From attachment to recognition for children in care

Mark Smith, Claire Cameron, Daniela Reimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
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Attachment theory has, over the last half century, offered important insights into the nature of early experience and into human relationships more generally. These lessons have been influential in improving child care attitudes and provision. While acknowledging such advances, our argument in this article is that the dominance accorded attachment theory in policy and professional discourse has reached a point where understandings of human relationships have become totalised within an attachment paradigm; it has become the ‘master theory’ to which other ways of conceiving of child care and of relationships more generally, become subordinated. Yet, many of the assumptions underlying attachment theory, and the claims made for it, are contestable. We trace the growing prominence of attachment theory in child care, proceeding to critique the provenance of many claims made for it and the implications of these for practice. At the heart of the critique is a concern that an over-reliance on attachment contributes to the biologisation of how we bring up children to the detriment of socio-cultural perspectives. We go on to offer one suggestive alternative way through which we might conceive of child care relationships, drawing on Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1606-1623
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2017


  • attachment
  • Bowlby
  • children in care
  • Honneth
  • recognition
  • relationships


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