A sticky fixation: adherence to attachment theory in early childhood infant practices

  • Kathrine Whitty

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Raising babies is difficult and controversial emotional labour. In postcolonial Australia, working with small groups of ‘other people’s’ babies is, I argue, fraught with an ambivalence that brings uneasily articulated histories of culture, economics, feminist politics and policy to bear on its human and more than human participants. As an increasingly regulated sector, early childhood education and care is by turns, fixed and made flexible through popular child rearing discourses and policy imperatives aimed at professionalising the practitioners of this affective vocation. Contemporary group care and education of infants by qualified practitioners provokes emotive debate, implicating modernity’s private and public projects of family care (mothering) and education (teaching). The intractable false binary of education ‘versus’ care persists nevertheless, despite, and perhaps because of, decades of infant practices’ discursive deconstruction and re-instantiation as ‘merely’ female caring work. My thesis seeks to reimagine what I argue is a contemporary fixation within early childhood education and care (ECEC) infant practices that follow John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s powerful theorising of human attachment. My method combines a Foucauldian genealogy of attachment theory’s uptake and dispersal throughout Australia with ethnographic fieldwork in a local infant practice setting. A generative combination of the methods of genealogy and ethnography aim to unstick attachment theory’s hold and material effects in the present, opening up both material and imagined post-humanist potential of infant practices. Paying attention to what happens ‘on the floor’ of infant practice settings in excess of the Western child development doxa, can inform a reconceptualization of human and non-human attachment(s). I reconfigure the infant practitioner in light of findings and argue that affect and the more-than-human other are also matters of concern alongside the human matters of reified fact that have constituted attachment practices with infants in group settings. The thesis culminates in a claim that the professional affective work of infant practitioners could be refigured beyond the liberal feminist project of emancipation and equality (for parents and practitioners) toward a more post-humanist sensibility that respects past inheritances in the present alongside new generative alliances within our more than human material world(s).
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPam Christie (Supervisor), Affrica Taylor (Supervisor) & Steve Shann (Supervisor)

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