Attachment Theory and Psychohistory: Overview

By Kurth, Winfried | The Journal of Psychohistory, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Attachment Theory and Psychohistory: Overview


Kurth, Winfried, The Journal of Psychohistory


INTRODUCTION

What circumstances might motivate us today to revive our interest in attachment theory and psychohistorical research? Many people in the industrialized countries experience feelings of disorientation in a world which has become increasingly complex and confusing.1 Traditional role allocations are being called into question; curricula vitae are becoming more flexible, jobs more insecure. Future-oriented programmatic schemes, to which the intellectuals in particular attached high expectations for the creation of a "better world" (Enlightenment; socialism), are assumed to have been discredited by their failures; the post-modern philosophers proclaim the end of these "Grand Narratives".2 Insecurity is thus a central problem for post-modern man.3 Attachment theory, which places the term "secure attachment" in the center of its theoretical construct4, offers sort of a counter-model: Security is possible.5 Psychohistory goes still further: By uncovering the motivations forming the basis of historical processes and political decisions and by searching for patterns and rules in these motivations, it aims at establishing a kind of order in the confusing complexity of history and to explain cruelties of wars and genocides. Drawing upon this, some authors envision the possibility that with such findings one day one might be able to "therapeutically intervene".6 Lloyd deMause with his "psychogenic theory of history"7 has submitted an extremely farreaching model; he explicitly postulates the creation of a new mankind on the condition that the treatment of children be fundamentally improved.8 Naturally, in this sort of promise to cure all ills, dormant dangers lie. It would, however, hardly be rationally justifiable to reject a theoretical model only because it contradicts the spirit of the times or because others (Rousseau, Marx, Lenin...) failed with their visions of a "new mankind". Will the psychogenic historical theory with its ascending progression of "childrearing modes", which we will still describe further below, indeed be seen as the last "grand narrative"? Although often violently criticized9, deMause's theoretical model has not been disproved so far. The disputed future-oriented implications not withstanding, it offers a variety of specific inspiring aspects which make it interesting to pedagogues, historians, political scientists and philosophers.10

For both disciplines of research, attachment theory and psychohistory, early childhood is of crucial importance. It could therefore be seen as a shortcoming that up to now they have hardly taken any notice of one another.11 This can be most easily observed in respect to psychohistorical research, which even today often still finds itself in a marginalized academic niche and is forced to fight for recognition in both its foster disciplines - psychology and historical science. It is thus comprehensible (although perhaps sometimes counterproductive) if proponents of attachment theory, whose main concern is to secure their professional, socio-scientific reputation, would prefer rather not to get involved with such "odd fellows". On the contrary, however, attachment theory achieved large-scale scientific recognition and institutionalization during the last decades12, and psychohistory would, by building links to it, be in a better position to shore up and secure some of its own theoretical propositions and convey them to its neighboring disciplines.

The present article is an attempt to make visible some of the cross connections between both research disciplines. For this purpose, the foundations of attachment theory and psychohistory, for the latter with special emphasis on the psychogenic historical theory of deMause, will be briefly presented (sections 2 and 3). The presentation here must remain somewhat sketchy because of the space limitations ; for more detailed explanations the reader should refer to the literature mentioned in the respective sections. …

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