Historian Chris Millard writes in The Atlantic about “The Dangers of Over-Policing Motherhood.” Using the case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy as an example, Millard explores the impact of shifting understandings of the emotional support offered by mothers in the twentieth century. As Millard writes,
Towering over mid-century discussions of motherhood is the figure of John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst of children whose ideas on “attachment theory” and “maternal deprivation” became exceptionally influential. Bowlby waxed lyrical about the importance of a stable mother figure, arguing from research in foster homes that a life of instability, delinquency and psychological problems follow in the wake of inconsistent mothering. Bowlby followed other U.K.-based psychoanalysts such as Anna Freud and Melanie Klein in arguing that small children’s social relations are incredibly important, and disruption of mothering in the early years has wide-reaching psychic and social consequences.
Note the double-edged sword of motherhood here. Attracting the praise of being a “good mother” was always accompanied by the threat that you might fall from the perch at any moment and cause devastating harm to your child. Hence the amplification of mechanisms of control, censure and punishment that go hand in hand with the valorization and surveillance of parenting. Deep within the medical and psychological frameworks promoting motherhood in this period, there lurks male anxiety over female power and influence.
This concern played out over the question of how much time parents should spend at the hospital with their child…
Read the full piece online here.
The most recent issue of Social History of Medicine includes several articles of interest to AHP readers. Articles in this issue historicize Ian Hacking’s concepts via the example of Munchausen syndrome, describe the development of public health alcohol education in Britain, and explore psychopathy as social engineering in Finland. Full details below.
“Concepts, Diagnosis and the History of Medicine: Historicising Ian Hacking and Munchausen Syndrome,” by Chris Millard. Open Access. Abstract:
Concepts used by historians are as historical as the diagnoses or categories that are studied. The example of Munchausen syndrome (deceptive presentation of illness in order to adopt the ‘sick role’) is used to explore this. Like most psychiatric diagnoses, Munchausen syndrome is not thought applicable across time by social historians of medicine. It is historically specific, drawing upon twentieth-century anthropology and sociology to explain motivation through desire for the ‘sick role’. Ian Hacking’s concepts of ‘making up people’ and ‘looping effects’ are regularly utilised outside of the context in which they are formed. However, this context is precisely the same anthropological and sociological insight used to explain Munchausen syndrome. It remains correct to resist the projection of Munchausen syndrome into the past. However, it seems inconsistent to use Hacking’s concepts to describe identity formation before the twentieth century as they are given meaning by an identical context.
“‘Everybody Likes a Drink. Nobody Likes a Drunk’. Alcohol, Health Education and the Public in 1970s Britain,” by Alex Mold. Open Access. Abstract: Continue reading New Social History of Medicine: Historicizing Hacking’s Concepts, Psychopathy, & More