Chapter 3


Families are factories which produce human personalities.

IN THE UNITED STATES, the Freudian concept of the family was influenced by a shift within the psychoanalytic movement toward ego psychology.  At the end of World War II a new journal, The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, was a main organ of the new direction.  Led by Heinz Hartmann, Ernst Kris and Rudolf Loewenstein the journal advocated a new emphasis on studying the strengths of the ego in comparison with the id and the ego's capacity for adaptation to reality.[1]  Much like the "culturalist school" of Harry S. Sullivan, Erich Fromm and Karen Horney, the ego psychologists were concerned with problems of psychic health and the adjustment of the psyche to the demands of society.  Where Freud saw the predominance of unconscious instincts in mental life, Hartmann spoke of an independent "ego energy"[2] which was not bound up in narcissism or dependence on the id.

Hartmann Kris and Loewenstein exiles from Nazi Germany, seemed bent on adapting psychoanalysis to the dominant American culture.  Their notion of health through adjustment to society fit well into the ethos of liberal capitalism.  They removed all the strange, threatening  aspects of Freud  theory, such as the  unconscious, sexuality and in-

65 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

instinct theory.  Ego psychologists remodeled Freud to the American ideal of individual autonomy through social adaptation.  For support from sociology Hartmann turned to Talcott Parsons, the leading social theorist of American middle-class values.[3] Underlying ego psychology was a concern to foster personality development and to bolster democracy against the dangers of  "totalitarianism."

Among the ego psychologists, Erik Erikson went furthest in the direction of a theory of the family.  His concept of the life cycle established a developmental theory of the ego which was rooted in social experience.  For the early stages of ego growth the family, therefore, was a structured and formative condition.  Erikson attempted to supplement Freud's theory of psycho-sexual stages with a theory of ego stages and a theory of social institutions.  The dialectic of biology was now enhanced by the dialectics of ego and society.  Here surely was a promising program for psychoanalytic theory, a program that would enable it to account for the embeddedness of the psyche in a social world.  Yet, as we shall see, Erikson's theory, although widely accepted in many sectors of the psychological, educational and historical disciplines, fails to provide a satisfactory psychoanalytic model of the family.

Erikson's clinical practice in child psychology, in studying American Indians and in treating the neuroses of war all led him to a concept of the ego as the center of "a sense of coherent individuation and identity; of being one's self, of being all right, and of being on the way to becoming what other people, at their kindest, take one to be."[4]  Against Freud, Erikson restored to the ego its relative autonomy from the instincts and provided it with the role of active organizer of experience.  No longer subordinated to the more powerful influences of the super-ego and the id, the ego was again the center of the self, the place where the individual maintained a sense of meaning and coherence.

The revaluation of the ego was only the first step.  Erikson s major achievement was a theory  of  the stages  and crises  through which  the ego  passed at  each point  in the life

66 Critical Theory of the Family

cycle.  In each phase of life, the ego has to organize its experience, both internal and external, in order for the self to establish its continuity.  Freud's first instinctual stage, the oral, was now also and equally a period when the ego established an attitude of trust or mistrust toward the world.  If successful in this period, the individual would have for the rest of his life, and as a sort of possession, an unconscious sense of faith and optimism a sense that the world was basically a good place.  Similarly, for Freud's second, anal stage, Erikson added one of autonomy vs. doubt; for Freud's Oedipal stage, one of initiative vs. guilt; for the period of latency, one of industry vs. inferiority.

Whereas Freud viewed the third or genital stage, with its Oedipal crisis, as most crucial for instinctual and indeed all psychic organization, Erikson placed the fifth stage of identity, during adolescence, as the pivotal phase of ego development.  At each stage, success or failure influenced the ego for the entire cycle of life, but the identity crisis, by now part of our everyday vocabulary, was most influential to an individual's sense of coherence.  Erikson suggested that this shift of emphasis within psychoanalysis might be due to changing historical circumstances.  Technological capitalism, delaying the individual's entry into society and undercutting the value of the older generation's experience for the younger generation, accentuated the problem of finding a place in the world for adolescents.[5]  We can let pass for now the middle-class bias in Erikson's explanation.  More than this resort to history, Erikson's stress on identity derived from his special concerns with the ego rather than with the instincts.  The unconscious might well be organized around the fifth year, while the ego becomes structured during the period of youth.

