- In The Name of the Child
The history of childhood and childhood studies have become dynamic fields that illuminate broader changes in U.S. history and culture. The books reviewed here make substantial original contributions to the distinct, yet intertwined, histories of childhood and parenting, while enriching research in the history of the human sciences and of the emotions (Vicedo), social history of the family and of sexuality (Rivers), and the multidisciplinary field of childhood studies (Duane).
In The Nature and Nurture of Love, Marga Vicedo has written a compelling history of the science of attachment in the decades following World War II. How, Vicedo asks, did mother love come to be seen as central to children’s healthy emotional development and their future as good citizens? As Vicedo notes, the presumption that childrearing held implications for nation building, via the molding of future citizens, has a long and well-studied history. Although scientific and popular attention to the impact of mothers on their children’s moral, social, or even psychological development predated the postwar period, Vicedo convincingly shows how the 1950s became a crucial turning point in elevating belief in the power of an affective and instinctual understanding of maternal care.
One particularly influential and enduring framework of the biological basis for children’s emotional needs and mother love was the theory of attachment. [End Page 145] Vicedo traces the development of attachment theory in the postwar years and argues that attachment research has retained its scientific and popular currency despite significant challenges to the research on which it is based, with important implications for current discussions of children’s well-being, parenting ideals, and the social order.
Vicedo’s account begins during World War II and its aftermath, when prominent psychoanalysts such as Anna Freud, David Levy, and René Spitz studied maternal deprivation and overprotection. In part one, Vicedo meticulously unpacks the chain of connections that postwar researchers and commentators constructed in what appeared as a kind of seamless logic: human emotions were the key to explaining the irrational causes of World War II’s devastation; emotions and personality develop during childhood; and mothers raise their children. Therefore mothers were key to rearing children with healthy personalities, who would in turn contribute to a healthy and well-ordered society.
British psychiatrist John Bowlby became a critical figure in promulgating this view of mothering. His work, first at the Tavistock Clinic in London, then synthesizing the work of Freud, Levy, Spitz, and others for a World Health Organization–sponsored report published in 1951, led him to underscore the importance of maternal love and the emotional dimensions of mothering for children’s mental health. Bowlby’s work enjoyed widespread success, Vicedo demonstrates, in large measure because he married psychoanalytic studies of maternal deprivation with contemporary research by the Nobel Prize–winning ethologists Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen on the biology of instincts and behavior. Lorenz’s work on imprinting and instincts in birds became particularly crucial to the claims of attachment theory regarding the biological basis of mother love. Chapter three carefully shows how Bowlby developed his theory that children have an instinctual need for mother love, and mothers have an innate need for their children. As Vicedo reiterates throughout the book, this was a theory that benefited from “the authority of biological knowledge” (p. 87). She also examines the popular reception of Bowlby’s ideas during the postwar debates about changes in women’s roles and women working outside the home.
The remaining chapters consider, in part two, challenges to the scientific studies...