Felix Rietmann, *18

Department of History, Program in the History of Science

Seeing the Infant Audiovisual Technologies and the Mind Sciences of the Child (2018)


This dissertation explores epistemic, social, and cultural dimensions of the use of audiovisual technologies in infant psychology and psychiatry in the USA and Western Europe from the mid-twentieth century to the present. It argues that the successive introduction of cinematography, video, computational assessment methods, and digital interfaces in research and clinical practice has contributed to a fundamental change in the scientific understanding and medical treatment of young children: The focus in pediatrics, developmental psychology, and infant psychiatry has shifted from the biological and psychological characteristics of the individual infant to the temporal dynamics of infant-caregiver interaction. Observational technologies have played a pivotal role in making these dynamics analyzable for researchers, visible for practitioners, and accessible for therapists. They have made possible the rise of infant mental health as a distinct field of medical expertise and are constitutive of its observational, diagnostic, and therapeutic practices.

Chapter One examines how, in the USA in the post-World-War-II period, psychoanalytic practitioners used ethnographic and documentary film to draw public and professional attention to the emotional life of infants, making infancy a site for observational research and mental health intervention. Chapter Two looks at the revival of cinematographic microanalysis in infant research in the 1960s and 70s, exploring how it contributed to the localization of pathology in infancy on an interactional level. Chapter Three argues that the introduction of video technology into research and clinical practice in the 1970s and 80s enabled infant mental health to consolidate as a field. Chapter Four explores how, in the 1990s and 2000s, digital and computational technologies contributed to the international spread and domestication of the interactive vision of infancy.

The study draws on a rich array of archival and primary source material, including research films and videos, personal manuscripts and correspondences, scientific and medical publications, parenting advice literature, architectural layouts, oral history interviews, and participant observations. Through its focus on the role of audiovisual technologies in infant psychology and psychiatry, it contributes to the history of science and medicine, while also speaking to scholarship in film and media studies and the history of childhood.

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