In Freud's theory, the crucial phases of development end with the Oedipus complex.  The focus on the ego led Erikson to extend his theory throughout the life cycle.  After the identity crisis came one of intimacy vs. isolation, followed by one of generativity vs. stagnation and concluding with one of integrity vs. despair.  While many Freudians, like

67 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

Melanie Klein, were studying childhood more intensively than Freud had and concluding that the pre-Oedipal phases were more significant than Freud thought, Erikson went in the opposite direction and expanded psychoanalytic theory to account for the entire life cycle, adulthood as well as childhood.[6]

Erikson's theory of ego development is very well known, so I need not summarize it more extensively than I already have.  Its implications for a theory of the family, however, have been virtually unexplored so it is here that I will concentrate my analysis.

The major theoretical implication for psychoanalysis of Erikson's concept of ego stages is a decided shift toward society as a determinant of psychic structure.  Erikson is explicit in pointing out the failure of Freud's psychoanalytic theory to account conceptually for social structure: "The traditional psychoanalytic method?cannot quite grasp identity because it has not developed terms to conceptualize the environment.  Certain habits of psychoanalytic theorizing, habits designating the environment as 'outer world' or 'object world, cannot take account of the environment as a pervasive actuality."[7]  From Erikson's perspective, Freud was not able to specify the social field in which psychic structure is formed.

Erikson goes on to question some of the fundamental assumptions of psychoanalysis about the biological, natural quality of childhood experience.  "A stubborn tendency persists [in psychoanalysis] to treat the ėmother-child relationship' as a 'biological' entity more or less isolated from its cultural surroundings."[8]  For a Freudian, Erikson is moving far toward bringing psychic experience into focus as part of the social world.  Finally, Erikson goes to the heart of the problem: "Instead of accepting such instinctual 'givens' as the Oedipus trinity as an irreducible schema for man's irrational conduct, we are exploring the way in which social forms codetermine the structure of the family . . ."[9]  From now on family structure and psychic structure must be conceptualized as interdependent.

68 Critical Theory of the Family

Erikson had discovered that the ego, the center of individuality, could not be understood in isolation from the others and the wider world around it.[10]  The study of the ego led directly to the study of "the interdependence of inner and social organization . . . "[11]  The ego was nothing but a precipitate of its relations with others.  Identity depended directly on the ability of the individual to integrate these residues of identifications with others into a coherent whole.  Certainly Freud recognized the ego as the internalization of the immediate community.  His concept of the ego-ideal was precisely this.  But Erikson, unlike Freud, announced that the relation of ego and world was a major theoretical problem which was not resolved by the idea of a "reality principle." In Erikson's words, "We are in need, then, of concepts which throw light on the mutual complementation of ego synthesis and social organization."[12]

Erikson approached the problem by focusing on child-rearing methods.  A notion of biological inevitability was insufficient to comprehend the oral stage.  The particular social customs surrounding feeding were important determinants in regulating the mutual relations of mother, father and child in these activities.  Not only was the child developing an erotic attachment to its mouth along with organizing its libido in relation to the mother, but the mother's capacity for giving, the society's customs concerning how the baby was to be fed, how much it should be fed, how often, even by whom (only the biological mother, the father, any lactating female, certain lactating females)--all these were integral parts in the child's developing a trusting ego.  Erikson has thus enabled us to comprehend the oral stage as a social experience; we are able to see not simply an intra-psychic phenomenon, but a complex social interaction.  In the comprehension of psychic levels, the social world emerges as a structured and intelligible reality, not merely as an opaque "reality principle." Above all, the false individualism of Freud's theory is replaced by a notion of the primacy of the social nature of psychic reality.

Unfortunately these apparent advances are flawed seriously on many levels.  Perhaps the most obvious difficulty  with Erikson's  theory of the life  cycle is its claim of univers-

69 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

ality.  For example, can generativity (defined as the adult's need to guide the next generation) be the central problem for adults in all societies?  Could this be true in a monastery?  More seriously, David Hunt, in his book on seventeenth-century French families,[13] found it impossible to apply Erikson's category of generativity to the French aristocracy.  Family structure among the aristocracy called for a minimum of child care and nurturing by parents, and parents received no special social recognition for providing these functions.  In fact, aristocrats felt that a noble mother who spent much of her time with her children, especially during the first years (today regarded as an absolute demand on the mother), was unworthy of her high social station.  Clearly there is a problem with Erikson's category when applied to a very different social situation.  It seems, however, that his categories can be tested, as Hunt does, and rejected when inapplicable.  Because Erikson's theory, unlike Freud's, is so flexible, the claim of universality does not lead necessarily to an ideological justification of categories that apply only to the present.  Since the general notion of a life cycle applies to all societies and classes, research can establish the appropriate categories for any situation.  Thus Erikson has sensitized us to the problem of the life cycle itself and to the importance of child-rearing methods as areas for research.

The difficulties emerge when we ask precisely what the significance of the life cycle is.  To Erikson, the concept of the life cycle provides the key to understanding the way the individual and society form a unity, the way in which the society provides for a pattern of reciprocal functioning between the generations, in short, the way in which the values of the society become internalized in the individual as he passes through the set of psychological growth crises.  Erikson is not interested in the character structure of the individual, as Wilhelm Reich was; he is not interested in the way the instincts are shaped and repressed.  Nor does his concept of the life cycle provide an explanation of how the society shapes individuals.  In using the theory of the life cycle, Hunt, for example, refused to argue that certain child-rearing techniques result in certain psycho-

70 Critical Theory of the Family

logical patterns in the child.  But Erikson does not really argue for such a mechanistic causality.  He simply assumes that the patterns the adults use in raising children have a built-in social wisdom, an implicit unity with the expectations of the adult world.  This assumption contains some difficulties, as we shall see.  But for now it is imperative that we emphasize Erikson's own position: his concept of the life cycle is designed to show how the individual finds meaning in the world, how the individual attains positive ego strengths, and, finally, how the individual achieves the spiritual values which enable him to cope with living in his world.[14]

The shortcomings of Erikson's position for a critical theory of the family may now be apparent.  We have moved from the tough-minded, almost materialist dialectic of Freud to a theory that points from its beginning essentially to idealist questions.  In Freud, religion was mankind's collective neurosis; in Erikson the entire psychology turns back to an affirmation of religious values and experience.  The impact of the life cycle upon the individual is a set of values; each stage of life, if successfully achieved, implants in the individual a spiritual resource.  Erikson enumerates them in his "schedule of virtues,"[15] in the order of the seven stages, as follows: hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care and wisdom.  Thus, the concept of the life cycle leads not to a comprehension of family structure, but to a set of religious virtues.  Erikson's lofty spiritual quest ends in an affirmation of all social orders as providing adequate chances for each individual to attain these values.

From the vantage point of this study, the danger of Erikson's grand, humane intent is that it skews his theory of the life cycle away from a critical analysis of family structure toward a search for the organic unity of individual and world.  In his own words,

we are speaking of goals and values and of the energy put at their disposal by child-training systems.  Such values persist because the cultural ethos continues to consider them 'natural' and does not admit of alternatives.  They persist because they have become an essential part

71 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

of an individual's sense of identity, which he must preserve as a core of sanity and efficiency.  But values do not persist unless they work, economically, psychologically and spiritually; and I argue that to this end they must continue to be anchored, generation after generation, in early child-training; while child training, to remain consistent, must be embedded in a system of continued economic and cultural synthesis.[16]
The main difficulty for a theory of the family with this focus on synthesis is that it shifts the field away from conflicts, from discontinuities, from antagonisms, and allows one only to see society as a harmonious unity, as a self-regulating mechanism, always readjusting itself, never needing to be challenged fundamentally or to be overturned, never really oppressive.  All family structures are adequate, to Erikson, as long as they provide for values that will fit the individual into society armed with his "schedule of virtues."

