The theory of the Detour
A theory of relativity in psychology


Theory of the Detour
by Michel Cariou




Outline of the presentation

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  1. Introduction
  2. First months of the life
    1. The development of the centripetal phase corresponding to the genetic development (construction of the organisation)
    2. Second phase: Birth with the human access (exercise of the vital functions and beginnings of the interactions with the adult)
  3. First detour: Structuring of the emotion and, consequently, the interaction to the human one
    1. First phase: Coordination of the emotional reactions (installation of a basic safety based on the emotional participation)
    2. Second phase: Shaping of the vital energy through the proper action (activity of relation of Wallon) and socialising action.
  4. Second detour: The differentiation of Ego and Other (of 2/3ans, till the puberty)
    1. 1° phase: Appearance of the reflexive conscience, distinction between the emotion of the Other and his own emotion and thus the subjects’ positioning from him even.
    2. Reflexive conscience
    3. 2° Phase: refinement of the others and thus of Ego by the experiment of varied social situations
  5. Third Detour: the access to the adulthood through differentiation Identity/Otherness of Kind
    1. 1st Phase: evolution of the body, discovered sexual emotion and access to the total ideology (self-centred on itself or centripetal position)
    2. Adolescence (From 11/12 years until 19/21ans minimum) and the installation of the identifiers
    3. 2nd phase: differentiation Identity/Otherness of Kind and development of a subject’s position (in realistic projects)
  6. The 4th Detour: the access to the mental activity as concrete activity
  7. References of this presentation

Integrated Activity

“All the building of the mental life is built, on its various levels, by the adaptation of our activity to the object, and what directs the adaptation, they are the effects of the activity on the activity itself” Wallon, 2002 [1941], p.69).

This quotation of Wallon, concerning the psychic development of the child, can be registered in a way much broader as a whole of the process of the alive one; of an elementary level of the life (bacterium) to the whole of the life cycle of the man.

In all the cases, the produced living organism of energy (vital energy) and this one generate and feed an activity which will be, to some extent, its liaison officer with the circle. It is thus thanks to it that the relation organism/circle will build itself. Therefore we call it integrated activity, because it corresponds very exactly to the degree of development and integration of the organism, and consequently, to the definition of the circle. In the case of the man, it is the level and the quality of the development of the psychological one which will determine the nature of the integrated activity and of the circle compared with which it is adaptive. It concerns as well the various stages of development during the growth, as the operation of the adult throughout the life cycle.

But this agreement supposes a double movement of the activity. It must be able to be exerted directly on the circle to take there all what the organism needs, and possibly to draw aside the danger (centrifugal orientation). It must also be able to be exerted on the organism itself to transform it with intend to increase its adaptive agreement (centripetal orientation). It is the law of functional alternation of Wallon.

Thus we can observe this double movement of the activity in the plant, the animal and the human one. The tree that pushes its roots in the direction of the water, the small fawn which learns how to go or the man which works out his psyches, use their activity to modify their own structure, according to their genetic inheritance certainly, but obligatorily in an interaction with their circle.

And, if it is possible, it is because there is a general law managing the activity of the living one. The law of differentiation / re-organisation. According to the concerned situations, this law applies to elementary or higher levels (water growth sensor directed of fibres for the tree; sensory and engine for the fawn or the baby; thought and mental action for the adult. But, on some level that it is, there is no adaptive evolution of the activity without this general process which starts by distinguishing the relevant elements from the activity (in connexion with the vital objective), for then reorganising them in a new state, or a new competence, more impressive compared to the circle (Intellectually,/synthesis analyses).

These general problematic of the activity being posed for the whole of living, it becomes possible to deepen it within the framework of the adaptive step of the human one. For the man, the nature of the activity will change according to the stages of the development, as well as quality of the development of the psychic structure.

In the development of the child, the activity will take two principal orientations: working of the body working of the gesture. Depending with hundred percent on his human entourage the child must initially develop competences of communication of lived sound and perception of lived of the different one. It will be the role of the emotion that, starting from the visceral and tonic reactions of the baby, will make it possible to format this activity-bond ensuring its basic safety. Of origin visceral, but differentiated by the interaction with the entourage, the emotional expression is the first psycho-relational working of vital energy.

However quickly, the activity of the child must turn to another method allowing him its future autonomy, the real action (the activity of relation of Wallon). Vital energy being always the same one, it goes without saying its working in the terms of the action can be made only if it is not it already in the terms of the emotion. However, it will belong to the real action to give a socialised form to one lived which will concern the emotion. However the antagonism between the emotion and the real action (L-shaped first and second setting' vital energy), remains a logical data, which will last all the life. Walloon, although being interested in the child, had had a presentiment of it well while writing: “Thus the emotion is what welds the individual with the social life by what there can be of more fundamental in his biological existence, and this bond will not be broken, although the organic reactions of the emotion, as the image of the situations or the things is intellectualized, tend to be erased”. All the life there will be thus a dialectical relationship between emotion and action.

The adaptive activity of the adult is organised, integrating temporality and the social one, in the order of the project (or desire in the emotional method). It is the programmed aiming of objectives registered in the social environment which allows, by the success, with the psychological structure to adapt them and build the being. It is the directly adaptive method of the integrated activity.

This one can be also expressed on an indirectly adaptive method: the leisure.

