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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 Dolto claimed the mantle of a progressive, innovative expert who swept away outdated concepts – but Bates demonstrates that her ideas in fact had deep roots in right-wing, anti-feminist currents.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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Psychoanalysis in interwar France
Richard Bates

Psychoanalysis in 1934 was no longer a particularly young discipline. Sigmund Freud had published The Interpretation of Dreams , with its new theory of the unconscious mind and an early version of the Oedipus complex, some thirty-five years earlier in 1899 (dating it 1900 to emphasise its novelty and modernity). The Vienna Psychoanalytic Society was founded in 1902, and the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) in 1910. By the mid-1930s, Freud was in his late seventies with most of his major publications

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
Dolto, psychoanalysis and Catholicism from Occupation to Liberation
Richard Bates

explored cooperation with figures on the Left, and at one point even referred to herself as a Trotskyist. 2 However, the hardening of Cold War dividing lines in 1947–48 found Dolto and her closest colleagues very much on the side of capitalism and Christianity. Psychoanalysis came under strong attack from French communists in 1949, and in the 1950s was widely perceived as a bourgeois discipline. By 1953, the French psychoanalytic movement had become divided, as its practitioners’ very different experiences of the war compounded

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
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Popularising psychoanalysis, 1945–68
Richard Bates

If the interwar years were when psychoanalysis began to occupy a central place in western intellectual and popular culture, it was in the postwar decades that this centrality translated into significant impacts on ordinary lives and public policy. Historians of psychological thinking argue that the postwar period crystallised the shift away from the ‘Victorian culture of character’ in Western Europe and North America, towards the ‘permissiveness’ of the later twentieth century. 1 After 1945, there was

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
Dolto and the psychoanalytic approach to autism in France
Richard Bates

widely used textbook, Child Psychiatry (1935), initially suggested that autism was inborn, but later argued for a psychogenic aetiology. 15 His ambiguity here may well have been strategic, in view of the increasing prevalence of psychoanalysis in American psychiatry and in American culture more generally between approximately 1945 and 1963. 16 In this period psychoanalysts were extending their insights to areas of medicine and psychiatry such as asthma and schizophrenia. Their explanations frequently led back to

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
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Françoise breaks free?
Richard Bates

later views, on gender politics especially, were shaped to a far greater extent by those of her family milieu. Questions of gender and feminine identity were central to Dolto’s initial encounter with psychoanalysis, and the psychoanalysts who facilitated Dolto’s breach with her family largely shared her parents’ views on these issues. 2 Though undergoing psychoanalysis and training to become an analyst helped Dolto to gain professional qualifications and personal independence, it also confronted her with new arguments as to why it

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
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Doltomania
Richard Bates

decisions in the light of sales and ratings’. 21 One thing that certainly sold well in the French 1970s was psychoanalysis. This was something of a new phenomenon. For reasons that are explored in Chapter 1 , psychoanalysis began relatively late in France, and as late as the 1950s only a very small minority – mostly wealthy Parisians – had undergone analysis, which was commonly viewed as something ‘American’, aimed at intellectuals, artists and ‘ les riches ’. 22 However, by the mid-1970s, France had developed a full

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
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Dolto in the twenty-first century
Richard Bates

published the first of two sharply critical books, castigating Dolto’s theories as ‘outdated and very often inappropriate, even toxic’. 9 Pleux’s attacks formed part of a broader cultural battle in the 2000s over the scientific validity, and political implications, of psychoanalysis in France. This anti-Freudian wave notably produced the 2005 Livre noir de la psychanalyse ( Black Book of Psychoanalysis ), a collection of texts mainly by cognitive-behavioural therapists, taking aim at the epistemological foundations of

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
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Psychoanalysis in the public sphere, 1968–88
Richard Bates

that Dolto and her colleagues created after 1978. The proliferation of these centres across France is a particularly important example of Dolto’s success in disseminating psychoanalytic thinking into everyday life and institutions, representing perhaps the most extensive long-term project for taking psychoanalysis ‘beyond the couch’ anywhere in the world in recent decades. The MV project achieved an unusually extensive integration between psychoanalysis and state educational priorities. These ‘structures Dolto’, as

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France
Bonnie Evans

countryside. 5 In London, according to official figures, half the entire school population was evacuated. 6 Susan Isaacs, Lucy Fildes and John Bowlby, a young medically trained psychologist who had studied with most major figures in English psychology and psychoanalysis at the time, including Melanie Klein and Cyril Burt, were amongst a growing group of psychologists and

in The metamorphosis of autism