History of Mother-Child Research in JHBS

The most recent issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavorial Sciences contains several articles on the history of mother-child research. In her article, Marga Vicedo, whose historical work on Konrad Lorenz and mother-child research has previously been discussed on AHP, examines the now infamous work of Harry Harlow on mother love. In “Mothers, machines, and morals: Harry Harlow’s work on primate love from lab to legend” Vicedo examines the oft perpetuated results of Harlow’s attachment research with rhesus monkeys.

In her article, “‘Monkeys, babies, idiots'” and ‘primitives’: Nature-nurture debates and philanthropic foundation support for American anthropology in the 1920s and 1930s,” Kersten Jacobson Biehn looks specifically at the history of American cultural anthropology. Jacobson Biehn’s abstract reads,

There has been a long discussion among historians about the impact that foundation policies had on the development of the social sciences during the interwar era. This discussion has centered on the degree to which foundation officers, particularly from the Rockefeller boards, exercised a hegemonic influence on research. In this essay, I argue that the field of American cultural anthropology has been neglected and must be reconsidered as a window into foundation intervention in nature–nurture debates. Despite foundation efforts to craft an anthropology policy that privileged hereditarian explanations, I contend that cultural anthropologists were committed to proving the primacy of “nurture,” even when that commitment cost them valuable research dollars. It was this commitment that provided an essential bulwark for the discipline. Ironically, it was the need to negotiate with foundations about the purpose of their research that helped cultural anthropologists to articulate their unique, and thus intrinsically valuable, approach to nature–nurture debates.

Jacobson Biehn’s article is followed by one which explores the 1960s dispute over attachment theory. This article, entitled, “Separation and divergence: the untold story of James Robertson’s and John Bowlby’s theoretical dispute on mother-child separation,” is authored by Frank C. P. Van Der Hosrst and Rene Van Der Veer, both of Leiden Univeristy in the Netherlands. The abstract reads as follows,

The work of Robertson and Bowlby is generally seen as complementary, Robertson being the practically oriented observer and Bowlby focusing on theoretical explanations for Robertson’s observations. The authors add to this picture an “untold story” of the collaboration between Robertson and Bowlby: the dispute between the two men that arose in the 1960s about the corollaries of separation and the ensuing personal animosity. On the basis of unique archival materials, this until now little known aspect of the history of attachment theory is extensively documented. The deteriorating relationship between Robertson and Bowlby is described against the background of different currents in psychoanalysis in Britain in the interbellum.

Also in this issue of JHBS, is a review of Francesca Bordogna’s new book, William James at the Boundaries: Philosophy, Science, and the Geography of Knowledge, by Eugene Taylor. A response to the review by Bordogna follows.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.