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Wallerstein, R.S. (1998). Erikson's Concept of Ego Identity Reconsidered. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(1):229-247.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(1):229-247

Erikson's Concept of Ego Identity Reconsidered

Robert S. Wallerstein

This paper explores and attempts to explain the paradox that Erik Erikson—after Freud, undoubtedly the psychoanalyst best known, most deeply esteemed, and most widely influential in the sociohistorical surround of world culture—has at the same time never been properly integrated into the psychoanalytic mainstream, but has instead been marginalized, consigned to a persisting psychoanalytic limbo. Two successive contexts within the historical unfolding of psychoanalysis in America, the milieu in which Erikson worked, would seem to account for this neglect. First, Erikson's monumental contributions to our understanding of the psychosocial developmental process, of the epigenesis of the ego, of the phase-specific developmental tasks across the eight postulated stages of the life cycle, and of the intergenerational cogwheeling of the life cycles were made during the 1950s and 1960s and could not easily be integrated into the ego psychology metapsychological paradigm then monolithically regnant within American psychoanalysis. And, second, as a major paradigm shift took place in America, beginning in the 1970s, toward a more relational, interpersonal, and intersubjective framework, Erikson's contributions, couched as they were in the structural language of the ego psychology of his time, were overlooked and went unremarked as seminal precursors of the newly emerging emphases. The clear relationship of Erikson's concepts of (ego) identity to emerging conceptions of self in relation to objects was simply not noticed, and his work continues to this day to be neglected and unintegrated within psychoanalysis.

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