My current research project, The Child in Mind: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Clinic, puts feminist and queer theorizations of "the child" into conversation with the clinical work of British child psychoanalysts. An inter-war offshoot of Sigmund Freud's (adult) psychoanalysis, child psychoanalysis was developed in the 1920s to address the "unique" psyche of the child-patient. Although it was originally a sub-specialty, child analysis not only came to define psychoanalysis writ large after Freud's death in 1939, but also had significant social and political effects after World War II as analysts refocused their energies on mapping and repairing the war-torn psyche of the child through large-scale forms of social work. The child provided an ideal site for this cultural dissemination since, as Lee Edelman (2004) has forcefully argued,it was able to galvanize widespread public interest by embodying “reproductive futurity”: that is, an investment in the political horizon premised on a reproductive (hetero)normativity. Beleaguered by the mass casualties of the two world wars, psychoanalysts increasingly turned toward the child as a way to re-shape and re-define political subjectivity and sociality.
Tracing innovations in child psychology from Vienna to London, I excavate the unique clinical techniques developed and practiced by four formative post-Freudian psychoanalysts: Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott, and John Bowlby. My project takes the culturally transformative work that child psychoanalysis performed as its point of departure and specifically considers the political implications of the fact that child analysts' re-invented clinical technique in intentionally gendered ways. By bringing together queer theory’s analysis of the political function of the child with feminist theory’s longstanding interest in the mother-child relation, I reveal how child analysts used gender to define—and politicize—their professional practice. In a political landscape where women’s role in society was quickly changing, clinicians’ experimentation with deliberately gendered techniques was a strategy for making their privatized work relevant to a broader public audience. The analytic exercise of paternal "authority," the cultivation of maternal "reparations," the maternal facilitation of an inherent "democratic tendency," and the provision of maternal "security" were just some of the ways that these child analysts (re)defined their clinical work. Acknowledging the political overtones of these terms, I contend not simply that clinical technique is inherently political (although I do certainly maintain this), but more specifically that, through gendered clinical techniques developed for children, analysts participated in a larger social and political effort in Britain to imaginatively re-make modern liberal subjectivity, sociality, and government in the face of cataclysmic genocidal destruction. Through the child, interwar and postwar analysts made gender central to a re-imagining of European politics, government, and the state. In the conclusion of this project, I extend my analysis beyond psychoanalytic case-studies to consider how the gendered techniques developed by mid-century child analysts in the clinic inform contemporary Anglophone “how to” advice manuals designed to help parents rear democratic, anti-authoritarian children through at-home parenting techniques.
This research contributes to a growing body of scholarship by feminist theorists, historians, and political theorists that showcases how psychoanalysis was influenced by—and, in turn, had a decisive influence on—the political climates it inhabited (Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg (2011); Sally Alexander (2012); Michal Shapira (2013); Eli Zartesky (2015); Daniel Pick and Matt ffytche (2016); and Dagmar Herzog (2017)). My project adds to this work an explicit focus on the psychoanalytic clinic and the gendered scientific techniques developed therein. Although the psychoanalytic clinic has often dismissed as being either politically isolated or irredeemably normalizing, I argue that a keen analysis of clinical technique—of the unique scientific methods analysts developed to relate to and treat the psyche of the modern child—is an invaluable resource for understanding the political reach of psychoanalysis. At the broadest level, I thus consider the utility of specifically clinical writing for queer and feminist theory and maintain the importance of thinking interdisciplinarily between modern literature, psychology, and political theory