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Zaretsky, E. (1999). ‘One Large Secure, Solid Background’: Melanie Klein and the Origins of the British Welfare State. Psychoanal. Hist., 1(2):136-154.

(1999). Psychoanalysis and History, 1(2):136-154


‘One Large Secure, Solid Background’: Melanie Klein and the Origins of the British Welfare State

Eli Zaretsky

1. Introduction1

Melanie Klein is the most important figure in the history of psychoanalysis after Sigmund Freud and a major twentieth century intellectual in her own right. Yet her place in history is not widely understood. The reason is that we have not yet situated psychoanalysis historically: we lack the large social, cultural and intellectual frame that is necessary to understand a phenomenon as central to our own self-constitution as analysis, as well as a figure as influential within it as Klein.

This paper aims to historicize Klein's thought by bringing out the historical and social context in which it developed. In doing so, it also aims to make a contribution to our understanding of the Beveridge welfare state. What could Klein's arcane and technical psychoanalytic thought have to do with so massive and multicausal a phenomenon as the Beveridge welfare state? To answer this question, I must first explain three basic premises of my approach.

First, I situate psychoanalysis in the context of the historical rise of what I call ‘personal life.’ By personal life, I mean the experience, central to modernity, of having a personal identity distinct from one's place in the family and the social division of labor. In one sense, the possibility of having a ‘personal life’ is coterminous with human society, but that is not the sense I have in mind. Rather, I mean an historically specific experience of personal life, one that was sociologically grounded in the process of industrialization. Previously, the family was the primary site organizing production and reproduction. As a result, the individual's sense of identity was largely rooted in his or her place in the family. In the nineteenth century, however, the separation of the family from the workplace, which is to say the rise of industrial capitalism, gave rise to new forms of privacy and intimacy.

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