The Infant in a Changing World
Madame Georgina Dufoix
Secrétaire d'Etat Chargée de la Famille, de la Population, et des Travailleurs Immigrés
Ministère des Affaires Sociales et de la Solidarité Nationale,
Government of France
I wish to thank you for having invited me to your Congress. Its theme is both exciting and of great interest, because the infant of today is the man or woman of tomorrow. "The Infant in a Changing World" is a beautiful title which can serve as the thread running through my discussion; I will tell you some of the associations which it evoked in me, in regard to the fact that the infant is indeed within the world; this world is a world in change; and the infant himself is a maker of change.
Your title implies that you place the infant squarely in the world. The infant is from birth on, indeed before birth, in relation to the world. The infant exists in the literal sense of the word. He can no longer be considered a simple piece of protoplasm devoid of exchange with the external world, indifferent, deaf, blind, and mute. We can no longer refer to the infant as a digestive tube, a fragile little animal, a small being still on the periphery—a kind of nursing and screaming machine. You yourself state—and that is very much the contribution of two of your disciplines, psychoanalysis and psychiatry—that man is from the beginning a social being.
The importance you attach to the mother‐ father-infant interaction, to the creative anticipations of the mother, to the early competencies of the newborn is particularly impressive. We have a major duty in increasing the common awareness of these discoveries about the relationship in utero, the awakening of the senses, the readiness of the capabilities of the newborn, the awakening of the infant to all the stimuli from the external world, such as odors, light, sounds, and the voice of the mother.
All these studies are particularly fruitful because they increase our understanding of how we adults are constructed and how we function. This approach has proven of value for therapeutic work with adults, with children, and now more and more also with infants themselves. This is of special interest to me, as Secretary for the Family, because it gives us keys of enormous importance to prevent not only handicaps or individual difficulties—psychosomatic or psychological—but also to combat great sociocultural inequalities. Your concept of the infant as a whole person, still dependent but already in search of autonomy, corresponds to the concept we have in mind— as can be seen in the measures I am promoting in France. For instance, infants must not simply be protected but must be received with open arms by those people who are in charge