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Eliana Montuori
Juan Carlos Garelli
(Based on Inge Bretherton's article The Roots and Growing Points of Attachment Theory. In: Atachment Across the Life Cycle. London: Routledge)

John Bowlby was born in 1907. He started his intellectual career at the university of Cambridge where he read medicine, upon the advice of his surgeon father.. In his third year of study, John Bowlby became drawn to what would later be known as developmental psychology, and he temporarily gave up plans for a medical career.

After graduation he pursued his new-found interest through volunteer at two progressive schools, the second a small analytically-oriented residential institution that served about 24 maladjusted children, aged 4-18 years. Bowlby is modest about his actual work at the school: "I don't think I would like to describe what I did -I did my best". Two children there had an enormous impact on him. One was a very isolated, remote, and affectionless teenager with no experience of a stable mother figure. This child had been expelled from his previous school for stealing. The second child was an anxious boy of 7 or 8 who trailed Bowlby around, and was known as his shadow. An additional major influence on Bowlby's development was John Alford, one of the other volunteer staff at the school. It was with him that Bowlby spent many hours discussing the effect of early experience, or lack of it, upon character development.

By the time Bowlby's volunteer service came to an end, John Alford had successfully persuaded him to resume his medical studies in order to pursue training in child psychiatry and psychotherapy so that he might further pursue his ideas about family influences upon children's development. Bowlby had accepted Alford's advice reluctantly because he did not look forward to the medical training which was required as the passport to psychiatry. A saving grace was his immediate acceptance into the British Psychoanalytic Society as a student-candidate. His analyst there was Joan Rivière who was a friend of and much influenced by Melanie Klein.

Interestingly, training in psychiatry and psychoanalysis provided Bowlby with a reasonably tolerant environment in which to develop his own ideas, but the direct impact on his thinking was relatively small. Much more influential than the analysts and psychiatrists who had been his teachers  were two social workers whom he encountered during his stint as a fellow at the London Child Guidance Clinic upon completion of his training: Christoph Heinecke and James Robertson. These two persons shared his ideas about the importance for healthy development of a child's early family experience.

Throughout this period, Bowlby felt very strongly that psychoanalysis was putting far too much emphasis on the child's fantasy world and far too little on actual events. He expressed this view in an interesting paper (The Influence of Early Environment in the development of neurosis and neurotic character; 1940; Int. Journal of Psychoanal., XXI, 1-25) which already contains many of the ideas which were later to become central to attachment theory. In emphasizing the influence of early family environment on the development of neurosis, he claims that "psychoanalysts like the nurseryman should study intensively, rigorously, and at first hand, the nature of the organism, the properties of the soil and the interaction of the two". Bowlby dwells on the adverse effects of early separation, advising mothers to visit their young children in hospitals.

Following his own injunction for more rigorous studies, Bowlby used case-notes from his work at the child guidance clinic to prepare the classic paper on Forty-Four Juvenile Thieves, their characters and home lives (published in 1944). A significant minority of the children turned out to have affectionless characters, a phenomenon Bowlby linked to their histories of maternal deprivation and separation.

Upon returning from army service in 1945, Bowlby became head of the Children's Department at the Tavistock Clinic. In order to highlight the importance of the parent-child relationship, he promptly renamed it The Department for Children and Parents. Unlike most psychoanalysts of his time - and of ours- Bowlby was deeply interested in finding out the actual patterns of family interaction involved in both healthy and pathological development. Directing this department entailed running a clinic, undertaking training and doing research. To Bowlby's disappointment, much of the clinical work on the department was done by people with a Kleinian orientation, who regarded his emphasis on actual family interaction patterns as totally irrelevant. Because of this approach rift, Bowlby had to found his own research unit because he could not use the department's clinical cases for the research he was after.

In 1948, After obtaining his first research funds, Bowlby hired James Robertson to do observations of young children who were hospitalized, institutionalized or otherwise separated from their parents. It is well-known that Bowlby focused the efforts of his research team on a well-circumscript area: mother-child separation, because separation is a clear-cut event that either happens or does not.

After two years of collecting data in hospitals, Robertson could not continue as an uninvolved scientist. He felt compelled to do something for the children he had been observing, and he made the deeply moving film A two-year-old goes to hospital (Robertson and Bowlby 1952, Robertson 1953). In collaboration with Bowlby, the filming was carefully planned to ensure that no one could later be able to claim that it was biased. Bowlby and Robertson decided to use time-sampling, documented by the clock which was always in the picture, to prove that the film segments were not specially selected. Not only did this film play a crucial role in the development of Attachment Theory but it also helped improve the fate of children in hospitals in Britain and many other parts of the world.

In light of the research on separation then going on at the Tavistock Centre, he received and accepted a request of the WHO to write a report on the fate of homeless children in post-war Europe. The World Health Organization subsequently published it in 1951 under the title of Maternal Care and Mental Health.

The task of writing the WHO report made Bowlby realize that the material he was gathering cried out for a theory that could explain the profound effects of separation and deprivation experiences on young children. At this point Bowlby was fortunate to meet Robert Hinde, under whose generous and stern guidance he set about trying to master the principles of ethology in the hope that they might help him gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the child's tie to the mother. In 1954 Robert Hinde began to attend regular seminars at the Tavistock Centre and later drew Bowlby's attention to Harlow's work with rhesus monkeys. The influence was not unidirectional, however. The contact with Bowlby was instrumental in Hinde's decisions to mother-infant interaction and separation in rhesus monkeys that were reared in social groups.

