Richard Bates
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Family politics
Popularising psychoanalysis, 1945–68
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This chapter explores Dolto’s interactions with the French public between 1945 and 1968. It centres on the issues of liberal parenting and patriarchal family structures, demonstrating how Dolto advocated the former without calling the latter into question. It places her ideas in these years in the context of contemporary social change, especially the battle for increased reproductive and civil rights for women, which Dolto opposed.

The first part of the chapter looks at the École des Parents, a Parisian institute offering parenting training and marriage counselling, arguing that after 1945 this became a vehicle for Dolto and other Laforguian psychoanalysts to disseminate psychoanalytic thinking, and especially their ideas about family structures and gender roles.

The second section examines the Centres Médico-Psycho-Pédagogiques (CMPPs) – state-funded, psychoanalytically oriented medical clinics for children from non-wealthy backgrounds, in which Dolto participated from the 1940s. It demonstrates that while the CMPPs were successful in terms of enabling psychoanalysts to engage with families from far lower down the income spectrum than those in private practice, their location within the medical bureaucracy made them less effective in spreading enthusiasm for psychoanalysis among ordinary French people.

The final part of the chapter studies Dolto’s interventions on French radio in 1950 on the subject of sex education, showing how she used this platform both to promote the acceptance of psychoanalysts as experts, and to disseminate her views on the importance of bringing up children according to a strongly binary conception of gender roles.

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