Event Date: 29 April 2013
Birkbeck Main Building
Birkbeck, University of London
London WC1E 7HX
The Department of Psychosocial Studies presents:
Professor Lynne Segal (Birkbeck) – Thatcher’s Legacy: Thinking Psychosocially, across the Decades
With a response from Professor Stephen Frosh (Birkbeck)
Always historicize!’ In this talk I address some of the big changes we have seen over the last six decades and more, as we moved from the creation of the welfare state post-1945, through feminism, to the persisting legacy of Thatcherism today.
The political background to cultural understandings of ‘anxiety’ that were disseminated post-1945 encouraged the post-war labour government to spread the message that ‘anxiety’ was best seen as a social condition, whose roots lie largely in poverty and economic insecurities. The reforms and nationalizations inaugurating the British welfare system were presented as necessary for the construction of a healthy society, premised on a belief in the role of the state in the elimination of personal misery: ‘many of the maladjustments and neuroses of modern society’, Aneurin Bevan explained when Minister of Health, arose directly from poverty and insecurity. The impact of feminism in the 1970s critiqued some of these welfare reforms, seeking new ways of addressing gender regimes, work, sexuality and personal life, while challenging ‘masculine’ codings of ‘autonomy’ to affirm the dependence of every one of us on labours of love, commitment and care.
Times change. The lasting impact of Margaret Thatcher, riding the high tide of corporate capital’s determination to increase profits by rolling back the popular gains of the postwar settlement, was precisely to overturn both the old welfare consensus and the utopian dreams of feminism. Supported at every turn by much of the British media, she successfully associated any notion of state or pubic control with harmful constraint on individual freedom; notions of the private and privatized with personal happiness; the need for ‘choice’ with the ‘inevitability’ of winners and losers. This consensus, established by appeals to some of the most atavistic desires of resentment, anger and subservience to power, holds such sway today that few dare challenge it. Nevertheless, we are seeing a moment of increased contestation, making it a good time to reflect upon where psychosocial perspectives might help us understand the stories we hear of the past and how they are inevitably complicated by the effects of fantasy and unconscious motivation, while also exposing the grip of the ideological fantasies of the moment, and perhaps even how best to contest them.
Read Lynne Segals blog post on Margaret Thatcher – I don’t feel like dancin’
Introduction by Dr Lisa Baraitser (Birkbeck).
Response by Professor Stephen Frosh (Birkbeck):