of reductionistic accounts of theistic belief. These accounts are in general built on the thought of L. Feuerbach and K. Marx, on the one hand, or of S. Freud and the psychoanalytic school, on the other.

In Eastern religions, projection takes on a different and more fundamental significance. In Hinduism, it implies the basic ignorance (avidyā) which superimposes reality on to Brahman, as though appearances have independent existence.

In Buddhism, the projection of reality on to the unreal world of appearance arises equally from ignorance; and in Mahāyāna, especially Chʾan/Zen, it involves a failure to realize that all appearances are equally empty of self (śūnyatā).


views updated May 21 2018

1. Representation of a design in perspective, axonometric or isometric projection, or orthographical means, in order to explain it.

2. Element or elements of a building projecting before the naked of the main wall of the façade, such as a jetty, cantilever, oriel, etc.


Fraser Reekie (1946)


views updated Jun 27 2018

projection This term is used in two senses by social scientists. Most commonly it refers to prediction or inference from existing data as to what will happen in the future. However, in a psychoanalytic context, it describes the unconscious process in which the individual attributes to others his or her own emotions and impulses. Sigmund Freud regarded it as a common defence mechanism, used by the ego to control unacceptable feelings, thereby helping to reduce anxiety.


views updated Jun 11 2018

projection A mapping from one coordinate space to another, possibly of a lower dimension. It takes the points of an object onto the points of a fixed plane (the view plane) in such a way that each pair of points is collinear with a fixed point, the center of projection or eyepoint, which lies neither on the object nor the view plane. The main types of projection are parallel and perspective projections.


views updated Jun 11 2018

projection (prŏ-jek-shŏn) n. (in psychology) the attribution of one's own qualities to other people. This is one of the defence mechanisms; people who cannot tolerate their own feelings may cope by imagining that other people have those feelings.