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Born to an academic family in Canada, Elizabeth Bott studied psychology at Toronto University and anthropology at Chicago University, where she gained her MA in 1949. She then travelled to London to work in anthropology at the London School of Economics and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.
Often regarded as a member of the Manchester Group of anthropologists, her best-known work was Family and Social Structure (1957), based on her 1956 PhD with working-class families in East London, in which she formulated what was subsequently labelled the Bott Hypothesis: that the density of a husband and wife's separate social networks was positively associated with marital role segregation.
In 1956, she began training analysis as a Kleinian psychoanalyst with Lois Munro. From 1958 to 1960, she carried out anthropological fieldwork in Tonga with her husband James Spillius. She became a member of the British Psychoanalytic Society in 1964, and a training and supervisory analyst in 1975.
She developed the Bott hypothesis of family relations.
- (ed.) Melanie Klein today: developments in theory and practice, Tavistock/Routledge, 1987. New Library of Psychoanalysis 7-8.
- (ed. with Michael Feldman) Psychic equilibrium and psychic change : selected papers of Betty Joseph, Tavistock/Routledge, 1989. New Library of Psychoanalysis 9
(ed. with a preface) Melanie Klein in Berlin: her first psychoanalyses of children by Claudia Frank. Routledge, 2009.