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Parsons, T. (1950). Psychoanalysis and the Social Structure. Psychoanal Q., 19:371-384.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:371-384

Psychoanalysis and the Social Structure

Talcott Parsons, Ph.D.


Both psychoanalytic theory and the type of sociological theory which is in process of developing a new type of analysis of social structure and its dynamics go back to the same basic conceptual scheme or frame of reference which it is convenient to call the theory of action. This theory conceives the behaving individual or actor as operating in a situation which is given independently of his goals and wishes, but, within the limits of that situation and using those potentialities which are subject to his control, actively oriented to the attainment of a system of goals and wishes. Studying the processes of action, the scheme takes the point of view of the meaning of the various elements of the system to the actor. Meaning may be of several different types, of which, perhaps, the most important are the cognitive and the affective or emotional. Finally, the mutual orientation of human beings to each other, both as objects of meaning and as means to each other's goals, is a fundamental aspect of the scheme. Though it is logically possible to treat a single individual in isolation from others, there is every reason to believe that this case is not of important empirical significance. All concrete action is in this sense social, including psychopathological behavior.

There are two main foci of theoretical organization of systems within the broad framework of this conceptual scheme. One is the individual personality as a system, and the other is the social system. The first is, according to this point of view, the primary focus of the subject matter of the science of psychology; the second that of social science in the specific sense.

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