Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Bican Polat

Bican Polat is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Philosophy at Boğaziçi University (Istanbul, Turkey), with an affiliation with Models, Theories, Research Programs (MTR), an interdisciplinary research project that combines philosophical inquiry with historical and social science methodologies to address problems of theory construction in empirical psychology. Between 2017 and 2021, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. He received his joint degree PhD in Intellectual History and Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University in 2016, specialising in historical and cultural studies of science and medicine. Drawing on both archival and ethnographic methods, he studies how psychiatric practices and knowledge systems have intersected with society, culture, and technological media across the Atlantic world and beyond during the late modern era. He is also interested in the challenges these epistemic undertakings have faced with the rise of global modernity, exploring how their universalistic claims circulate beyond the West today. His book project, The Rise of Attachment Theory: The Genealogy of a Psychological Paradigm, explores these dynamics in the context of the history of psychiatric ideas about the “maternal bond”, tracking the growth of investigative communities that have contributed to the development of the field of parent-child relationships as a medico-scientific specialty. Focusing on transnational and interdisciplinary exchanges, this project reconstructs the development of attachment theory from its early origins in interwar psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the most recent approaches in developmental science and global mental health practice. His work received the support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the Center for Advanced Media Studies, and has appeared in publications including ISIS, Parallax, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences and Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences.

During Dr Polat’s visit to the Institute of Advanced Studies, he primarily worked on his book project, The Rise of Attachment Theory: The Genealogy of a Psychological Paradigm. This project explores the historical origins and cultural significance of the attachment paradigm, the prevailing medico-scientific perspective on parent-child relationships. He reconstructs the history of the attachment paradigm against transformations in cultural practices adopted for the rational governance of the family in America and Britain. His reconstruction highlights the influence of social and administrative objectives on psychological inquiry and traces the origins of the attachment concept to the child guidance clinics of the 1920s, a transatlantic initiative implemented to prevent juvenile delinquency and promote mental hygiene. Against this institutional background, he explores the development of the psychoanalytic idea of an emotional maternal bond through the work of research communities that flourished on both sides of the Atlantic over the span of the twentieth century. Focusing on interdisciplinary exchanges, he examines the reworkings of this psychoanalytic idea as a presumed natural kind according to criteria proper to ethology, cybernetics, and evolutionary biology. He thus analyses the transmutation of the attachment concept from the child guidance practices of the interwar period to the most recent approaches in developmental science and global mental health practice. His research also sheds light on the cross-border exchanges that have contributed to the adoption of attachment theory as a transcultural reference from the 1990s, an era of increasing globalisation. He explores the role the attachment paradigm has played in shaping family interventions and psychotherapies across the globe, with a particular focus on the tensions that have risen between its universalistic outlook and non-Western parental practices.