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Session Overview
Oral Presentation XVI: "From distance to closeness: the evolution of „infant mental hygiene“ in Switzerland (1930s-1960s")
Tuesday, 22/Nov/2022:
4:45pm - 5:00pm

Presenting Author: Giacomo Müller

Location: Auditorium Olivier

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From distance to closeness: the evolution of „infant mental hygiene“ in Switzerland (1930s-1960s)

Michel Christian1,2, Giacomo Müller1

1Fachscule Ost St Gall; 2Université de Genève

„Mental hygiene“ was an influential current in Switzerland during the first half of the 20th century. It claimed to act in the wake of the strong public hygiene current that grew increasingly stronger during the 19th century, in order to prevent “mental illnesses” the same way public hygiene wanted to prevent physical illnesses. Like sanitary hygiene, mental hygiene addressed all aspects and all ages of life and there existed also an “infant mental hygiene” focusing almost entirely on how the infants should be cared (by their mothers) to prevent future mental illness.

This presentation will deal with the evolution of the infant mental hygiene discourses in Switzerland from its beginnings in the 1930s until the 1960s when the infant psychiatry became dominant. It forms part of a larger SNF Project on the “infant well being in Switzerland” in the 20th century (“Das Säuglingswohl in der Schweiz. Eine historisch vergleichende Diskursanalyse über Gefährdungen im ersten Lebensjahr”). Using discourse analysis as a methodological tool, this research project aimed at better understanding the different configurations in which knowledge about infant well being was produced, including debates and disputes.

One main challenge infant mental hygiene had to face was the emergence of a new discourse about mother-child relation resting on studies by Spitz and Bowlby on “hospitalism” and “mother care deprivation” which both reassessed the importance of interactions and closeness in child development. In the 1930s, infant mental hygiene basically prescribed that the infant be fed regularly and left alone with a minimum of interactions. This presentation will examine how the mental hygiene discourses faced the reassessment of closeness by new psychological theories.

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