If the theory of the life cycle is slanted toward synthesis and unity and if it leads primarily to a comprehension of values, it also is inadequate because it reintroduces individualism.  The theory brings the social field to light through the individual and his quest.  The life cycle is something the individual goes through.  The psychological categories-trust, identity, etc. are those of the individual.  Although these are developed in mutual interaction with the social system, there are no concepts for comprehending psychologically the wider world, institutional patterns or interpersonal relations.  One still does not grasp directly what goes on between people, but only what happens to them.  Thus for each stage in the life cycle, society somehow provides an appropriate institution: religion for the stage of trust, law and order for the stage of autonomy, the economy for the stage of industry, and so forth.  But the economic system, for example, is important for the first stage as well as the second: impoverished peasant families cannot provide sustenance for their babies, so they die of malnutrition or become deformed or are destroyed by their parents.  The economy might be more significant for the  first stage  of life than religion.  Yet  Erikson  offers  no concepts  to analyze  this pro-

72 Critical Theory of the Family

blem.  Erikson assumes that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that everyone else lives there as well.  Social institutions for him simply are not a problem.  They will manage to adjust themselves.  He states, and even repeats the statement word for word later:

Each successive stage and crisis has a special relation to one of the basic elements of society, and this for the simple reason that the human life cycle and man's institutions have evolved together.17
Furthermore, the focus on the individual's development leads conceptually to a wholesale legitimation of the society.  For the individual to achieve "wholeness" and spiritual fulfillment social arrangements which are very suspect become advantageous.  Requirements of the identity crisis, for instance, supercede theoretically requirements of social justice.  Since adolescents require a social order led by virtuous and able adults, Erikson states that these adults must be presented as capable even if they are not.  In his own words, "In order not to become cynically or apathetically lost, young people must somehow be able to convince themselves that those who succeed in their anticipated adult world thereby shoulder the obligation of being the best."[18]  This is close to endorsing indoctrination of youth in loving and respecting any given political leader since it is crucial to mental health.  The import of Erikson's individualism is that his theory allows one to see problems arising in the psychological development of the individual but not in the social system--so that even though he calls repeatedly for an understanding of the mutuality of the individual and the social his theory leads back ultimately to the same intra-psychism one meets in Freud.  The fault for Erikson lies not in the social relations or family structure, but in the individual.  The exception is with great leaders who alter the society to fit their own psychic needs and hence automatically readjust the social mechanism for all.

The focus on the individual is also  detrimental  to a  family  theory in that it regresses

Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family 73

from Freud's advances in comprehending the libido and the unconscious.  Although Erikson wants to synthesize these with his understanding of the ego, he loses, as a follower of Hartmann, the sharp edge of the Freudian concepts.  In the last instance Erikson's individual is over-centered in his ego, fully conscious of his quest for values.  Therefore no connection can be made between the individual's unconscious and the family and social structures, which are also unconscious.

The primary weakness of Erikson's theory is his failure to develop his concept of child-rearing patterns in relation to a concept of family structure.  Here is where all the previously enunciated criticisms come to a head.  Spiritualism, organicism, and individualism all lead away from the necessity to conceptualize family structure.  Instead, child rearing is important to Erikson only for its role in his fundamentally idealist concern.

We believe that we are dealing here, not with simple causality, but with a mutual assimilation of somatic, mental, and social patterns which amplify one another and make the cultural design for living economical and effective.  Only such integration provides a sense of being at home in this world.[19]
But if one wants to understand what families are, how they work, how they transform individuals into the not always comfortable model of their class and society and thus feel "at home in this world," how they change in history and what their optimum structures are, one needs to focus not on the quest for a spiritual home but on the relation between child-rearing patterns, psychic development and family patterns.

When one examines in detail some of the early stages of the life cycle, the residual individualism of Erikson's position emerges clearly.  In place of Freud's anal stage, Erikson substitutes the following categories: (1) the psycho-sexual aspect in which the body's libido becomes attached to the anus around the functions of retention and elimination; (2) the ego-strength quality of autonomy vs. shame and doubt; (3) the psycho-social modality of holding on or letting go; (4) the social institution of law and or-

74 Critical Theory of the Family

der; and finally (5) the radius of significant relations as "parental persons."[20]  Unlike Freud's, Erikson's set of concepts appears to go far in accounting for the social nature of psychic structure and specifically for the family.  Yet the relations between the five categories are not well developed and family structure is overlooked.

