Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France

Françoise Dolto and her legacy

Author: Richard Bates

In Psychoanalysis and the family, Richard Bates reveals the striking range and extent of the influence of Françoise Dolto (1908–88) – child psychoanalyst and France’s leading authority on parenting and family dynamics from the 1970s onwards.

Against the backdrop of rapid economic, social and cultural change, Dolto emerged as a new, reassuring, national presence. Seen as a national treasure, her views proved influential on a wide range of issues linked to psychology, parenting, education, gender, sexuality, bioethics and children’s culture and rights. Dolto claimed the mantle of a progressive, innovative expert who swept away outdated concepts – but Bates demonstrates that her ideas in fact had deep roots in right-wing, anti-feminist currents. Dolto used her media platforms and the cultural authority of psychoanalysis to ensure that her psychoanalytic vision affected the whole French nation and was implanted in a variety of institutional settings. Bates shows how her vision had lasting repercussions, in areas ranging from the treatment of autism to the organisation of children’s centres.

In demonstrating Dolto’s importance, this highly original, thoroughly researched book makes an essential contribution to historical understanding of twentieth-century French society. It forces a reassessment of the place of psychoanalysis in French social history, showing that its true significance lay well beyond the academic seminar or the consulting room.

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