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The term "stage" is used to designate a developmental phase that, for Freud, is characterized by a specific organization of the libido, linked to a particular erotogenic zone, and dominated by a particular modality of object relations. Some authors prefer to speak of "phases" or "positions" rather than stages, because these alternatives emphasize the fact that what are referred to here are moments in psychosexual development that partake of the dialectic of the Oedipus complex, rather than a precisely stable stage in the evolution of the libido. Each phase of sexual development corresponds in effect to a distinct type of organization.

Thus the psychoanalytic notion of stage does not refer to the structural study of the genesis of cognitive processes, nor does it impinge on the field of developmental psychology (for instance, the theory of Jean Piaget). The Freudian approach concerns itself exclusively with the child's developing psychosexuality constructed in "stages," "phases," or "organizing moments" as the child proceeds through various steps in its maturation.

This perspective attempts to account for the constitutive effects, during childhood, of bodily and mental experiences of pleasure and unpleasure, and hence for the role played by the erotogenic zones at two levels: object relationships and narcissism, or love and hatethe basic modes of mental life, which the successive versions of Freud's theory of the instincts sought to explicate. From this standpoint, the scheme of libidinal stages provides a set of reference points, a grid against which the specific traits of an individual's mental organization can be plotted and clearly profiled (Brusset, 1992).

Both psychopathology and the psychology of the ego have used a scheme of stages as a main axis of reference. In psychopathology, this general model makes it possible to relate pathological structures (character types, disease entities) to various fixations or regressions of the libido. One of the most remarkable demonstrations of the consistency of the model is the association between obsessional neurosis and the anal character type. The essential role that anal eroticism plays in obsessional neurosis led Freud to define the anal-sadistic stage as a major moment in the organization of the psyche. This account served as his initial model for a general conception of "stages of organization of the libido." On the basis of his analysis of the "Rat Man" (1909d), Freud was able to define the dynamic organization and structure of obsessional neurosis by drawing out the close connections between sadomasochism and anal eroticism. Similarly, Freud's analysis of the autobiography of Daniel Paul Schreber (1911c [1910]) served as the basis for Freud to relate paranoia to a fixation at the narcissistic stage of development and to relate dementia praecox (schizophrenia) to a fixation at the autoerotic stage.

In the psychology of the ego (Anna Freud, René Spitz, Otto Fenichel) and ego psychology (Ernst Kris, Heinz Hartmann, and Rudolph Loewenstein), sets of problems are tackled in terms of developmental stagesa development that brings the notions of regression and fixation into their own. These two ideas stand in contrast with those of evolution, process, and change. From the genetic point of view, fixation, as a factor in invariable and repetitious behavior, is a constraint imposed by the instinctual unconscious. Regression may be pathological (as when it becomes fixated, for example), but it may also be purely functional and part of normal development, notably when it occasions narcissistic reinforcement as preparation for resuming the dynamic process of object cathexis (Golse, 1992).

When Freud abandoned his theory of seduction, he inevitably gave new weight to fantasy and emphasized psychic over material reality. Fantasies, it should be remembered, are scenarios of action first constructed in an autoerotic period and tending to actualize mnemic traces of the experience of satisfaction. This theoretical step called for a metapsychology, rather than a simple psychology of the lower, normal, and rational forms of human mental activity that confines its scope to conscious phenomena alone. Thus the system of stages could remain a valid theory only if it was integrated into a properly psychoanalytic framework, one that took account, in particular, of the notions of the unconscious and of repression. Early experience includes the body, but also the unconscious sexuality of the mother (Perron-Borelli, 1997).

The object is both a constitutive element of the instinct and a pole of cathexis within external reality. The notion of object relations has tended to enhance the general impact of the model of stages. In particular, it has opened this model up to the diversity and complexity of parent-child interaction, lessening the former emphasis on pressure and source (that is, on the erotogenic zones) and stressing instead the two other defining aspects that make the libidinal instinct into a complete structure, namely the aim and the object (Brusset, 1992).

