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Friedman, L.J. (2001). Erik Erikson on Identity, Generativity, and Pseudospeciation: A Biographer's Perspective. Psychoanal. Hist., 3(2):179-192.

(2001). Psychoanalysis and History, 3(2):179-192

Erik Erikson on Identity, Generativity, and Pseudospeciation: A Biographer's Perspective

Lawrence J. Friedman

From the publication of Childhood and Society in 1950 through the 1970s, Erik Homburger Erikson was acknowledged as a major influence in American intellectual life, a figure of great academic distinction whose views on culture and society also commanded widespread attention. His wide-ranging and innovative approach to a variety of questions helped to make the immediate post-war decades in America an unusually hospitable period for interdisciplinary inquiry, and served to maintain the vital if increasingly fragile role in the United States of the public intellectual as social critic.

By the time he published Childhood and Society, Erikson had built intimate ties with leading personality theorists like Henry Murray and John Dollard, pioneering cultural anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, and major figures within the international psychoanalytic community. If the book marked him out as perhaps the most significant post-Freudian thinker by shifting psychoanalysis decidedly towards social concerns, its critique of American culture was subtle rather than severe. The criticisms of America deepened in subsequent years as Erikson (a 1933 émigré from Central Europe) confronted McCarthyism, developed close friendship with other public intellectuals such as David Riesman, Benjamin Spock and Talcott Parsons, became close to influential theologians like Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, and cultivated ties to innovative psychoanalytic theorists like David Rapaport and George Klein. In 1970 Erikson won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Gandhi's Truth, a volume that looked towards the East to the non-violent Indian leader for alternatives to America's vast nuclear arsenals and its deepening role in the Vietnam War. By then his photograph appeared in publications ranging from the New York Times to Newsweek.

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