Bowlby, John


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John Bowlby was the acknowledged father of attachment theory, developing the theory over many years, while working at the Tavistock Clinic, London. His ideas have their main origin in concepts of psychoanalytic theory, for which the Tavistock Clinic is internationally renowned. Bowlby's thinking was much influenced by the theoretical context of the Clinic, which was a very lively centre of development for psychoanalytic theory after the end of the Second Wolrd War.
Bowlby began his work on the theory in the 1940s. This was a time of quite exceptional creativity in psychodynamic theorising, and indeed in psychology more generally. Bowlby read widely, across many scientific disciplines, and it was in large part this eclecticism that made his theory so rich and productive. Bowlby's work was influenced by the renewed interest in the effects of 'mothering' following the end of the Second World War, during which many nurseries had been set up to allow mothers to contribute to the war effort. The return of these mothers to the home meant that questions were raised about the significance of the biological mother.
In 1944, he published a paper 'Forty-four juvenile thieves: their characters and home life' in which he pointed to impoverished or missing early mothering experiences as causes of 'juvenile delinquency'. The World Health Organization commissioned him to follow up this work and in 1951 he published Maternal Care and Child Health (later published in revised version as Child Care and the Growth of Love) which developed his theory of the significance of early mothering.
Between 1969 and 1977 he published the classic set of three volumes Attachment and Loss which spelt out in great detail his theory of the processes by which children develop attachments to significant others, and how these attachments exert powerful influences on later relationships.