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CHILDHOOD AND SOCIETY

This book by Erik Erikson, published in 1950, is a classic because it was one of the first to show how Sigmund Freud's theory of infantile sexuality could be broadened in the light of fieldwork in cultural anthropology and sociological studies.

Erikson studied two American Indian tribes and compared their different ways of socializing children. Based on this work he elaborated his conception of the development of the ego, in which he discerned eight distinct phases that he believed were an aspect of psychology at least as important as the libidinal stages outlined by Freud. Attempting to identify positive, organizing aspects of the psyche, Erikson sought to show how these achievements of the ego continue to change and exert an influence long after the conflicts of early childhood that had so interested Freud.

Erikson was particularly interested in problems relating to youth, above all the ways in which psychosocial identity could be a key organizing concept for understanding adolescence. He approached this issue from a cultural-comparatist perspective, with a special focus on the characteristic polarities of American society. He then studied the legendary characteristics of Adolf Hitler's childhood to see how the rise of Nazism could be interpreted within the framework of typically German social structures. Lastly, Erikson interpreted what is known about Maxim Gorky's youth, to complement his description with materials taken from Russian history.

Revised and expanded in 1963, Childhood and Society is the work of a pioneer who sought to raise psychoanalytic thought to the level of the modern social sciences. Although he did not renounce his early Freudianism, Erikson endeavored to provide a new way of looking at things. When asked what the aims of a normal individual should be, Freud customarily replied with two words that Erikson liked to recall: "Love and work." Erikson wanted such a maxim to become a psychoanalytic norm.

Paul Roazen

See also: Anthropology and psychoanalysis; Erikson, Erik (Homburger); Ego (ego psychology).

Source Citation

Erikson, Erik H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Bibliography

Friedman, Lawrence J. (1999). Identity's Architect: A biography of Erik H. Erikson. New York: Scribner's.

Paul Roazen. (1976). Erik H. Erikson: The power and limits of a vision. New York: The Free Press.

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Childhood and Society

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