Environmentality: Motherhood, Development, and Psychology, 1930–1990 [Book Review]

NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 29 (1):77-112 (2021)
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Abstract

This article shows how environmental and ambient constructions were used to legitimate traditional gender roles in twentieth-century Europe and the United States. It demonstrates the normative and reactionary character of influential psychological and psychoanalytic theories of childhood and personality development, which instructed women to create, even embody social and emotional environments. This body of thought spanned diverse psychoanalytic schools and extended across generations of psychological experts. They put forth a notion of feminine “environmentality” postulating a woman’s disposition to create, even personify an environment that facilitated normal child development as well as a man’s professional success—and, ultimately, sustained the social order. This construction of women as essentially environmental beings bound them to matrimony and full-time, at-home motherhood, fixing their lives in space and time. It provided a powerful weapon against alternative life-styles and feminist critiques, suggesting that leading conceptions of development, well-being, and identity were not just androcentric, but indeed anti-feminist.

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