The British object relations theorists: Balint, Winnicott, Fairbairn, Guntrip

J D Sutherland
Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 1980, 28 (4): 829-60
What I believe to be the essential contribution of this group of analysts may be summarized as follows. The role of object relations has always been a prominent theme in analytic thought and has become much more so in recent years. Instead of grafting the implications of relations onto a theory that started from a different standpoint, what the British group has done is to show that the development of the person has to be conceived as the progressive differentiation of a structure from a unitary matrix that itself interacts at a holistic personal level from the start. While Balint noted clinical data that required this step, he did not put forward a theoretical scheme. Winnicott, who suggested more specifically how the infant's relationships at the earliest stages patterned its whole subsequent personal development, also refrained from following through the theoretical logic of his observations. Fairbairn was the first analyst to expose the questionable logic of a developmental scheme based upon the energic concepts that Freud retained as his theoretical base. Fairbairn's scheme, however, did not account adequately for the earliest developmental stages as these were inferred from the study of regressive states. Guntrip, making full use of Winnicott's views, has sought to make good this limitation. The British group does not presume to have made anything like an adequate conceptual map for the development of the psyche. The theoretical problems are far too complex for that. They have, however, shown a fruitful direction and have influenced many areas of contemporary psychoanalytic thought.


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