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What is a Child?

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Childhood is defined in different preconceived manners by different discourses. Thus the categories defined by age such as infant, child, adolescent and so on, are to some extent arbitrary divisions that are subject to the evolution in clinical, societal, ideological and political discourses. Within psychoanalysis there has been a conflation of childhood construed through the retrospective memories of adults, and childhood as seen through the perspective of infant observations. In What is a Child? Michael Gerard Plastow argues that the place of the child as subject in the fullest sense has been neglected through these tendencies, and that such confusion has marked the history of the psychoanalysis of the child itself, which began as a family affair.In this book, Plastow endeavours to tease out the different notions of time and history that are implicit in the history of child psychoanalysis and in the clinical approach to childhood. He closely examines the beginnings of psychoanalysis of the child, particularly emphasising the contributions of Hermine Hug-Hellmuth. It was she who emphasised the impossibility for parents to analyse their own children. This contribution also enabled her to theorize the place of the parents in relation to the analysis of a child. The author also examines the history of the discourses that have determined how we consider childhood and thus conceive of the child. In his conlcusion, Plastow returns to the questions of the child, the parents, and the symptom, as well as the notion of 'cause', in order to examine the implications of this study for clinical practice with children and their families.

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CHAPTER ONE The child: between history and structure

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CHAPTER ONE

The child: between history and structure

What is a child?

This question, at first glance, might seem trivial and superfluous.

Usually there is an assumption that remains unarticulated, that we know what a child is. The answer seems self-evident. Surely one can define a child by age? After all, this is how the question is most often approached. And the age of a child also suggests that the child is at a certain stage of development and maturity. From the perspective of the law, a child’s age implies that he or she is permitted to do certain things and not others. For there to be a child also suggests the presence of parents or carers who take responsibility for the child.

In the clinical setting the limits of childhood are not clear and the usual definitions of the child do not hold up when tested. They are also elastic according to political and other influences. For instance a group defined as infants has been separated out from child psychiatry to form a relatively new field now known as infant psychiatry. These terms infant and child no longer coincide as they did at times in Freud. At the other end of the age spectrum of childhood, some of our child and adolescent mental health services are being extended out from an upper age of eighteen, previously considered to be the limit of childhood and

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CHAPTER TWO A change of discourse: Freud’s abandonment of the seduction hypothesis

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CHAPTER TWO

A change of discourse: Freud’s abandonment of the seduction hypothesis

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n 21 September 1897, Freud wrote to his friend and colleague,

Berlin ear, nose, and throat specialist Wilhelm Fliess, “I want to confide in you immediately the great secret that has been slowly dawning on me in the last few months. I no longer believe in my neurotica” (Masson, 1985, p. 264). In this way, Freud articulated the fact that he was abandoning his previous theory of the neuroses. This theory had proposed that hysterical symptoms, and hysteria itself, were caused by sexual seduction in infancy. According to that earlier theory,

Freud had sought to locate the cause of hysterical symptoms in such traumatic infantile sexual experiences, of which the father was usually identified as the perpetrator (1896c). This early history was considered to be obscured by amnesia, something he later came to refer to as infantile amnesia. Such a traumatic aetiology of symptoms, of course, continues to have a prominent place in clinical circles. It is nothing different to what is referred to, in contemporary parlance, as childhood sexual abuse. This theoretical turning point does not imply that Freud no longer believed that the sexual seduction of children actually took place. Rather, it marked the beginning of a more sophisticated appreciation of his hysterical patients and the nature of their suffering.

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CHAPTER THREE The fantasm: a transformational formula

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CHAPTER THREE

The fantasm: a transformational formula

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he child is suspended between two primary temporal elements, those that we have designated as history and time. As a consequence, the question must be raised of what relation there might be between the two, and what might afford a mediation between them for the subject. Freud, in his correspondence with Fliess, put forward that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction. If fiction is the necessarily fictional account of the history, then truth maintains a relation to structure, to time. For the unconscious, it also implies that there is no distinction between truth and fantasy, which is specifically what Freud put forward in his abandonment of the seduction hypothesis. Freud further proposed that the sexual fantasy invariably seizes upon the theme of the parents. It is specifically this fantasy—or the fantasm, in the way that Lacan came to elaborate it—that will be in question here.

