Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn

Second Advisor

John Western


Baby and Child Care, Benjamin Spock, Childrearing, Experts' advice, Freud, Guilt and Aggression

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


“The Spock Paradox: Permissiveness, Control, and Dr. Spock’s Advice for a New Psychology of Parenting for Democracy in the Mid-20th Century U.S.” examines the paradoxical aspects of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s childrearing ideas. From its publication, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care in 1946 received immensely positive reactions from readers with its unbreakable sales record, next to the Bible. But, at the same time, especially in the 1960s onward, Spock’s advice was stigmatized as permissive by the conservatives and oppressive and male-dominated by feminists. Considering this, this dissertation focuses on a central paradoxical trait of Spock’s childrearing advice, his seemingly permissive approach toward control through a new psychology, which actually represented a new mode of control. It explores this paradox by paying particular attention to the question of how Spock developed his ideal of raising a proper citizen through his concept of self-control. By changing the basis for self-control, his advice supported the idea of a new form of control to be strengthened by means of more internalized and elaborate guidelines. Calling into question the existing belief that Spock’s methods of control were looser and more lenient, this study examines the patterns of transformation in his child rearing ideas from authoritative and visible controls to subtle and internal controls in the mid-twentieth century. Based on this, this dissertation argues that these paradoxical aspects in Spock’s childrearing idea might have acted as catalysts to lay the groundwork for a passage to a more self-centered moral norm in the therapeutic culture.


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