“Hot and Cool Mothers” moves toward a media theory of mothering and parental “fitness.” The article begins with an investigation into midcentury pediatric psychological studies on Bad Mothers and their impacts on their children. The most famous, if not persistent, of these diagnoses is that of the so-called refrigerator mother. The refrigerator mother is not the only bad model of maternality that midcentury psychiatry discovered, however; overstimulating mothers, called in this study “hot mothers,” were identified as equally problematic. From the mid-1940s until the 1960s and beyond, class, race, and maternal function were linked in metaphors of temperature. Whereas autism and autistic states have been extensively elaborated in their relationship to digital media, this article attends to attributed maternal causes of “emotionally disturbed,” queer, and neurodivergent children. The author argues that these newly codified diagnoses were inseparable from midcentury conceptions of stimulation, mediation, domesticity, and race, including Marshall McLuhan’s theory of hot and cool media, as well as maternal absence and (over)presence, echoes of which continue in the present in terms like “helicopter parent.”
Hot and Cool Mothers
hannah zeavin is a lecturer in the Department of English and the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the executive committees of both the Berkeley Center for New Media and the uc Berkeley Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society. Zeavin serves as an editorial associate for the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association and is a visiting fellow at the Columbia University Center for the Study of Social Difference. Her first book, The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy (MIT Press, 2021) is a transnational social history of treatment beyond the traditional consulting room, from Freud to Fanon, from the emergence of suicide hotlines to ai “friends.” Zeavin is at work on her second book, Mother’s Little Helpers: Technology in the American Family (MIT Press, forthcoming).
Hannah Zeavin; Hot and Cool Mothers. differences 1 December 2021; 32 (3): 53–84. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-9479695
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