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The Maternalists: Psychoanalysis, Motherhood, and the British Welfare State

Bar Haim, Shaul (2021) The Maternalists: Psychoanalysis, Motherhood, and the British Welfare State. University of Pennsylvania Press.

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This book argues that mid-twentieth-century British psychoanalysis served as a major force in creating a new mother-centred culture, which to a great extent contributed to the making of a welfarist ideology, and thus, to the establishment of the British welfare state. By the late 1920s, British intellectuals showed a great interest in a new focus in psychoanalysis on the maternal role. They used psychoanalytical notions of the maternal, innovative at the time, to criticize modern European culture, its patriarchal domestic structure and its colonial politics. The crisis of modernity was, for some of them, the result of a damaging form of motherhood and a lack of ‘maternal values’ in patriarchal Western society. This strand of thought is presented through four figures from the fields of education, anthropology and psychiatry: Susan Isaacs, Bronislaw Malinowski, Geza Róheim and Ian Suttie. In addition to exploring the political dimension of their critique, I argue that these thinkers used the psychoanalytical-maternal vocabulary – drawn mainly from Sandor Ferenczi and Melanie Klein – to promote imaginary perceptions of motherhood and their idea of the ‘real’ essence of the ‘maternal’. The second part of this study concentrates on two prominent postwar psychoanalysts, D.W. Winnicott and Michael Balint. Under the postwar welfarist policy in Britain, psychoanalysts such as these two took measures to ‘maternalize’ the public sphere. A few case studies – from their work with psychotherapists, teachers, GPs, and others – will show that they understood the welfare state as a provider of certain maternal capacities, especially where people were deprived of real maternal care. This way of thinking – neither feminist nor anti-feminist in itself – provides us with hitherto unexplored insights on the historical roots of late-twentieth-century feminism. Moreover, presenting the affinities between welfarism, maternalism and psychoanalysis suggests a new historiographical reading of domestic life in postwar Britain.

Item Type: Book
Additional Information:
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2022 12:37
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2022 12:37

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