Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers

Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers

Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers

Erikson on Development in Adulthood: New Insights from the Unpublished Papers

Synopsis

Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was one of the most eminent and prolific psychologists of the 20th century. Over his long career he published a dozen books, including classics such as Childhood and Society; Identity, Youth, and Crisis; and Young Man Luther . He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1970 for his biography Ghandi's Truth. It was also in 1970, when he retired from Harvard University, that Erikson began to rethink his earlier theories of development. He became increasingly occupied with the conflicts and challenges of adulthood--a shift from his earlier writings on the "identity crises" of adolescence. For the past twenty years, Carol Hoare has written extensively on various aspects of Erikson's work. She has been aided by access to Erikson's unpublished papers at Harvard, as well as cooperation with Joan Erikson, the psychologist's wife and longtime collaborator. By reconstructing Erikson's theory of adulthood from his unpublished papers, Hoare provides not only a much-needed revision of Erikson's work, but also a glimpse into the mind of one of the 20th century's most profound thinkers.

Excerpt

A preface permits an author to tell readers what it was that he or she had in mind from the very beginning of a book's fledgling design, the methods that led to content selection, and, perhaps, the interest that drove the book to completion.

This book began more than 12 years ago when I first visited Houghton Library at Harvard University. I wished to gain a more complete understanding of Erikson's concepts about the adult and of how he found adults to develop and change when, in fact, they do so. That first visit to the Erikson papers left me feeling surprised, deflated, and perplexed. Fully expecting to find little more than I had read in his 120 publications, I encountered a directory that listed in excess of 2,000 “items,” each item containing as many as 36 file folders of material. I recall an immediate sense of the impossibility of finding my way through that great bulk of papers.

About to abandon the project, I came across a transcript of the Conference on the Adult, sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a manuscript proceedings that is replete with Erikson's notes, marginalia, exclamations, circlings, and question marks. His thoughtful reflections were magnetic and rather amazing to me at the time. Here was a great psychoanalyst asking over and over again what it means to be an adult and why it is that so many adults seem to settle for a restricted version of what they might yet become, whereas others always seem to create resilient, fresh renditions of themselves throughout the adult years, in effect refusing to endure halted development and its stagnation. But Erikson baffled me. Why did he question what it means to be an adult when he had first asked that question as early as 1942? Surely, in ways far beyond his adult stage permutations, he had told us what adults are like. But if I had hoped for some instant synthesis of his concepts, I was disappointed. In fact, it is only in sweeping through the great breadth of his published and unpublished thought that key concepts about the adult, what Erikson sometimes called adult “images,” emerge. And it is only in placing his stage views aside that those images can come forward.

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