In his brief paper of 1909 entitled “Family Romances”, Freud describes what he refers to as one step of the liberation of the individual from the authority of his parents. Here he states that “small events in the child’s life which make him feel dissatisfied afford him provocation for beginning to criticise his parents” (1909c, p. 237). In this way Freud gives expression to a dissatisfaction pertaining to

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CHAPTER FOUR The illegitimate beginnings of the field of psychoanalysis of the child

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CHAPTER FOUR

The illegitimate beginnings of the field of psychoanalysis of the child

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rom its very outset, the field of psychoanalysis of the child was an affair of female psychoanalysts. The names of Melanie Klein and

Anna Freud are those which most usually spring to mind. Here we will also give particular prominence to the woman who might be considered to be the first analyst of children but whose history is less well known: Hermine Hug-Hellmuth.

Sigmund Freud himself designated psychoanalysis of the child as the sphere of female psychoanalysts. In the 34th of his New Introductory

Lectures on Psycho-Analysis entitled “Explanations, Applications and

Orientations”, Freud states the following: “It has automatically happened that child-analysis has become the domain of women analysts, and no doubt this will remain true” (1933a, p. 148).

What is curious here is that Freud describes this phenomenon as happening “automatically” and therefore without any prior thought or consideration, and in a repeated manner. He goes even further, proposing that this will continue to happen along the same lines. In clinical practice we might consider that actions which occur automatically are the very ones that occur symptomatically as a type of repetition compulsion. What needs to be questioned here is what it is that underwrites

 

CHAPTER FIVE The place of the parents: “the child does not come of his own accord”

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CHAPTER FIVE

The place of the parents: “the child does not come of his own accord”

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n clinical practice with children, it is common to hear a clinician say that “the child presented with” certain symptoms. But in this type of case presentation, there is a fiction that is propagated, the fiction that it is the child who presents with his symptoms. Occasionally the child does articulate, in one way or another, to the mother or father, that he does wish to speak to a third party. Sometimes an adolescent might present without the parents, but often in this situation he is again referred by someone else, a teacher or counsellor, for instance.

Usually, however, it is one of the parents, and in most cases the mother, who makes the phone call to refer the child for treatment. By saying that it is the child who presents for treatment, the place of the parents in regard to the treatment of the child is obscured in everyday clinical practice.

This predicament was well articulated, nonetheless, by Hermine

 

CHAPTER SIX The leaking tap: the symptom of the child

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CHAPTER SIX

The leaking tap: the symptom of the child

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n 1969, Jacques Lacan gave Jenny Aubry two handwritten notes in which he briefly articulated the place of the child’s symptom in relation to the parents. These were later published in French as “Deux notes sur l’enfant” (Lacan, 1986a) and later conflated in the translation into English as the singular “Note on the Child”. This “Note” opens by putting forward that “[T]he child’s symptom is found to be in a position of answering to what is symptomatic in the family structure” (1986b, p. 7). This raises a question regarding whether the child’s symptom is but a symptom of the family structure. In this case the child would have no existence in his own right, his symptom being only an effect of the family, of the family structure. However, if the symptom of the child produces some answer of his or her own to what is symptomatic in the family, then we could say that the child produces his or her own symptom. Thus we need to differentiate the position of the child who is a symptom of the family structure, from that of the child who has a symptom, in response to what is symptomatic or fails in that structure.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN The ages of the child

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The ages of the child

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reud feared that psychoanalysis would “find its last resting-place in a text-book of psychiatry” (1926e, p. 248), and it is true that psychoanalysis has found a resting place in psychiatry texts. It is not to be found, as Freud suggested, under the heading “Methods of Treatment”, but rather as one of a myriad of developmental theories. Take, for instance, the following account from a psychiatry textbook: “Current thinking about the human life cycle has been shaped by a handful of highly influential sources. The dominant work on the subject remains the developmental scheme introduced by Freud in

