Centre for Social Work Practice

From attachment to recognition for children in care

Posted October 28, 2017

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Mark Smith, Claire Cameron and Daniela Reimer – October 2017

Abstract

Attachment theory has, over the last half century, offered important insights into the nature of early experience and into human relationships more generally. These lessons have been influential in improving child-care attitudes and provision. While acknowledging such advances, our argument in this article is that the dominance accorded attachement theory in policy and professional discourse has reached a point where understandings of human relationships have become totalised within an attachment paradigm; it has become the ‘master theory’ to which other ways of conceiving of child-care and of relationships more generally become subordinated. Yet many of the assumptions underlying attachment theory and the claims made for it are contestable. We trace the growing prominance of attachment theory in child-care, proceeding to critique the provenance of many claims made for it and the implications of these for practice. At the heart of the critique is a concern that an over-reliance on attachement contributes to the biologisation of how we bring up children to the detriment of socio-cultural perspectives. We go on to offer one suggestive alternative way through which we might conceive of child-care relationships, drawing on Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition.

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