Book Launch: The Maternalists: Psychoanalysis, Motherhood, and the British Welfare State

  • Wed 8 Dec 21

    17:00 - 18:30

  • Online


  • Event speaker

    Dr Shaul Bar-Haim

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars

  • Event organiser

    Sociology, Department of

  • Contact details

    Professor Linsey McGoey

Join the Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation and Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies in conversation with Dr Shaul Bar-Haim: The Maternalists: Psychoanalysis, Motherhood and the British Welfare State.

Dr Shaul Bar-Haim in conversation with Professor Camille Robcis (University of Columbia) and Professor Michael Roper on his new book;

The Maternalists: Psychoanalysis, Motherhood and the British Welfare State.

Chair: Professor Matt Ffytche (Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies)

The Maternalists is a study of the hitherto unexplored significance of utopian visions of the state as a maternal entity in mid-twentieth century Britain. Demonstrating the affinities between welfarism, maternalism, and psychoanalysis, Shaul Bar-Haim suggests a new reading of the British welfare state as a political project. 

After the First World War, British doctors, social thinkers, educators, and policy makers became increasingly interested in the contemporary turn being made in psychoanalytic theory toward the role of motherhood in child development. These public figures used new notions of the "maternal" to criticize modern European culture, and especially its patriarchal domestic structure. This strand of thought was pioneered by figures who were well placed to disseminate their ideas into the higher echelons of British culture, education, and medical care. Figures such as the anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and Geza Róheim, and the psychiatrist Ian Suttie—to mention only a few of the "maternalists" discussed in the book—used psychoanalytic vocabulary to promote both imagined perceptions of motherhood and their idea of the "real" essence of the "maternal." In the 1930s, as European fascism took hold, the "maternal" became a cultural discourse of both collective social anxieties and fantasies, as well as a central concept in many strands of radical, and even utopian, political thinking. During the Second World War, and even more so in the postwar era, psychoanalysts such as D. W. Winnicott and Michael Balint responded to the horrors of the war by drawing on interwar maternalistic thought, making a demand to "maternalise" British society, and providing postwar Britain with a new political idiom for defining the welfare state as a project of collective care.

Shaul Bar-Haim is a historian and a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is specialising in the history of psychoanalysis and the human sciences more generally in twentieth-century Britain. Shaul is the author of The Maternalists: Psychoanalysis, Motherhood, and the British Welfare State (Penn, 2021), and co-editor of Wild Analysis: From the Couch to Cultural and Political Life (Routledge, 2021). 

Camille Robcis is Professor of French and History at Columbia University.  She specializes in Modern European History with an emphasis on gender and sexuality, France, and intellectual, cultural, and legal history.  She is especially interested in the intersections of politics and ideas.  She is the author of The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France (Cornell UP, 2013) and of Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in Postwar France (Chicago UP, 2021).  She is currently working on a new project, The Gender Question: Populism, National Reproduction, and the Crisis of Representation.  

Michael Roper is a social and cultural historian of twentieth-century Britain, and a Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. His research spans the fields of war, subjectivity and psychoanalysis. The Secret Battle. Emotional Survival in the Great War was published in 2009 and he has also published articles on the history of masculinity, subjectivity in historical writing, and the uses of psychoanalysis in historical research. He is currently working on a history of the First World War seen through second-generation descendants in Australia, Britain and Germany. Afterlives of War will be published in 2022.

Matt Ffytche is a Professor in the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at Essex, and Editor of the journal Psychoanalysis and History. His publications include (ed. with Daniel Pick) Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism (Routledge, 2016) and Sigmund Freud (Reaktion, Critical Lives, forthcoming 2022).

This seminar is part of an open webinar series, joint hosted by the Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation and Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies.