Observing infants in groups: the clan revisited

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We illustrate the potential for dialogue between the study of infant sociability and psychoanalytic theories of the young child. In particular we examine Freud (1922) and Bion's (1961) proposal that the psychology of the group is the oldest human psychology, using our observations to test its empirical plausibility when describing free-form interactions between trios of babies recorded on video. We find that babies relate to more than one other at a time. This challenges the comprehensiveness of attachment theory as a description of infant sociability. We also find that babies generate context-specific meanings in group-communication. This renders unworkable a priori descriptive techniques that assume one behaviour = one meaning. We conclude that the basic unit of psychological analysis is the clan, a conclusion that has both scientific and ethico-practical repercussions for handling infants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-122
Number of pages16
JournalInfant Observation
Issue number2/3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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