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Erikson, Erik Homberger


ERIKSON, ERIK HOMBERGER (1902–1994), U.S. psychoanalyst. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Erikson immigrated to the U.S. in 1933. He taught and did research at Harvard, Yale, and the University of California until 1951, when he joined the senior staff of the Austen Riggs Center at Stockbridge, Mass. In 1960 he was appointed professor of human development and psychiatry at Harvard. Erikson's research into the cultures of the Yurok and Sioux Indians resulted in Childhood and Society (1950, 19632), in which he discussed childbearing methods and human development. In the same book he dealt with the evolution of identity and character, including the American and German, and with antisemitism and the role of Jews in changing culture. In Young Man Luther (1958), Erikson related the reformer's adolescent crisis of identity (identity versus identity diffusion) and the historical crisis of his age. He later clarified his concept of the synthesis of the ego through successive identifications by the child with individuals, group ideals, and goals. His Insight and Responsibility (1966) discusses the ethical implications of psychoanalytic insight and the responsibility of each generation to succeeding generations.

Other books by Erikson include Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968), Gandhi's Truth on the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (1969), The Twentieth-century Sciences: Studies in the Biography of Ideas (1972), Dimensions of a New Identity (1974), Life History and the Historical Moment (1975), Toys and Reasons:Stages in the Ritualization of Experience (1977), Adulthood: Essays (1978), Themes of Work and Love in Adulthood (1980), St. George and the Dandelion: Forty Years of Practice As a Jungian Analyst (1982), Vital Involvement in Old Age: The Experience of Old Age in Our Time (1986), Identity and the Life Cycle (1988), The Life Cycle Completed (1995), and The Erik Erikson Reader (2000).

For Gandhi's Truth (1969), Erikson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

Erikson is labeled an ego-psychologist in that he built on Freud's early work on the ego, though with emphasis on social rather than sexual factors. He is best known for his work in expanding Freud's theory of stages. Often referred to as the "father of psychosocial development" and "the architect of identity," and the man who coined the term "identity crisis," Erikson believed that development functions by what he called the "epigenetic principle." According to this principle, we develop through a predetermined unfolding of our personalities in eight stages. Each person's progress through each stage is in part determined by his/her success, or lack of it, in the previous stages. If one interferes with any stage of that natural order of development or does not manage a stage well, one could develop maladaptations and malignancies as well as jeopardize one's future development.

Erikson also theorized about the interaction of generations, which he called "mutuality": not only do parents influence their children's development, as Freud suggested, but children also influence their parents' development, Erikson contended.


E. Pumpian-Mindlin, in: F.G. Alexander et al. (eds.), Psychoanalytic Pioneers (1966), 524–33; H.W. Maier, Three Theories of Child Development (1965), 12–74 (bibliography 297–300); B. Kaplan (ed.), Studying Personality Cross-Culturally (1961), index. add. bibliography: R. Evans, Dialogue with Erik Erikson (1967); R. Coles, Erik H. Erikson, the Growth of his Work (1970); P. Roazen, Erik H. Erikson: The Power and Limits of a Vision (1976); J.E. Wright, Erikson, Identity and Religion (1982); F. Gross, Introducing Erik Erikson (1987); H. Zock, A Psychology of Ultimate Concern: Erik H. Erikson's Contribution to the Psychology of Religion (1990); R. Wallerstein and L. Goldberger (eds.), Ideas and Identities: The Life and Work of Erik Erikson (1999); K. Welchman, Erik Erikson (2000).

[Louis Miller /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

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