Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mathew Thomson's "Lost Freedom"

Mathew Thomson is a Reader in History at the University of Warwick. He is the author of The Problem of Mental Deficiency and Psychological Subjects.

Thomson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Lost Freedom takes us to the Britain of the early 1970s and an intense political debate about the need for playgroups and pre-school child care. The book argues this was a sign of a significant loss of faith in a central plank of Britain’s post-war social settlement. Studies of this settlement have centred on the creation of a welfare state, but the other foundation stone was a faith in family and home. At the heart of this other settlement were psychological theories about the importance of attachment between mother and young child, but also a philosophy of childcare that emphasised the importance of love, freedom, and the scope to play and explore within this setting that was necessary for healthy development. By the start of the 1970s, confidence that all families could provide such conditions was crumbling. On the one hand this was challenged ideologically by feminism, on the other the high expectations of home and family were found wanting in the face of post-war housing problems and the spectre of life in high-rise flats, the breakdown of communities and traditional networks of support, and the anxieties surrounding post-war immigration. On the political left, a figure such as Clare Short, mentioned on page 99, highlighted the inadequacy of relying on voluntary playgroups, which invariably catered to the middle class, and looked instead to target early years care at the most needy. On the right, the other figure mentioned on this page, the fascinating Keith Joseph, an important influence on the rising star Margaret Thatcher, pointed to the inadequacy of care and deprivation among many families. Notoriously, he would speculate on the targeting of birth control as one way to address this problem. If the political mainstream was now questioning the viability of the family on its own to provide the necessary environment for child development, for a brief period radicals would go much further, and this would capture a broader, generational feeling that something had been lost amidst the security of the post-war settlement. The freedom to play would be crucial in the solutions that emerged, whether in efforts to challenge the city landscape or to transform education. This is why the institution of the playgroup on page 99 is such a significant marker of the concerns of the book as a whole.
Learn more about Lost Freedom at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue