Mr Justice Mostyn vs. vague, rhetorical applications of theory

A court case (GM v Carmarthenshire County Council [2018] EWFC 36) has ruled that a social worker’s “generalised statements, or tropes” based on attachment theory are not admissible evidence.

The full judgement by Mr Justice Mostyn has interesting thoughts on the valid application of theory and balance between theory and observation.

“… the local authority’s evidence in opposition to the mother’s application was contained in an extremely long, 44-page, witness statement made by the social worker […]. This witness statement was very long on rhetoric and generalised criticism but very short indeed on any concrete examples of where and how the mother’s parenting had been deficient. Indeed, it was very hard to pin down within the swathes of text what exactly was being said against the mother. […] [The social worker] was asked to identify her best example of the mother failing to meet L’s emotional needs. Her response was that until prompted by the local authority mother had not spent sufficient one-to-one time with L and had failed on one occasion to take him out for an ice cream. […] A further criticism in this vein was that the mother had failed to arrange for L’s hair to be cut in the way that he liked.”

There is also a detailed section on attachment theory:

“… the theory is only a theory. It might be regarded as a statement of the obvious, namely that primate infants develop attachments to familiar caregivers as a result of evolutionary pressures, since attachment behaviour would facilitate the infant’s survival in the face of dangers such as predation or exposure to the elements. Certainly, this was the view of John Bowlby, the psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst and originator of the theory in the 1960s. It might be thought to be obvious that the better the quality of the care given by the primary caregiver the better the chance of the recipient of that care forming stable relationships later in life. However, it must also be recognised that some people who have received highly abusive care in childhood have developed into completely well-adjusted adults. Further, the central premise of the theory – that quality attachments depend on quality care from a primary caregiver – begins to fall down when you consider that plenty of children are brought up collectively (whether in a boarding school, a kibbutz or a village in Africa) and yet develop into perfectly normal and well-adjusted adults.”

Much to discuss!

Rising above methodology

“Cognitive science is all about rising above methodology and getting to a conceptual/theoretical level at which there is much more in common. Where there has been success, this ascension has been achieved. Where there has been failure it has been a failure to aspire to anything above methodology. Social science discipline divisions are dominated by methodology—that is why cognitive science happened. To adapt Dr. Johnson’s aphorism, methodology is the last refuge of scoundrels. A good servant may make a bad master.”

Stenning (2012)

On programs to help disadvantaged children

“… what actually happens in the course of many programs that claim to set out to remedy disadvantage is that target children are forced to spend time doing things they are not good at and deprived of opportunities to practice doing things they are good at. This is bad enough by itself. But the seriousness of the problem is exacerbated by the fact that most of the talents they might have developed cannot … show up on most of the tests developed by psychologists and are thus unable to register in most of the evaluation studies conducted by psychologists. Worse, these evaluations are largely framed and conducted within a reductionist, single-outcome focus rather than a comprehensive or ecological evaluation framework. In the end, this whole network of interlocking activities contributes to the autopoietic process that is heading our species toward extinction.”

Raven, J. (2005). More Problems With Gap Closing Philosophy and Research. American Psychologist 60(9), 1041–1042.

Protection

I like this, but the analogy is a bit… crude.

“Zoos display an irresistible passion for the preservation of endangered species. A number of these are being protected, later to be released back into the wild. In the meantime, however, ‘the wild’ has disappeared! It is the same with human beings: ideally, they are recycled in human isolation cells (thalassotherapy, psychoanalysis, luxury health clubs, hospitals or asylums), and later released back into social life — in the meantime, however, the social environment has disappeared!”

—Jean Baudrillard, in Fragments