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 Dolto claimed the mantle of a progressive, innovative expert who swept away outdated concepts – but Bates demonstrates that her ideas in fact had deep roots in right-wing, anti-feminist currents.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

-contained cocoon in which problems could be solved simply by ‘by bringing [children] to express themselves and decoding what they say’ – without needing to think too hard about the world outside. 34 To her fans, Dolto was doing something simple and admirable: encouraging family members to communicate better, and providing them with tools to do so. But Dolto’s emphasis was underpinned by childhood determinism: the idea that a person’s character, psychological makeup and life chances were determined by their experiences in the

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

Dolto’s confident dispensation of wisdom that appeared simultaneously homespun and scientifically credible. As Dolto’s fame progressed, however, more people started to contest what now seemed to be the outdated premises of some of her advice, notably on childhood determinism, gender roles and sexuality. This contestation has slowly but inexorably increased in the years following her death. Given that French society as a whole still seems reluctant to move on from Dolto entirely, the kind of historical

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

these more technical ideas, Dolto applied the word to the commonplace feeling of being blocked or trapped, effectively inviting her audience to incorporate the psychoanalytic term into their everyday language. She also promoted childhood determinism, the idea that children’s psychological problems could be ‘heavily consequential’ for their future psychological constitution and that psychological education on the part of parents could help prevent this. 20 She suggested that many apparently minor aspects of a child

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

few letters came from poorer regions such as Lorraine, Burgundy, Picardy and Languedoc. This pattern was repeated in letters from Paris: most correspondents lived in the wealthy western districts, not the working-class areas of the north and east. The concept of childhood determinism pervades much of the correspondence from parents. 104 Many accepted the assumption that by making parenting mistakes they could permanently traumatise their offspring, and wrote for advice either on avoiding this fate or on repairing

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

in two ways. First, her collaboration on the subject with Maud Mannoni in the 1960s. Second, when she was at the height of her career, her case study of an (arguably) autistic boy published as a popular book in 1971, Le Cas Dominique ( The Dominique Case ). Dolto helped popularise the idea that autism, psychosis and so-called backwardness were the results of childhood trauma, and ultimately caused by poor parenting. This approach followed from Dolto’s general theoretical positions concerning childhood determinism, family

in Psychoanalysis and the family in twentieth-century France