Representations of the Mother-Child Attachment Relationship in Western Literature from 1945-2018

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Representations of the Mother-Child Attachment Relationship in Western Literature from 1945-2018

The nature (secure, avoidant, ambivalent, disorganized, individual differences, etc.), origins (ontogenetic development, impact of culture, etc.) and consequences (emotional, social, etc.) of the mother-child attachment relationship have been extensively investigated since Bowlby’s seminal Child care and the growth of love (1953). However, little is known, beyond the transgenerational transmission, about the history of the mother-child attachment relationship. Did this relationship change over time and if yes how? Today, it is difficult to answer to this question, at least in the field of attachment and human development (e.g. Handbook of Attachment, 3rd ed., 2018).

LCE-members Karine Viana, Camilla Chams, and Francisco Pons started a project that utilizes expertise from literary studies to explore this timely question from developmental psychology. The main goal of this study is to examine for the first time the development of the mother-child attachment relationship from the end of WWII to the present days where adults and children’s literature is used as a “Time Machine” to have access to past and present representations of the mother-child attachment relationship. By turning to literature, as historical archive, who foreshadows human development, this study is also the first to integrate developmental psychology and cognitive literary studies from an historical perspective.

We aim to analyze a large corpus of adults and children’s books from two Western European linguistic / cultural groups: Germanic (English, Norwegian, Danish and German) and Latin (Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian). In this paper, content analysis is used to examine the representation of the mother-child attachment relationship during two time periods: 1945-53 (before Bowlby’s first influential publication) and 2010-18. The following main axes are examined: (i) vertical versus horizontal relationship; (ii) behavioral versus mental-state oriented communication; (iii) emotional coaching versus emotional dismissing intervention.

Preliminary analyses seem to indicate that, although mothering is portrayed as a task driven by love and educational purposes, the mother-child relationship became more horizontal and emotion coaching oriented over time in the two linguistic groups. We also foresee that larger changes in the Germanic group than in the Latin group might been explained by cultural factors related to child versus adult centered societies. Analyses seem also to show both similarities and differences between adults and children’s literature.

If confirmed, the results of this study would have multiple implications: They would show that the representations (beliefs) of what it means to be a “good” mother, a “good” child and to have an “healthy” mother-child relationship are relative and have to be put in a (Vygotskyan) historical and cultural perspective. They would also be the first step towards a larger study including other languages, cultures, literatures, and time periods, as well as, additional analyses such as the relation between scientific and social discourses about the mother-child relationship.


People involved:

Karine Viana

Camilla Chams

Francisco Pons

Published Mar. 30, 2019 11:53 AM - Last modified Mar. 30, 2019 11:53 AM