Erikson's general argument about stage two is that as toilet training becomes the central drama of the child's life, the ego develops a capacity for autonomy or self-doubt.  In conjunction with anal eroticism and with the parents' ability to relate their generativity to the child, the child struggles with the task of delimiting the. boundaries of its control.  The child becomes highly assertive with great shows of will as it discovers its capacity for controlling its bodily pleasure and functions.  If the parents respond well to the child's crisis, the child will have the chance to feel good about its efforts at self-control, and will avoid terrible doubts about self-worth.  Emotionally, the child has to give up its anal eroticism its enjoyment of excrement and spontaneous bodily evacuation, in favor of the milder gratification of receiving parental approval for using the toilet.  It has to de-eroticize its anus and subject the anus to the regulation of the ego, thereby, Erikson emphasizes, establishing the basis of individualism.

Long ago Freud showed how the anal phase was the basis of the character traits of punctuality, cleanliness, thriftiness--in short many of the bourgeois virtues.  With his wider concern for social issues, Erikson relates these personality traits to the history of capitalism, but in a remarkably inadequate fashion:

A movement in child training began which tended to adjust the human organism from the very start to clock-like punctuality in order to make it a standardized appendix of the industrial world. ... In pursuit of the adjustment to and mastery over the machine, American mothers (especially  of  the  middle class) found  themselves  standardizing and  over-adjusting

75 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

children who later were expected to personify . . . virile individuality . . . [21]
Confronted with one of the most dramatic transformations of social character in modern history, Erikson can say only that mothers wanted to reduplicate the mastery over machines, a highly dubious claim in any case.  First of all, the shift in training methods was not unique to American middle-class mothers, but to bourgeois families everywhere during this phase of capitalist industrialization; it thus has nothing to do with "American" character structure in particular, which is what Erikson is trying to explain.  More significantly, there were basic changes in the structure of the family among these groups which Erikson ignores but which are crucial to understanding the new anal character.  These toilet-training methods were introduced among families which were increasingly set off against society as private worlds, and in which the child was subject to the authority mainly of its immediate parents, intensifying its emotional attachment to and dependency upon them.  These families also demanded a tremendous degree of self-control, of de-eroticization of the body: for males in the activities of the entrepreneur, for females in attaining middle-class respectability or frigidity.  They defined themselves by rejecting aristocratic sensuality and lower-class filthiness.  They were like the aristocracy in that they did not work with their hands, even though their blood was common.  An extraordinary demand for cleanliness thus was prevalent among them.  It was in the middle-class family structure that some children were strapped to the potty-before the age of one.

Still rooted in individualism, Erikson finds himself imputing motives to mothers because he needs to find an adjusting mechanism between society and personality.  Indeed the class which "needed" the anal personality most, the factory workers who were related directly to the schedule of machines, were not, during the early stages of industrialization, organized into privatized nuclear families, and hence did not develop rigid toilet-training methods and anal personalities.

76 Critical Theory of the Family

That ego psychology does not come to grips with family structure may be seen also in Erikson's concept of femininity.  Instead of Freud's view of women as a negative other, as those who lack a penis, Erikson characteristically emphasizes the positive: feminine psychology is characterized by the presence of inner space.  Based on a study of children's play, Erikson concluded that boys' fantasies concerned "outdoor spaces," "free motion of animals, cars and people in open spaces," and "high structures," all symbolic of the penis, while girls' fantasies were represented by the "interior of houses," a symbol of the womb.[22]  This data meant, for Erikson, that identities can be divided into masculine and feminine and that these were based on the body.  He surmised that the "modalities of a woman s existence reflect the ground plan of the body among other things. . . "[23]  Aside from a vague "among other things," we are back to Freud's biological determinism.  It would appear much more sensible to explain whatever preference for "inner space" might exist in contemporary women by the work they do in the house, since in patriarchal society they are confined there more than men, and by the example of their mothers, who were also confined there and who served as sources of identification.  As Erikson describes his notion of "inner space," it is unclear exactly what it explains.  Even if, at best, women have body images based on the reproductive organ, it is difficult to see how one can leap from this to a concept of femininity as "inner space." Surely an explanation of girls' playing with interior spaces would be easier if based on family structure rather than body structure.  Such a theoretical strategy would permit one to comprehend existing feminine psychology as a consequence of the constituted social world rather than through a fixed biology.  In fact, Stoller, in his studies of transsexuals, has argued convincingly that the social world, especially family structure, has  far  more to do with  the  psychological  determinants of  masculinity  and femininity than any biological givens.[24]   In certain family patterns biological males can be psychological females and vice versa.  Hence society supercedes nature.

