Ralph Samuel Memorial Lecture 2015

This year lecture at the Ralph Samuel History Centre is on politics of motherhood in 20th Century Britain.

Thursday 10 December 2015 

6.30 pm (wine reception to follow)

Free of charge, no booking required, everyone welcome. 

Clore Lecture Theatre, Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck, University of London, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

Abstract: Questions of human nature were vital to the reconstruction of liberal nations in the aftermath of world war.   Stable democratic institutions – bulwarks against totalitarian states of mind and government – depended on understanding how mental life begins, where violence comes from, what is the basis of ethical belief?  Psychoanalysis, a new social science, listening to patients’ fears and anxieties made the super-ego – the inner voice of conscience – the conduit between inner and outside worlds.   Freud’s severe paternal super-ego was challenged in the 1920s.  Child analysts uncovered unconscious fantasies of maternal body and feeling in the first weeks of life.  Feminists, post-suffrage, dug deep into the psyche too.  Demands for both equality and recognition of mothers as independent citizens unsettled liberal and social democratic blueprints for the future.  Britain’s welfare state introduced by Clement Attlee’s two Labour Governments (1945-51), made family life its ethical foundation – meeting an exhausted people’s longing for private life again.

For more information email k.pettit@uel.ac.uk


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