Social Research Glossary


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home


Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Displacement is the process through which the essence of an idea is passed on (or displaced) to another idea.

explanatory context

Displacement is a Freudian notion used in the psychoanalysis of dreams. Such displacement is the unconscious shift of the intensity, emphasis or interest of an idea generated in a waking state into a dream form.


Displacement has been used in film studies as a notion in the analysis of films as texts

analytical review

Freud Museum London (undated) website states :

Displacement. Freud noticed that important things in the latent dream-thoughts were often represented by seemingly insignificant things in the manifest content of the dream, and vice versa. The dream itself seemed to be about one thing whereas the dream-thoughts showed it was really about something else.

Because of this phenomenon Freud said that the relative importance of the dream elements (the 'psychical value' or 'cathexis') could undergo 'displacement'. The emotion associated with one idea or experience is detached from it and attached to another one.

In essence it is a simple idea. If we have a bad day at work and we come home and kick the cat. We know it is not because we are really angry with the cat, but that our anger has been displaced from somewhere else (where it was not perhaps allowed to be expressed). Similarly if my child develops an unreasonable fear of cats (a phobia), one could reasonably expect that this emotion is displaced from a fear of the person he or she sees kicking the cat.

This kind of displacement happens all the time in dreams, and Freud says it is only by using the dreamer's associations that the true 'emotional map' of the dream (as we might call it) can be drawn, with all the significant bits in their proper place. For instance the analysis of the Butcher's wife's dream showed that the dream-thoughts were not about the relations between smoked salmon and caviare (or a nice juicy steak?) but about her rivalries with other women and uncertainties about her husband.


associated issues


related areas



Freud Museum London, undated, 'Theory: Freud & Dreams 4', available at, accessed 21 January 2013, still available 17 December 2016, unable to locate text 3 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home