John Bowlby and Attachment Theory

John Bowlby and Attachment Theory

John Bowlby and Attachment Theory

John Bowlby and Attachment Theory


Attachment Theory is one of the most important theoretical developments in psychoanalysis to have emerged in the past half-century. It combines the rigorous scientific empiricism of ethology with the subjective insights of psychoanalysis, and has had an enormous impact in the fields of child development, social work, psychology, and psychiatry.

This is the first known book to appear which brings together John Bowlby and post-Bowlbian research and shows how the findings of Attachment Theory can inform the practice of psychotherapy. It also provides fascinating insights into the history of the psychoanalytic movement and looks at the ways in which Attachment Theory can help in the understanding of society and its problems.


When people start writing they think they’ve got to write something definitive . . . I think that is fatal. The mood to write in is ‘This is quite an interesting story I’ve got to tell. I hope someone will be interested. Anyway it’s the best I can do for the present.’ If one adopts that line one gets over it and does it.

(Bowlby in Hunter 1991)

This book has four main aims. The first, and simplest, is to present John Bowlby’s story of attachment - and we shall hear much about stories in the course of the book - in a condensed and coherent way. Bowlby was a lucid and prolific exponent of his own views, but the very comprehensiveness of his work, described by one critic as having a ‘Victorian monumentality about it’ (Rycroft 1985), can be daunting. Despite the clarity of his thought and the charm and epigrammatic flair of his literary style, the 1,500 pages of the Attachment and Loss trilogy (Bowlby, 1969b, 1973a, 1980), covering as they do every aspect of the subject in immense detail, are hard going for the fainthearted reader. His later works, The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (Bowlby 1979) and A Secure Base (Bowlby 1988), are more accessible, but as collections of essays they do not necessarily pull all his theories together into a whole. So there is a need for a survey of Bowlby’s work, and also - here is a second objective - given that it is well over half a century since he published his first papers, a need to take an historical perspective on the evolution of his ideas.

The past thirty years have seen a second, and more recently a third, generation of researchers stimulated by Bowlby’s seminal ideas first published in the 1960s.

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