Psychoanalytically speaking, the genetic dimension is necessarily related in a dialectical manner to the structural dimension, that is, the oedipal organization and its different triangulations. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis (1973) have pointed out that the use of the terms "phase" or "position" instead of "stage" underscores the fact that we are concerned here with intersubjective moments within the oedipal dialectic, rather than mere stages of libidinal development. The concept of deferred action (après coup ) also runs counter to a purely linear view of mental development in which each stage is understood as unfolding in simple opposition to the preceding one. For example, deferred action, operating in conjunction with the diphasic nature of human sexuality, results in a period of latency.

In an even more radical sense, the fundamental Freudian ideas of the timeless unconscious and of a compulsion to repeat serve to explain how a past of which the subject has no memory can return in the shape of "a perpetual recurrence of the same thing" (1920g, p. 22).

The Freudian model of libidinal development has been vulnerable to simplifying uses that threaten, in particular, to dissolve metapsychology into a naively realistic psychology or else into a psychology of the ego and of development that retains nothing of psychoanalysis. All the same, quite apart from the explanatory value of structural approaches, the practice of psychoanalytic interpretation, founded on a reconstruction of the past, continues to derive inspiration from a genetic point of view: "The task is certainly to account for structures in terms of the processes that have constituted them, and for processes in terms of the stages that make them intelligible" (Brusset, 1992).

A model based on stages, if it is to remain pertinent, must therefore remain subordinate to the metapsychology of mental processes, and by extension, it must remain dialectically consonant with the structural perspective.

Jean-FranÇois Rabain

See also: Abraham, Karl; Anaclisis/anaclitic; Anal-sadistic stage; Catastrophic change; Cruelty; Disintegration products; Fragmentation; Genital stage; Good-enough mother; Group; Hallucinatory, the; Hatred; Infans; Libidinal stage; Libido; Mirror stage; Organization; Oral stage; "On the Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in Schizophrenia"; Partial drive; Phallic stage; Pregenital; Primary identification; Psychosexual development; Psychotic/neurotic; Quasi-independence/transitional stage; Self (true/false); Sexuality; Squiggle; Symbiosis/symbiotic relation; Tenderness; Transitional object, space; Violence of Interpretation, The: From Pictogram to Statement .


Brusset, Bruno. (1992). Le développement libidinal. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Freud, Sigmund. (1909d). Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. SE, 10: 151-318.

. (1911c [1910]). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). SE, 12: 1-82.

. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.

Golse, Bernard. (1992). Le Développement affectif et intellectuel de l'enfant. Paris: Masson.

Laplanche, Jean, and Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand. (1973). The language of psycho-analysis (Donald Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. (Original work published 1967)

Perron, Roger, and Perron-Borelli, Michèle. (1997). Fantasme, action, pensée. Algiers, Algeria:Éditions de la Société algérienne de psychologie.

Perron-Borelli, Michèle. (1997). Dynamique du fantasme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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stage / stāj/ • n. 1. a point, period, or step in a process or development: there is no need at this stage to give explicit details I was in the early stages of pregnancy. ∎  a section of a journey or race: the final stage of the journey is made by taxi. ∎  each of two or more sections of a rocket or spacecraft that have their own engines and are jettisoned in turn when their propellant is exhausted. ∎  Electr. a specified part of a circuit, typically one consisting of a single amplifying transistor or valve with the associated equipment. 2. a raised floor or platform, typically in a theater, on which actors, entertainers, or speakers perform: there are only two characters on stage. ∎  (the stage) the acting or theatrical profession: I've always wanted to go on the stage. ∎  [in sing.] a scene of action or forum of debate, esp. in a particular political context: Argentina is playing a leading role on the international stage. 3. a floor or level of a building or structure: the upper stage was added in the 17th century. ∎  (on a microscope) a raised and usually movable plate on which a slide or object is placed for examination. 4. Geol. (in chronostratigraphy) a range of strata corresponding to an age in time, forming a subdivision of a series. ∎  (in paleoclimatology) a period of time marked by a characteristic climate: the Boreal stage. 5. archaic term for stagecoach. • v. [tr.] 1. present a performance of (a play or other show): the show is being staged at the Goodspeed Opera House. ∎  (of a person or group) organize and participate in (a public event): UDF supporters staged a demonstration in Sofia. ∎  cause (something dramatic or unexpected) to happen: the president's attempt to stage a comeback the dollar staged a partial recovery. 2. Med. diagnose or classify (a disease or patient) as having reached a particular stage in the expected progression of the disease. PHRASES: hold the stage dominate a scene of action or forum of debate. set the stage for prepare the conditions for (the occurrence or beginning of something): these churchmen helped to set the stage for popular reform. stage left (or right) on the left (or right) side of a stage from the point of view of a performer facing the audience.DERIVATIVES: stage·a·bil·i·ty / ˌstājəˈbilitē/ n. stage·a·ble adj.

