Children in the Fog of War: Responses to Parental Alienation
AbstractThe term ‘parental alienation’ describes a child’s irrational rejection of a parent and is the source of conflict in families, in psychological, legal and therapeutic practices which dispute its theoretical basis and causes. The increasingly reported issue is associated with children involved in high-conflict divorces or separations who exhibit psychological deficits reminiscent of child soldiers. In these cases, dialogues and mediation processes are highly regulated, often court-ordered, but both traditional and newer therapeutic approaches are controversial in terms of scientific and moral efficacy where it is believed a favoured parent is manipulating their children. The article takes the methodological approach of sociological poetics. This discourse analysis locates practical issues associated with parental alienation in the historical desire of eighteenth-century enlightened despots to win the inner consent of their subjects. The contemporary focus is at three scales; first, the World Health Organisation’s online debate about the recent inclusion of parental alienation in ICD11, the International Classification of Diseases; secondly, at the micro level in France where the concept of parental alienation is officially banned; and, finally, in debates about specialist treatments in North America. These empirical contexts suggest a vertical power axis transmitting and perpetuating despotism at the family level. The issues of manipulation, social pathologies, subjective truth, and ‘white-collar crime’ are examined theoretically and philosophically. It is argued that problematic professional responses to parental alienation (PA) which subordinate truthfulness to the goal of reconciliation call for vertical and horizontal reforms to ethically strengthen the role of dialogical truth.