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Urwin, C. (1991). The Self in Early Childhood, by Joel Ryce-Menuhin, Free Association Books, 1988, xii + 273 pages, hb £27.50, pb £9.95. Free Associations, 2(1):114-125.

(1991). Free Associations, 2(1):114-125

The Self in Early Childhood, by Joel Ryce-Menuhin, Free Association Books, 1988, xii + 273 pages, hb £27.50, pb £9.95

Review by:
Cathy Urwin

For a generation long familiar with the emphasis on individual freedom and self-expression central to many liberation movements, political and social events of the 1980s may have shattered many illusions. Released in 1980, Joan Armatrading's title song ‘Me Myself I’ heralded the spirit of the age: ‘I wanna be by myself, I came into this world alone … It's not that I love myself, I just don't want company, Except me myself I.’ Whether to find it, express it, assert it or lose it, the ‘self’ was central to the problem of the personal as political, as one aspect of the broader question of the place of the individual within any leftist or liberal politics. Is to talk of ‘the self’ simply to let in the bourgeois individual in disguise? When does self-assertion shade off into selfishness? When does the need to be private become the demand for privatization?

These questions are as pressing now as they ever were, making the recent publication of a number of psychological and therapeutic accounts of the self particularly interesting. However, there are many problems in conceptualizing the nature and development of the self, the most obvious being the question of definition. In his book The Self in Early Childhood, Ryce-Menuhin points out that even the etymologies of most words standing for the self are obscure. In Anglo-Saxon the root is Selba, a compound of se meaning away, separated from or by itself, and bho which refers to a cohesive totality, as in ‘siblings’ or individuals related by blood.

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