First contact : an exploratory study of the role of psychoanalytic infant observation in South African community psychology interventions
Thesis (DPhil (Psychology))—University of Stellenbosch, 2007.
Very little is known about the experiences of black children living in poverty in South Africa. This compromises the delivery of appropriate psychological services. This dissertation considers the contribution that psychoanalytic infant observation might make to a needs assessment process within the community psychology paradigm. To date, infant observation has predominantly been used for training psychotherapists and other professionals in Western contexts. The goal of the present project was to conduct a "classical" observation of a mother and child in a lowincome South African community in the first year of the infant's life, in order to ascertain what kind of description it would yield. The question was whether such a description is useful for the needs assessment process, and ultimately, whether infant observation is a viable tool for psychologists working in low-income communities in South Africa. The study was set in a poor, semi-rural, so-called coloured township in the Western Cape. The data were analysed using an intersubjective psychoanalytic lens and a social constructionist grounded theory approach. In overview, the findings relate to two main areas, namely a) the nature and content of the resultant description, and b) the effect of the process. The analysis of the case material showed that the observation produced an extremely detailed account of the experience of poverty and oppression, involving the way in which it influences all relationships, including the one between mother and child. The knowledge gained offers clear pointers to the kind of intervention that would benefit the particular infant in the present study, and potentially other infants in vulnerable social contexts as well. One surprising outcome was the extensive way in which the observation functioned therapeutically for the whole family. It is therefore concluded that infant observation can provide a very rich contribution to low-income communities on a number of levels, if it is able to make both the theoretical and practical adjustments needed. It is thus argued that it is necessary to look at infant observation in more critical ways, both in terms of how it has traditionally been conceptualised and how it is and can be applied across all contexts.