Bowlby's first formal statement of Attachment Theory, drawing heavily on ethological concepts, was presented in London in three now classic papers read to the British Psychoanalytic Society. The first, The Nature of the Child's Tie to his Mother was presented in 1957 where he reviews the current psychoanalytic explanations for the child's libidinal tie to the mother (in short, the theories of secondary drive, primary object sucking, primary object clinging, and primary return to womb craving). This paper raised quite a storm at the Psychoanalytic Society. Even Bowlby's own analyst, Joan Rivière protested and Donald Winnicot wrote to thank her: "It was certainly a difficult paper to appreciate without giving away everything that has been fought for by Freud". Anna Freud, who missed the meeting but read the paper, wrote: "Dr Bowlby is too valuable a person to get lost to psychoanalysis".

The next paper in the series Separation Anxiety was presented in 1959. In this paper, Bowlby pointed out that traditional theory fails to explain both the intense attachment to mother figure and young children's dramatic responses to separation. Robertson and Bowlby had identified three phases of separation response:

1. Protest (related to separation anxiety)

2. Despair (related to grief and mourning), and

3. Detachment or denial (related to defence).

All of which proved Bowlby's crucial point: separation anxiety is experienced when attachment behaviour is activated and cannot be terminated unless reunion is restored.

Unlike other analysts, Bowlby advanced the view that excessive separation anxiety is usually caused by adverse family experiences, such as repeated threats of abandonment or rejections by parents, or to parent's or siblings' illnesses or death for which the child feels responsible.

In the third major theoretical paper. Grief and Mourning in infancy and early childhood, read to the Psychoanalytic Society in 1959 (published in 1960), Bowlby questioned the then prevailing view that infantile narcissism is an obstacle to the experience of grief upon loss of a love object. He disputed Anna Freud's contention that infants cannot mourn, because of insufficient ego development, and hence experience nothing more than brief bouts of separation anxiety provided a satisfactory substitute is available. He also questioned Melanie Klein's claim that loss of the breast at weaning is the greatest loss in infancy. Instead, he advanced the view that grief and mourning appear whenever attachment behaviours are activated but the mother continues to be unavailable.

As with the first paper, many members of the British Psychoanalytic Society voiced strong disagreement. Donald Winnicot wrote to Anna Freud: "I can't quite make out why it is that Bowlby's papers are building up in me a kind of revulsion although in fact he has been scrupulously fair to me in my writings". Because he was undermining the very bases of the psychologism in psychoanalysis.

Contemporary corruption of Bowlby's views

This rejection was not to last too long, however. Just until Bowlby's death in 1990. After which a movement, known as "Post-Bowlbian" or "Neo-Bowlbian" spread in the world starting from the works of Mary Main, Phil Shaver, Kim Bartholomew, Everett Waters, Alan Sroufe, Inge Bretherton. Jay Belsky, Pat Crittenden and all those American scholars who had shown to share Bowlby's revolutionary methodology and now blatantly corrupt it.  Together with the well-known decadence in American Universities, American scholars are currently almost exclusively working on instruments, such as questionnaires, interviews with adults; they have given up direct observation of children, and most important they have given up one of the most important tenets of Attachment Theory: that of replacing introspection by objective observation. As things stand right now, psychology as enhanced by Bowlby has backtracked to Freudian times, even to Pre-Freudian times.

In that respect, Inge Bretherton's paper, The Roots and Growing Points of Attachment Theory. In: Atachment Across the Life Cycle. London: Routledge) is quite telling. Let me reproduce his final remarks, which unmistakably show the backtracking to psychoanalysis' psychologism vs. Bowlby's enviromentalism.

She writes: "In 1980 Bowlby published a paper about attachment theory entitled, tongue in cheek, "By Ethology out of Psychoanalysis: an experiment in interbreeeding". The time has come when the psychoanlytical origins of attachment theory are coming into sharper focus. Thus attachment theory can now more clearly be seen as a theory of interpersonal relationships in the lineage of object relations theory*, incorporating much of ethology**. but also shedding new light on and reworking from a new and more rigorous perspective the issues in which Melanie Klein, Douglas Fairnbairn, and Donald Winnicott had also been wrestling***.

*Any grade school child can see the contradiction between personal relationships and object relations theory. Postmodernists with their acceptance of contradiction don't care. Pity that once you accept contradiction all possibility of growth of knowledge is arrested.

**Much of ethology? It sounds as tough she was stating: we are going to draw on ethology as far as we find it suitable, and do away with those parts of ethology that contradict our assertions.

***As you have surely read above, the British analysts found Bowlby's assertions outrageous, yes, outrageous is the word, since what they profess is mere faith to a cult. Anyway, going on with the contradictions issue, they have absolutely no problem, season in, seaon out, rejecting and accepting Klein's, Bion's, Meltzer's, Fairbairn's, and Winnicott's propositions. We will soon hear they have discovered Jacques Lacan, that intellectual bufoon is amenable to their approach.