Play activity

The leisure functions, as Wallon explains it for the adult’s play, like a free activity, open to bring up previous activities activities which, since, were subordinated to more recent forms of agreement between organisms/circle. Thus, to play balls made express itself for itself, the sensor-motor function. And it is that what gets the relaxation and the pleasure. But it is also true for higher functions. If playing the bridge or failures, requires some cognitive competences which are only in the adult that remains a play, in the ordinary meaning of Wallon, because the activation of those competences is done free and does not have an adaptive purpose. The pleasure, contrariety, even anger (i.e. a whole pallet of emotions), can be with go and taking into account the absence of adaptive stake, to allow a release of the psychic tension.

But, finally, this form of activity, to be free, does not remain less indirectly adaptive about it. On the one hand, the psychic and physiological benefit that it brings contributes to maintain general stability the organisation and thus to facilitate the energy mobilisation within the framework of the adaptive effort. Indeed, the adaptive activity requires an significant effort which is maintained of as much better in the duration than there are ruptures, structured in terms of leisure. It is there all their direction besides because, to play charts, or another thing, has regenerating value only insofar as this activity is alternate with that guided by the adaptive effort.

In addition, all those activities in which can be expressed the emotion, fall under a context of sociability. They are at the origin of many relational interactions, lived are divided, complicities or competitions. They thus contribute largely to the adaptation to the Other and thus to the recognition of Ego.

Hobby activity

Lastly, there exists a form of the integrated activity which does not take part at all of the adaptation. This form, I would call it pastime activity (borrowing the term from Bern, and modifying it slightly (Bern, 1966 [1964]).

Because, especially starting from adolescence and at the adulthood, it is necessary to distinguish the integrated activity and the adaptive activity. That is due to the fact that the activity of the adult is organised compared to mentalized and hierarchical social objectives, on a very abstract level. It returns to them to integrate temporality in order to finalise the projects which result from this. But, the power of the formal thought makes possible the definition of a virtual adaptive universe which can be substituted, in the field of the reflexive conscience, in the real circle related on the world and the other concrete ones.

The integrated activity is the bond between the organisation and the medium and thus depends on the level of development of the structure (and of the relative circle which it is able to apprehend).

If this one were correctly worked out during the development, it will be well adapted to a relative circle e in conformity with the real adaptive interests of the organism. There will be then, adequacy between the adaptive activity and the integrated activity. The individual will aim, in time, of the objectives having a statutory value and, will walk on with the others, until the success. He will be able, then, to interiorise them. This transformation is realised by the successive internalization of the intermediate objectives and their confirmation by the final success.

On the other hand, if the activity emanates from a immature psychological structure (adolescence) or deprived, while remaining integrated activity (since it corresponding at the integrated level of the structure), it can be only very partially adaptive (even unsuited), its finality being less in the evolution than in the protection of the structural integration to which the individual arrived.

Immaturity results especially, by the incapacity to aim at realistic social objectives, (relation between the reality of the person and the reality of the objective), and, therefore, in impossibility of concentrate vital energy in authentic projects. This one can then be inhibited (asthenia), somatized or be expressed by primitive forms of emotions (delinquency, violence, sex,…).

The elaborated deficiencies refer to internalizations either contradictory with the current integration of the structure (intra-psychic conflicts), or insufficient to ensure the basic safety of the individual. The risk of adaptive shift is then always present and the fight against the anguish always necessary. Permanent confusion, between Ego and the reflexive conscience that we have some allows our cognitive functions to erect scaffolding, always, of the explanations which make it possible to avoid blaming our structural operation..

Hobby activity is characterised by the fact that it uses antagonism action/emotion, to counter negative emotional emergences but, as its name states it, it does not fit in temporality. It can resemble a project but, actually, there is no real adaptive objective, and it is thus constantly to renew, locked up in a circular temporality.

Concretely, this activity can relate to anything, of most complexes with most elementary. It is in a way, a “trompe l’oeil” which, under cover to do something, actually allows the person anything to make in the order of the adaptation to the circle. In any case, hobby activity takes a compulsive form which shows well its internal origin and its character alienating for the subject.

Work is a traditional support of hobby activity and the excessive investment, the incapacity to live spare-time activities or emotional relations, will find easy rationalisations in the serious and tiring character of the activity. But that is a delusion because, in this case, the real socials benefits are often poor and the personals benefits (in term of positive internalization) non-existent. It is always necessary to aim higher and to start again.

The spare-time activities are also a convenient medium, because they make it possible to attach hobby activity to one supposed desire of the subject. It is particularly the case of sports activities which can, all at the same time, to say itself in terms of personal choice of the subject (by taste) and in terms of hygiene of life (socially developed). Moreover, the necessarily repetitive aspect of this type of activity makes it possible to mask compulsive characteristic. For all that, the person will not obtain the regeneration that the spare-time activity gets. At the most she will arrive, and not always (because we always can do better), to appease her hyper tonicity and, therefore, her anguish.

In fact, any spare-time activity can function like hobby activity: artistic activities (musical, literary, plastic…), festive, virtual (currently particularly developed on Internet). Anyway, beyond the conscious pretexts that it is given, it does not bring anything in the relationship’s management between organism/circle.

On a more elementary level, hobby activity can take the form of an excessive preoccupation of arrangement (office, house) or with a maintenance of the plants, garden. But it can be, even more simply, the compulsive gesture of the smoker, the need to count in its head, or the ambulation of the patient.

Anyway the virtues of the proper action to contain emotional emergence (distresses) are the true reason for the activity.


Berne, E. (1966 [1964]). Des Jeux et des hommes, psychologie des relations humaines. (L. Dilé, Trad.) Paris: Stock.

Wallon, H. (2002 [1941]). L'évolution psychologique de l'enfant. Paris: Armand Colin.

Michel Cariou - November 2008

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