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«The social nature of the mother’s tie to her child: John Bowlby’s theory of attachment in post-war America MARGA VICEDO* Abstract. This paper ...»

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Furthermore, what women admitted or not was irrelevant for Bowlby. If the question about who should raise children is not to be answered through social debate and personal re ection, but by following the dictates of nature, then mothers – and even fathers – have no voice in the answer. By naturalizing parental roles, decisions about the social distribution of childcare are taken to be a matter of scienti c inquiry. Science is the arbiter, and scientists the judges of the designs of nature.

Conclusion In the United States Bowlby was an important voice in the scienti c discussion about children’s needs and in the social debate about the consequences of those needs for the distribution of parental roles. I have argued that the impact of Bowlby’s views about the signi cance of mother love for child development needs to be understood in the context of the widespread anxiety about changing gender roles during the early Cold War years.

In the debate about the desirability of mothers working outside the home during the mid-1950s, Bowlby’s views were in uential.

By situating discussions about child development in their scienti c and social context, I have provided an explanation for the high visibility of Bowlby’s work and the corresponding neglect of alternative views. Bowlby’s ideas about mother love and the implications he drew about the importance of the nuclear family resonated with pervasive social concerns about gender roles in mid-twentieth-century America. Since American child analysts had already made the role of the mother in helping her child develop the capacity to love into a central public concern, Bowlby was able to gain immediate prominence in ongoing discussions about parental roles. Amidst the Cold War emphasis on the functional bene ts of gendered parental roles the numerous criticisms of the empirical evidence Bowlby used to support the essential role of mother love remained peripheral.

Furthermore, I have argued that by claiming that mother love was a biological need for children, Bowlby introduced a crucial new element in the history of functional justi cations for gender roles. Although the signi cance of mother love for children had 74 Quoted in Evelyn S. Ringold, ‘Bringing up baby in Britain’, New York Times, 13 June 1965.

426 Marga Vicedo already been part of the history of emotionology in the United States, the appeal to biology to justify the child’s need for mother anchored the old logic of functionalism upon a new scienti c foundation, one that held a tremendous logical and emotional power because it presented mother love as a child’s biological need.

By illuminating the coalescence of factors that led to the success of Bowlby’s views about mother love – the rise of a psychoanalytic account of mother love as the cradle of all loves, the support of the WHO, the context of Cold War anxieties about gender roles, and the construction of the mother–infant dyad as a biological unit – I hope to have shown that understanding Bowlby’s interpretation of ‘the nature of the child’s tie to its mother’ and interpreting its scienti c and cultural reception during the 1950s cannot be done without locating its place in the debate about the social tie of the mother to her child. Bowlby appealed to biology to claim that his position was based on scienti c knowledge independent of social views and contingent historical factors. But the development and impact of scienti c pronouncements about mother love have to be understood in the context of the changing concerns about women’s participation in the workforce and the recurring debate about the distribution of parental roles. Questions about the nature of mother love and children’s needs were (and remain) entangled with the question ‘who should rear the children and how?’



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