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1. The elevation of the water surface of a river with reference to a fixed datum level. Hence ‘rising’ and ‘falling’ stages.

2. The major subdivision of a series. A stage is the fourth order unit in chronostratigraphy, the equivalent of age in terms of geologic time units. It refers to the body of rock accumulated during one age unit. When used formally the initial letter of the term is capitalized, e.g. Frasnian Stage.

3. In palaeoclimatology, a climatic, and partly geologic—climatic, term usually defined by a series of sediments or a sequence of fossil assemblages and named at a type locality. For example, the Hoxnian (a temperate stage) is named for organic interglacial deposits at Hoxne, Suffolk, England.

4. The degree of development of a land-form or landscape over time, and which traditionally has been described by the terms ‘youthful’, ‘mature’, and ‘old age’ (see DAVISIAN CYCLE). The recognition of such stages implies an orderly evolution and this is now seen as unlikely for many parts of the Earth's land surface.

5. The part of a microscope on which the specimen to be examined is placed. Normally it is flat and may be fixed, as in biological or metallurgical microscopes, or rotating with a 360° calibrated scale as in geologic microscopes. Transmitted-light microscopes have a hole in the centre of the stage through which light passes up to the observer from below. Reflected-light microscopes have an incident light system, whereby light is directed on to the stage from above and is reflected from the specimen to the observer.

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1. The elevation of the water surface of a river with reference to a fixed datum level, hence ‘rising’ and ‘falling’ stages.

2. In palaeoclimatology, a climatic and partly geologic–climatic term usually defined by a series of sediments or a sequence of fossil assemblages and named at a type locality. For example, the Hoxnian (a temperate stage) is named for organic interglacial deposits at Hoxne, Suffolk, England.

3. The degree of development of a land-form or landscape over time, traditionally described as ‘youthful’, ‘mature’, and ‘old age’ (see Davisian cycle). The recognition of such stages implies an orderly evolution and this is now seen as unlikely for many parts of the Earth's land surface.

4. The part of a microscope on which the specimen to be examined is placed.

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A. storey, floor XIII;

B. †station, position XIII;

C. raised floor, platform XIV (in a theatre XVI);

D. division of a journey or process; short for s. coach XVII. Aphetic — OF. estage dwelling, stay, situation (mod. étage storey) :- Rom. *staticum standing-place, position, f. L. stāre STAND; cf. -AGE. Sense D perh. arose from a supposed connection with STADIUM.
So or hence stager old s., one qualified by long experience. XVI. perh. — OF. estagier inhabitant, resident.

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1. Each of the portions into which the height of a structure is divided, i.e. a storey. See also tower.

2. Horizontal partition.

3. Raised floor, platform, or scaffold.

4. Pulpit.

5. Part of a theatre on which the actors, etc., stand.

6. Roadside inn, or regular stopping-place on a stage-coach route.

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stageage, assuage, backstage, cage, downstage, engage, enrage, gage, gauge, mage, multistage, offstage, onstage, Osage, page, Paige, rage, rampage, sage, stage, swage, under-age, upstage, wage •greengage • ribcage • birdcage •teenage • saxifrage • outrage •space-age

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stage (stayj) vb. (in oncology) to classify a primary tumour by its size and the presence and site of metastases. In addition to clinical examination, a variety of imaging and surgical techniques provide a more accurate assessment. Staging tumours is important in prognosis and defining appropriate treatment.