77 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

The problems in Erikson's theory can be located in his attempts to apply it to history.  First, his theory leads him to define the domain of psychohistory not in terms of family history but as the analysis of individuals.  Second, the individuals he has selected tend to be religious figures (Luther and Gandhi) who illustrate Erikson's emphasis on the ego's search for spiritual values.  Third, Erikson selects periods of great crisis--Reformation Germany, Nazi Germany, de-colonizing India--and presents the resolution of the crisis as a harmonious mediation of individual leaders and their times.  Erikson wants to show how the individual's quest for ego strength at each stage of psychic development leads to a resolution for the individual and for the society.  Thus Luther and Gandhi struggle for psychic stability in the domain of their personal history.  The positive values they attain enable them to present new solutions to the dilemmas that confront their followers.[25]  Ego strength and social stability emerge as two sides of the same coin.  What Erikson underemphasizes in Young Man Luther and Gandhi's Truth are the failures and the conflicts.  To take one example, Luther's revolt against Rome succeeded only at the cost of suppressing the peasants in the rebellion of 1525.  Lutheran religion was established at the cost of reinforcing the oppressive class structure of princely and aristocratic rule.  As rich and suggestive as these studies are, they are deeply limited by Erikson's underlying concern with the relation of spiritual values to psychic health.

Erikson's psychohistories also are flawed by failing to illuminate family structure.  This failing is most peculiar because scholars who use Erikson's theory focus on the family as a primary subject of investigation.  These non-individualist uses of Erikson's theory are often most fruitful.  I would like to advert to the work of Lee Rainwater on black ghetto families.  Using Erikson's concept of identity, Rainwater suggestively shows how ruling-class images of black inferiority filter down to the black parent, who then projects them onto the children.[26]  Rainwater illustrates how ego identity can serve ideological and political purposes in a racist society: how a lower-class child can have a

78 Critical Theory of the Family

clear sense of identity, satisfying Erikson's criteria of ego strength, but that this internalized identity can also be self-destructive.  Rainwater's study also suggests an explanation for the concern with revising the black group image in the late sixties.  The success of black militant organizations, and slogans such as "black is beautiful," were probably associated with an effort to undo psychologically the negative identities internalized in childhood.  Perhaps all protest movements have a psychological dimension such as this.  The example of the consciousness-raising groups of the women)s movement comes quickly to mind: women struggled to extricate themselves from "feminine" identities which fit well into patriarchal, sex-role differentiated families.  In all of these cases, we see the rich possibilities of Erikson's theory for family history.

In the main however Erikson's theory flounders by trying to explain historical changes through the reciprocal interplay of individual life cycles.  The force of structural transformations, such as the industrial revolution, which are by no means always synchronized between various levels of society, is lost.

I now turn to Parsons and his school, who try precisely to integrate a version of Freudian theory with their own theory of the social system.  The Parsonians are much like the ego psychologists in de-emphasizing the role of the instincts and in viewing the individual's relation to society as an organic, harmonious, self-adjusting interplay.  The Parsonians advance beyond Erikson, however, in comprehending social reality through a model of interpersonal relations, rather than depending on a notion of individualism.

The comparison of Erikson and Parsons is striking: a psychologist and a sociologist, both so in tune with the dominant American culture, both nourished spiritually in Germany (Erikson by Freud and by a youth spent in Germany, Parsons by his debt to Max Weber).  While Erikson makes liberal humanism into religious values Parsons transmutes social values and myths into liberalism.  The psychologist strives for the spiritual wholeness of the individual by studying the life cycle; the sociologist conceptu-

79 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family
alizes the spiritual wholeness of society by studying the socialization process.  Both theorize about values from their separate disciplinary perspectives and both find an organic harmony between individual and society.  In neither case does social experience damage, torment or oppress the individual; in neither case does the domination, conflict, and misery fostered by a particular social order come into relief Both theories are eminently historical and geneticist, only to end by extracting the core of their positions from the temporal dimension.  As Erikson universalizes the life cycle, Parsons eternalizes virtually every major institution of contemporary capitalist society.

