views updated Jun 11 2018


Psychoanalytically, deprivation is the reduced fulfillment of a desire or need that is felt to be essential. Sigmund Freud (1927c) considered deprivation the result of the frustration of a drive that could not be satisfied because of a prohibition, and he was particularly interested in sexual deprivation. Later, psychoanalysis focused on the maternal deprivation caused either by the final or temporary absence of the mother or by her difficulty in providing primary care for the infanta deprivation likely to have irreversible effects on the child's development.

For the infant, deprivation, as the result of an intrapsychic process related to needs or desires, assumes various forms. It is modulated by the reaction of the primary object, the mother, as well as the moment when the deprivation is produced, its duration, or even the attitude of mother substitutes.

The importance given to reality and its traumas compared to the reality of the representational world forms the basis of the differences among psychoanalytic theories. For example, psychoanalysts have studied the effects of "quantitative deprivation," when the infant must confront the physical absence of the primary maternal object from birth, a condition known as hospitalism (Spitz, 1945), or after the establishment of a bond, a condition known as anaclitic depression (Spitz, 1946), which includes the phases of fright, despair, and separation. During these three phases, the infant is primarily searching for the lost anaclitic object, then, overcome with despair, enters into a situation of more or less pronounced denial, depending on the level of structuration of the internal object and the duration of separation. This process involves directing diffuse but unbearable aggressive impulses against the self, hatred of the incorporated internal object, and deprivation of the maternal breast accompanied by deprivation of the (oral) apparatus that would enable the infant to use it. Sometimes there is also a deprivation of all creative ability and the dissolution of the integrative process together with the inhibition or dissociation of impulses (Winnicott, 1984).

"Qualitative deprivation" has also been described, and occurs when the infant is presented with an object that prevents him from experiencing his impulses in an acceptable form because they are uncontrolled. This object does not assume the contradictory role of ensuring the satisfaction of the infant's needs and pushing him toward autonomy and does not understand his signals or his thoughts. Operating behaviors and idealizing systems dominate this form of mother-child relationship (Kreisler., 1992) to prevent transient personal difficulties, struggles, and traumas from becoming mental pathologies, especially depressive and schizophrenic.

Forms of "mixed deprivation" are also known, where the interruption of maternal care and inadequate support are the basis of narcissistic collapse and weakness during the process of separation-individuation.

The effects of affective deprivation (Bowlby, 1951) have been studied among infants placed in institutions, hospitals, or foster homes (Winnicott, 1984), and in the context of family life. This has led to observation of depression and borderline and antisocial pathologies such as psychosis. Françoise Dolto has described the sudden and long-lasting dissociation found to exist following early hospitalization or repeated changes of care providerswithout any possible reparation of the image of the body or the subject. The infant can regress to a state in which his vital needs are satisfied in a context where subtle, verbal, mimetic, or motor exchanges no longer take place. Having become autistic, the child's impulses no longer have an outlet and result in teratological symbolization through hallucination.

Léon Kreisler has studied depression (blank and empty) during periods of qualitative deprivation, especially their development on the psychosomatic level. Other authors have ascribed important narcissistic pathologies (feelings of emptiness, captive self-image, lack of confidence), along with the intolerance to frustration that provokes the transition to action, which is manifested during adolescence. Donald Winnicott has studied the dynamics of the antisocial act and the accompanying feeling of hopeful suffering. "In fact," he writes, "deprivation does not deform the organization of the ego as in psychosis but pushes the infant to force the context to recognize the deprivation and . . . the antisocial act manifests itself when the infant begins to create an object relationship and invest a person."

Grazia Maria Fava Vizziello

See also: Abandonment; Anaclisis/anaclitic; Analytic psychodrama; Breakdown; Developmental disorders; Frustration; Hospitalism; Maternal care; Self-mutilation in children; Stranger; Transference depression.


Bowlby, John. (1951). Maternal care and mental health. Geneva: WHO Monographs.

