Damaged Life: The Crisis of the Modern Psyche

By Tod Sloan | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

The formation of the psyche

The proliferation of personality theories during the twentieth century is itself an effect of modernity. The interest in broad perspectives on the nature of the individual such as those developed by Freud, Jung, Maslow, Fromm, Rogers and Horney stems in part from the displacement of theological visions of selfhood by secularization. Modern theories of personality can be seen as answering questions about the purpose of life and the goals of human development. Interest in theories of personality is also due to concerns about individuality fostered by the anonymity of life in mass society. Finally, concerns about personality are linked to the concerns of administrative steering systems which have found it necessary or profitable to develop more refined bureaucratic responses to manage individual differences such as ‘deviance’, ‘giftedness’ and ‘mental illness’.

Obviously, we cannot step outside history and select a view of personality that is not in some way a product of modernity. In fact, my strategy will be the opposite. I will simply acknowledge this interpenetration of social and intellectual processes and select aspects of contemporary theory that are most relevant to understanding the formation of the psyche in the modern scene.

Up to this point, my analysis of the psychological impact of modernity has been hindered because I could not be sure that readers share a basic set of concepts referring to the psyche and its development. I have occasionally used basic Freudian terms, assuming that these were generally understood. I have also used the more colloquial terms employed in social psychology—attitudes, values, emotions. But in order to build on the perspective developed by Habermas, we will need a common terminology to refer to various aspects of subjective experience. This will not be a simple matter, for there must be as many competing theories of personality and psychological development as there are notions of modernization. In fact, every formal or informal student of psychology has his or her own favourite theory with an attendant set of criteria for determining what makes the theory a good one.

Rather than argue about which theory might be the best, I will adopt

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