The Raphael Samuel Memorial Lecture 2015: 10th December 2015

Raphael Samuel (1934-1996)

Thursday 10 December 2015

6.30 pm (wine reception to follow)

Free of charge, no booking required, everyone welcome.

Clore Lecture Theatre, Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck, University of London, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

Professor Sally Alexander (Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Goldsmiths University of London; founding editor, History Workshop Journal)

‘Social democracy’s super-ego? The politics of motherhood in mid-20thc Britain’

Questions of human nature were vital to the reconstruction of liberal nations in the aftermath of world war.   Stable democratic institutions – bulwarks against totalitarian states of mind and government – depended on understanding how mental life begins, where violence comes from, what is the basis of ethical belief?  Psychoanalysis, a new social science, listening to patients’ fears and anxieties made the super-ego – the inner voice of conscience – the conduit between inner and outside worlds.   Freud’s severe paternal super-ego was challenged in the 1920s.  Child analysts uncovered unconscious fantasies of maternal body and feeling in the first weeks of life.  Feminists, post-suffrage, dug deep into the psyche too.  Demands for both equality and recognition of mothers as independent citizens unsettled liberal and social democratic blueprints for the future.  Britain’s welfare state introduced by Clement Attlee’s two Labour Governments (1945-51), made family life its ethical foundation – meeting an exhausted people’s longing for private life again.

When sixties feminists rebelled against motherhood as destiny, confinement to the home and mothers’ responsibility for the mental health of future generations, the political context of the postwar settlement and with it the darker side of the maternal unconscious was buried in the Cold War.  Donald Winnicott, paediatrician and psychoanalyst,  whose ‘good enough’ homes and mothers was broadcast into every kitchen in the land during the forties and fifties, had warned that the repressed mother of unconscious fantasy, if unthought through, laid the foundations of rigid  -‘totalitarian ‘ – states of mind.   This lecture will revisit the politics of motherhood in feminist demand and unconscious feeling as they were understood at the time.

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