1915” (Kaplan & Saddock, 1981, pp. 18–19). Throughout history there has been an inexorable tendency to think of the child in developmental terms and this is precisely what is being arguing against here. In this part, in examining a number of discourses by means of which the child has been conceptualised throughout history, we will pursue our question: what is a child? In this manner, we will endeavour to elucidate how we have come to conceive of the child today.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT The upbringing of the child: between nature and culture

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CHAPTER EIGHT

The upbringing of the child: between nature and culture

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n the prevailing notions of how we should raise and educate children in contemporary society, there are unspoken—and unthought—conceptions regarding the child and childhood. In order to examine these notions we must overcome the usual prejudice of assuming that the prevailing contemporary views, or our own, are the correct ones. We will endeavour to uncover some of these conceptions and their origins which we can, in part, date to the time of the Enlightenment. We will focus our discussions on the writings of

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, specifically his 1762 book Émile, or Treatise on

Education in order to evaluate its influence and effects today.

The end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Enlightenment marked the end of an age of innocence for children, given that prior to that time they were not fully recognised as subjects. In other words, the emergence of the child as subject is a moment of fall from Paradise, the moment in which the child becomes stained by what we have referred to as original sin. This original sin of the enjoyment, or jouissance, of the mother and father, leaves its mark upon the child and introduces the child into a world of fantasy and desire.

 

CHAPTER NINE Condillac’s statue: from the sentiment of childhood to the sensuality of the child

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CHAPTER NINE

Condillac’s statue: from the sentiment of childhood to the sensuality of the child

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ousseau fell out with his Enlightenment colleagues over the question of the senses, in positing the primacy of the senses over reason. Rousseau himself puts this in the following way: “The sensual man is the man of nature; the thoughtful man is a man of opinion; it is the latter who is dangerous” (1776, p. 808, translated for this edition). Rousseau has no hesitation in placing his judgement on the side of sensuality. Burgelin comments that “Rousseau thus understands himself as man of nature, but the opposition of thought and sensuality takes us back from the adult state to that of childhood” (1969, p. CL, translated for this edition). This is true in Rousseau’s notion: it is the child who is deformed from a sensual being into a reflexive being by the ills of his education, upbringing, and society.

But is Rousseau’s child truly a sensual being? Rousseau constructs an ideal of childhood, or what has been called a sentiment of childhood.

 

CHAPTER TEN A new discourse: the child as sexual subject

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CHAPTER TEN

A new discourse: the child as sexual subject

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p to this point, we have outlined what can be described as the birth of the child as subject. To some extent this has coincided with the emergence of a modern notion of the subject that has occurred since the twilight of the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, what is striking in the elaboration of this notion, which has been described as a sentiment of the child, is that such a conception is contingent upon the expurgation of any reference to sex and death in the discourses concerning the child. The contemporary notions—or, we might say, doctrines—that underwrite the various developmental and pedagogical approaches to the child, continue to view the child in the framework of a continuous development, reminiscent of the nineteenth-century ideal of progress which continues to shape our thinking in the twentyfirst century. Thus the accidents of history, as Freud called them, are perceived as deviations from normative development and are to be corrected. This is what we have described as, literally, an ortho-paedic approach to childhood.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN From the razing of the child to the advent of the subject

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

From the razing of the child to the advent of the subject

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aud Mannoni begins her book The Child, His “Illness”, and the Others, in the original French version, in the following manner: “The psychoanalysis of children, is psychoanalysis”

(1967b, p. 7, translated for this edition). For Mannoni there is no fundamental difference between the psychoanalysis of a child and that of an adult. Similarly, Freud commented at the end of his case history of

Little Hans that strictly speaking, he learnt nothing new from that analysis, nothing that he had not already been able to discover from other patients analysed at a more advanced age. As we know, this case history arose from Freud urging his disciples to collect observations upon the sexual life of children. Freud initially posited the notion of the infantile, by these means, as something that might be found in a particular age or developmental stage, something that could be observed in the child.

 

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