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    The empty frame: infancy, mental illness and the postwar visual imagination 1942-72

    Joice, Katie Helen (2023) The empty frame: infancy, mental illness and the postwar visual imagination 1942-72. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    In the decades after 1945, the psychic life of the infant moved to the centre of debates about the causes of mental illness. The experiences of two world wars, and the ideological upheavals that accompanied them, created a sharper awareness of children's vulnerability, and of the malleability of human psychology. Racial and hereditary models of mind were eclipsed by psychoanalytic and interactionist theories of early trauma. These theories emphasised the impressionability of the infant mind, the long-term damage caused by maternal separation, and the formative effects of routine mothering behaviour. This thesis explores the visual methodologies that were used to represent and interpret the 'black box' of preverbal experience in the US and Britain, between the 1940s and early 1970s. My protagonists – anthropologists, psychoanalysts and psychologists who doubled as film directors and toy-makers – had one aim in common: to create a visual language for interpreting infant experience which could replace discursive speech. Applying the methodologies of cultural history and visual studies to research in the psychological sciences, I argue that aesthetic perception and creative imagination were constitutive aspects of clinical practice in the new fields of infant psychiatry and child psychotherapy. My analysis of this epistemic shift reveals the new model of mind which underpinned these influential observational studies. The mind of the baby was now reconceived as an empty frame: a vacant genetic structure waiting to be filled by content from the environment. Postwar researchers in turn used material framing devices, specifically the film camera and sand-tray, to explore problems of desolation, affectlessness and psychic disorganisation. The substance of my discussion – which brings to light a number of significant but neglected films, images, and archives – and the interpretive paradigm which I advance, provide a new and expanded vision of postwar research in the human sciences.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2023 12:21
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 16:06


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