Winnicott on the distinction between privacy and politics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


I describe Winnicott’s attitude to the delimitation of sheltered privacy and domesticity from politics as a feature of his alliance with a liberal, welfare-oriented perception of democracy. While retaining the special character of politics as an arena for decision, enforcement, and the management of violence, Winnicott also sees the private sphere of family and home as both self-regulating and dynamic. When sufficient, the maternal holding at the heart of the private sphere provides the sense of movement and creativity that Winnicott equates with personal liberty. As it is the locus of freedom, privacy merits protection and seclusion from publicity and politics. But, as play is self-regulating and dynamic, it trains participants in bargaining and competition within the boundaries of impersonal procedure, thus instilling the norms that underlie civic and political activity. As play mutates into further engagements, its self-structuring quality expands to mitigate the chaotic and decisional features of politics. While never transcended, politics is circumvented and tamed by a culture made of plural activities based on play and enabling the expression of inputs from free individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-515
Number of pages19
JournalPsychoanalysis, Culture and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Springer Nature Limited.


  • D.W. Winnicott
  • play
  • privacy
  • transitional space
  • welfare state

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Cultural Studies
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Winnicott on the distinction between privacy and politics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this