Kreisler, Léon. (1992). La prospettiva psicosomatica nella psicopatologia del lattante. In Fava, V.G., and Stern, D. (Eds.), Modèles psychothérapiques au premier âge. Paris: Masson.

Spitz, René (1945). Hospitalism: an inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 1, 53-74.

Spitz, René. (1946). Anaclitic depression. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 313-342.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1984). Deprivation and delinquency. London: The Winnicott Trust.

Further Reading

Shengold, Leonard. (1989). Soul murder: the effects of childhood abuse and deprivation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wilson, N. (2002). Depression and its relation to light deprivation. Psychoanalytic Review, 89, 557-568.

Winnicott, Donald. (1984). Deprivation and delinquency. London: Tavistock.


views updated May 29 2018

deprivation Literally the taking away of something or the state of being dispossessed, the term is loosely used for the condition of not having something, whether or not it was previously possessed, with the implication that the person in question could reasonably expect to have it. Of what precisely the individual is deprived varies, but basic welfare needs for food, housing, education, and emotional care (see, for example, the concept of MATERNAL DEPRIVATION) receive much of the attention.

Like the narrower notion of poverty, deprivation can be viewed in absolute or relative terms. Absolute deprivation refers to the loss or absence of the means to satisfy the basic needs for survival—food, clothing, and shelter. The term relative deprivation refers to deprivations experienced when individuals compare themselves with others: that is, individuals who lack something compare themselves with those who have it, and in so doing feel a sense of deprivation. Consequently, relative deprivation not only involves comparison, it is also usually defined in subjective terms. The concept is intimately linked with that of a comparative reference group—the group with whom the individual or set of individuals compare themselves—the selection of reference group being crucial to the degree of relative deprivation.

The concept of relative deprivation was introduced by Samuel Stouffer and his co-workers in their classic social psychological study The American Soldier (1949); it was also used by Robert K. Merton in his standard text Social Theory and Social Structure (1949), and was widely used by sociologists in the 1950s and 1960s. Not surprisingly it was invoked in discussions of poverty and in the arguments about the need for relative definitions of poverty. It was also employed by W. G. Runciman in his important study Relative Deprivation and Social Justice (1966). This focused on institutionalized inequalities and people's awareness of them, and on the question of which inequalities ought to be perceived and resented, by standards of social justice. More recently, the link between social inequalities and the experience of relative deprivation has been put forward as the explanatory mechanism that accounts for international differences in life-expectancy, the argument being that high levels of inequality lead via relative deprivation to lowered life-expectancy.

Sociological debates have tended to focus on subjectively experienced relative deprivation. In the field of social policy, however, externally assessed material and cultural deprivations have been the focus. One important issue has been the extent to which deprivation is transmitted from one generation to the next. In this context the idea of a cycle of deprivation has been employed to refer to the intergenerational transmission of deprivation, primarily through family behaviours, values, and practices. This idea suggests the importance of personal and familial pathology—as opposed to structural inequalities—in accounting for deprivation, and has led to considerable debate and criticism (see M. Rutter and and N. Madge , Cycles of Disadvantage, 1976
, and Z. Ferge and and S. M. Miller , Dynamics of Deprivation, 1987
). The term multiple deprivation is used where deprivations extend across a wide range of social needs. For a useful review of the extensive literature see Joan N. Gurney and and Kathleen J. Tierney , ‘Relative Deprivation and Social Movements: A Critical Look at Twenty Years of Theory and Research’, Sociological Quarterly (1982)


views updated May 09 2018

dep·ri·va·tion / ˌdeprəˈvāshən/ • n. the damaging lack of material benefits considered to be basic necessities in a society: low wages mean that 3.75 million people suffer serious deprivation. ∎  the lack or denial of something considered to be a necessity: sleep deprivation. ∎  archaic the action of depriving someone of office, esp. an ecclesiastical office.