After World War II the theories of Talcott Parsons dominated American social science, with strains in this hegemony only beginning to appear in the late 1950s- Parsons philosophized world history as a process of "modernization" in which social functions are increasingly "differentiated" into separate structures.  Adam Smith's notion of economic progress through the division of labor was now applied to the total social system.  If Smith saw efficiency coming out of capitalism, Parsons saw order and equilibrium crystallizing out of advancing modernity.  Parsons is the anti-Marx par excellence: society to him is a system whose parts are delicately balanced in the whole and whose essence is not the mode of production but values and roles.  Hence the family, in Parsonian sociology, takes on an importance that it never had for Marx.  The family is the agent of socialization, the prime mechanism for imprinting in the new generation the values of the old, and thereby guaranteeing social order.

This notion of the family's function, whatever its difficulties would appear to support a wide relativism with regard to family structure.  Any family structure could, in principle, provide the service of socialization to society at large.  Yet here as elsewhere Parsons' general principles of society have a way of reducing themselves to the particular institutions of capitalism.  All families are reduced to a few socializing mechanisms which  turn  out to be  those of  the "nuclear family."  The  result of Parson's

80 Critical Theory of the Family

of Parsons' theory is that by collapsing abstract principles into concrete capitalist practice he makes our institutions appear as universal and necessary, unchanging and unchangeable.  Parsons conceives the modern family by picking out certain features of it which he then claims to be the essence of all families.[27]  This theoretical sleight of hand is the essence of ideological thinking.  Yet while most ideologists proclaim the given order as natural, Parsons first deduces his basic principles of society and then claims that all of history is moving toward them.

Parsons defines the structure of the family in relation to its basic function of socialization, and minimizes the importance of reproduction.  He reasons that two structures only are essential to the family: a hierarchy of generations and a differentiation of socializing agents into "instrumental" and "expressive" figures.[28]  He postulates that all families contain these features and that the nuclear family manifests them particularly well.  Without going any further one can see that Parsons has elevated parental domination of children as well as contemporary sex roles into inviolable principles.  The husband, for Parsons, alone can provide the instrumental role model and only the wife can provide the expressive role model.

Confronted by anomalous anthropological evidence to which either the role models do not conform to the nuclear family or the immediate parents are not the primary socializing agents, Parsons and his followers employ two strategies. Thus in the case of Margaret Mead, who has shown that women can serve as instrumental role models, they deny the validity of her demonstration out of hand.[29]  Alternately they argue that such data bespeaks a society at a low level of "differentiation" or "modernization." When, for instance, a Parsonian is faced with a pre-industrial community which is: dominated by kinship, he manages to find beneath the primary socializing group which happens not to resemble a nuclear family the family mechanisms of today's middle-class family.[30]  In this way, kinship structures become nothing but the clear family prior to differentiation.

81 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

Even in these radically different worlds Parsons is able to find the American middle-class mother nurturing the boy to manhood and the American middle-class father providing the instrumental function which orients the boy toward achievement and skills.  Finally, to Parsons , the incest taboo serves the same function in kinship structures as it does today, guaranteeing the authority of the parents over the child by securing the father's sexual privileges with his wife.[31]  Parsons thinks he has proven that the nuclear family is universal, when in fact he has denied the intelligibility of non-industrial society.  The family of industrial capitalism is protected ideologically since its structure no longer appears to be new and historically constituted but only the result of progressive "differentiation."

