Infant observation: opportunities, challenges, threats

Hollway, Wendy (2012). Infant observation: opportunities, challenges, threats. Infant Observation: International Journal of Infant Observation and its Applications, 15(1) pp. 21–32.



This article reflects on the value of the infant observation tradition from the perspective of someone originally trained in scientific psychology and recently ending a four-year period as external examiner for the Masters and Diploma course in Psychoanalytic Observation at the Tavistock clinic. My aim is to convey, from the perspective of an outsider, how I came to appreciate the core insights that I learned from infant observation through my experience of them in a research context; to convey this in such a way as to refresh the experience of its value to those insiders for whom its value may have become commonplace. I explore this through three aspects of my own learning from experience: the value of a form of knowing imbued with emotional depth; of communicating in direct, vital and emotionally redolent language and of reflecting on emotional experience, where necessary with the containment of other minds and supporting external structures. I then discuss the status of infant observation as applied psychoanalysis, suggest a model of dialogue between traditions to modify the notion of (one-way) application of psychoanalysis. I give some examples of how infant observation, occupying a liminal space between clinical psychoanalysis and various forms of practice that differ from it, provides a model for the use of psychoanalytic concepts in research. The transformed meaning of objectivity from a scientific paradigm to a psychoanalytic paradigm provides a brief example. The article concludes with a brief summary of some threats, opportunities and challenges to infant observation from the perspective of application.

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