Children, Recognition, and Psychological Autonomy at Pukatja (Ernabella), South Australia
Based on fieldwork with Anangu (Western Desert) children, I examine the psychological meaning of autonomy and its structural counterpart, relatedness, from a developmental perspective and in the context of settlement life today. Drawing on psychoanalysis, I show how autonomy evolves out of recognition and the mastery of social and emotional technique. These afford a sense of belonging and as such function as a form of self-containment. Crucially, as an experiential reality, autonomy relies on the social and emotional mechanism of mirroring from the early stages of life, because parts of the self (“part-objects” or “subselves”) are acknowledged to be located in others, including in the cultural and humanized natural environment. This means that, in order to achieve cohesion, the developing self needs to be appropriated by others who internalize these part-objects and share in the child’s identity—the child becomes self-possessed. Consideration is given throughout to culturally external factors that impact how much separation of self from others is tolerated and desired.
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