Family neuroses
Psychoanalysis in interwar France
in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
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This chapter provides a history of psychoanalysis in France before 1939. It analyses the state of the French psychoanalytic movement (the Société Psychanalytique de Paris) both organisationally and (especially) ideologically, during the period of Dolto’s analysis and training between 1934 and 1939.

The chapter begins by noting that Freudian psychoanalysis became established significantly (fifteen to twenty years) later in France than in comparable countries, and providing an explanation for this in the context of the politics of science and medicine in the Third Republic. The late beginnings of French psychoanalysis had consequences for its eventual intellectual and social composition, and thus for its ideological orientation at the time of Dolto’s arrival in the group. Its early theoretical debates were shaped by the wider French context of interwar natalism and political discourse around the family, and by the need to acquire medical patrons in order to make institutional headway. The patronage of the psychiatrist Georges Heuyer was particularly important.

While the early French psychoanalytic movement was politically diverse, those who mentored Dolto, notably Édouard Pichon and René Laforgue, were from its Catholic, French-nationalist wing. These analysts drew on anti-feminist currents in the international psychoanalytic movement to develop a theory of ‘family neurosis’ in which mothers, in particular, were thought to pass on psychological faults and complexes to their children. Dolto, in turn, made these ideas cornerstones of her own thinking.


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