Parsons is unhappy with Freud for much the same reasons as Erikson.  He notes Freud's incapacity to understand psychic structure as mutually dependent on social interactions: "Freud and his followers, by concentrating on the single personality, have failed to consider adequately the implications of the individual's interaction with other personalities to form a system."[32]  Again like Erikson, Parsons diminishes the role of the instincts, inflates the proportions of the ego, and points to the importance of the internalization of values in the family: "The central focus of the process of socialization lies in the internalization of the culture of the society . . . [its] patterns of value . . . "[33] But more than Erikson, Parsons is unhappy with Freud for not taking into account the cognitive level of child development: "The cognitive definition of the object world does not seem to have been problematical to Freud."[34]

In presenting the cognitive level Parsons denies the instinctual level of the psycho-sexual stages.  For him these stages are nothing but learning experiences.  In the oral stage, the mother-child interaction is for the child simply a process of learning about the meaning of the mother's acts.[35]  The personality is formed not as a process of the modification of the instincts, but as the differentiation of an internalized object system.[36]  Parsons is  right to argue  that the  object,  in  psychoanalytic theory, is inert: it simply re-

82 Critical Theory of the Family

ceives a "charge of cathectic significance" by the subject, while the mutuality of the interaction is overlooked.  Yet his model is equally one-sided, for it leaves out the level of unconscious emotional structure as well as the body.

In 1955 Parsons responded to arguments that the nuclear family was collapsing.  In its defense he proclaimed that what appeared to be a collapse was in fact only another step in the process of differentiation.  He observed in America a reduction in the importance of kinship units other than the nuclear family and a transfer of functions from the nuclear family to other institutions, such as schools, social-service organizations, churches and the state.  Parsons interpreted these changes not as a threat but as a deepening significance of the nuclear family.  The particular functions that it was best suited to perform were becoming more emphasized, more crucial to the society.  In this context he revised his model of the nuclear family.  The structure of the nuclear family now consisted of the following. a separate dwelling for grandparents, insuring privacy and isolation of the family; an equal division of inheritance; a separation of "occupational organization from kinship"; a personal world beyond public affairs; a function of socializing children to "stabilize adult personalities"; a small size; a total commitment of parents to supervise scrupulously the child's life.[37]  Parsons specified a set of social conditions, incomplete and inaccurate in some cases to be sure, which develop in the child the values of capitalism but, more important, which implant the psychic structure articulated by Freud.  In developing my own theory of the family a major problem will-be to generalize the social conditions, some of which Parsons names, so as to account for family structures other than the bourgeois one.

Although it appears that Parsons has given us a concept of the family which is far more historical and social than Freud and Erikson,[38] this is only partly true.  Parsons deals quite well with the problem of relating the formation of psychic saw structure to social interactions.  He points to internalization and identification as the crucial mechanisms of socialization and the formation of psychic structure.  He also comprehends  the nature of society as a system, and he cannot be accused of introducing

83 Ego Psychology, Modernization and the Family

atomistic individualism in his theory of the family.  Where Parsons falters, however, is in taking the patriarchal bourgeois family as the norm.

His treatment of women, for example, betrays this flaw quite clearly.  In place of the traditional idea that anatomy is destiny, he presents the American social order as destiny.  Women alone can provide the expressive function.  Boys alone can be oriented to achievement in the adult world because they undergo a more difficult process than girls of shifting identifications from Mama to Papa.  Even where Parsons sees the historical source of male dominance he obfuscates the issue.  The primacy of the father, he notes, results from the "strong emphasis in the Western world on types of achievement and rules of conduct which transcend the familial situation."[39]  But he will say equally that only the male parental figure can provide the instrumental function and the point of change from family to society in any social system.  In fact, the whole distinction between expressive and instrumental socializing agents must be called into question.  At most, it applies to the division of labor between husband and wife in bourgeois families.  When used in relation to other family structures it serves only to obfuscate the situation.

Although rejected by many sociologists, Parsons' theory of society and the family has been used extensively by historical sociologists and historians themselves.  In each case they have been led by the theory to search for the fit between the family and society--for, in other words, the parallel origins and ultimate congruence of industrial capitalist society with the nuclear family.[40]  But the facts do not bear out the theory: the nuclear family began before industrialization, on the one hand, and on the other industrialization did not lead immediately and for all levels of society to the nuclear family.  Modernization theory leads to a unitary view of social change.  Yet there can be no linear, continuous, homogeneous view of the history of the family, no one-to-one match  between the  economy  and the family,  and no  privileging  of the traits of the nu-

84 Critical Theory of the Family

clear family as the index and standard for all others. To the extent that Parsonian theory leads to such privileging it must be rejected as an inadequate conceptual tool for comprehending the family.

[Chapter 3 Notes]