Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
Comparative Psychology, Gender and Intimacies of Colonial Government
Kari Dehli

Última modificación: 2017-07-17


Feminist historians have long argued that mothering and childrearing were important sites for governing colonial populations, while mothers and children were targets for interventions into the production of colonial subjectivity. One key aspect of colonial government was therefore to bring the most intimate aspects of domestic life, such as sexuality, childbirth and childrearing, into view as sites of knowledge and regulation.

In this paper, I discuss the complex contributions of child psychologist Mary Salter Ainsworth to the latter form of government. In midst of anti-colonial unrest in Uganda Ainsworth conducted a study of mother-infant interaction in Kampala in 1954 and 1955. Through research that blended ‘naturalized’ observation, anthropological fieldwork and psychological testing Ainsworth gained remarkable and regular access to 26 mothers and their children over several months. Her observations are detailed and systematic and her analysis helped form the empirical basis of her (and John Bowlby’s) subsequent claims about the ethological and universal underpinnings of infant attachment, mother love and children’s personality development. Ainsworth’s study was published in 1967, 12 years after it was conducted, as Infancy in Uganda: Infant Care and the Growth of Love. The proposed paper is based on a close reading of that publication.

In many ways Ainsworth’s research represents scholarship wherein Eurocentric notions of rationality, modernity and individual autonomy frame ‘other’ women and children as lacking in development and culture, thus requiring regulation and improvement. More broadly, her book is an early example of comparative psychology that mobilizes frames and categories that take Euro-North American ways of life and ways of being as their implicit or explicit norm.  Yet, reading Infancy in Uganda also suggests that Ainsworth’s encounters with her research subjects were complex, to the point where she changed her questions at least some of her assumptions. As well, her detailed description of each ‘case’ suggests that mothers actively negotiated the extent and quality of their participation and sought concrete benefits for themselves and children in return for making themselves and their children available for the study.  Thus, some women actively volunteered in return for access to health clinics, medicine and milk supplements that may otherwise be beyond their reach.  Moreover, while some of the participants were quite forthcoming and detailed in their accounts of childrearing practices and family relationships, others, much to Ainsworth’s frustration, could not be persuaded to share much beyond minimal information about their lives.