CHILDHOOD AND SOCIETY Part I: Chapters 1 & 2
source: E. Erikson, Childhood and Society (England/ Australia: Penguin Books, 1970)

The pain, brokenness, woundedness and escalating violence experienced by people in our present world, more often than not, overwhelm me, bombard me with interminable and sometimes unanswerable questions and catch and leave me off guard. At present, we live in a world inhabited, shaped and governed by People of the Lie* and where people suffer and get killed in variety of degree and forms. A world where passion for wealth, power and prestige surpasses the value for the flourishing of every human being. We may ask: How and why does this reality happen? Who then are we to blame? And sometimes I continue to ask if these are the right questions.

This is a very complex matter that adds up to my amazement in the realization that every person in its own age, class, race, culture, religion, gender, sex, etc. is a complex human being and no matter how one tries cannot be fully grasped. Nevertheless, with the flourishing of the field of psychology, we are given aid to at least be aware and understand the dynamism of human growth and development. We have many contributions that are made accessible for us one of which is the work of Erik Erikson on Childhood and Society. I believe in the vital role and importance of childhood and culture and wish to widen and ground my learning in class, draw new insights and understanding of the dynamic of people and the world and have an in-depth look of my inner self. Therefore, I wish to be helped by and will study the part one of Erikson’s book which contains chapters one and two and primarily tackles about “Childhood and Modalities of Social life.”

To do so, after reading, I will present the summary of Erikson’s main arguments, make a critical assessment of his work, and mention my personal insights drawn from the study. Shortly this shall be followed by a conclusion and implications to our life and spirituality.


When we are faced with problems and difficulties, we either tend to immediately find out its cause or solution. In psychopathology, this is likely the case. Erikson relates that psychopathology “is the child of medicine which had its illustrious origin the quest for the location and causation of disease.” (p.19) It treats neurosis in particular. Neurosis involves one’s physical suffering, emotional crisis and particular response to the immediate environment, events and persons. With the presentation of two specimens about neurological crisis, Erikson argues that a person’s process of organization is composed of body, ego and society. These three are interconnected reality and a relationship in itself. One can experience pain, anxiety and is greatly affected by the group or society’s condition which one belongs. Erikson discusses this further in the last part of chapter 1 and places it as framework of how his book is organized and presented.

In chapter 2, to introduce the theory of infantile sexuality, Erikson presented two clinical cases that demonstrate the systematic relationships between body zones and modes. He says that anal and urethral problem points to the problem in the child’s behavior which means the activity of the child’s body zone is closely link with his/her modes [i.e. retentive and eliminative]. Deepening this argument, Erikson underscores Freud’s libido theory. Libido “is that sexual energy with which zones other than the genitals are endowed in childhood and which enhances with specific pleasures such vital functions as the intake of food, the regulation of the vowels, and the motion of the limbs.” (p. 56) This explains how one seeks sexual gratification either by the use of the mouth or genitals. Due to the disturbance in the sequence of one’s growth process, one regresses, is stuck in the retentive eliminative mode and uses the organ modes to express his/her character or self. With this understanding, Erikson charts an order of stages that relates biological (libido) development to one’s ego and society in their encounters.

In the first stage, the oral-respiratory-sensory zone is dominated by the incorporative mode and it is here that the child learns the first social modalities of getting. Soon the child moves to the second oral-incorporative mode of biting and learns the new modalities of taking or holding on to things. At this point, mutuality in the child’s act of getting and taking and the society’s way of giving are very important in the child’s development because any impediment in the progress leads to deviation that in turn causes zone and mode fixation and foremost, it is in this stage that the child learns the basic sense of trust and mistrust. Following is the anal-urethral-muscular stage dominated by the retentive and eliminative mode and leading to the new social modalities of letting go and holding on. At this stage, one learns to individuate and thus finds oneself in the conflict between autonomy and shame and doubt. Then comes the locomotor and infantile genital stage which involves inclusive and intrusive mode and the adaptation of the social modalities of making. It is here that one finds him/herself between the conflict of initiative and guilt and in the love triangle and oedipal situations. Lastly, Erikson charts an additional development of the ‘rudimentary genital stage and the new female and male generative mode which with and in every person’s uniqueness is directed toward production and procreation. Seeing the successive differentiation that the chart represents, this stage according to Erikson, can be considered as central in all development. However, he adds that pregenitality is not only meant for genitality but essentially for every child or individual’s absorption and incorporation into the social modalities of culture that s/he is born into, moulds him/her as a person, and s/he eventually internalizes. Thus, he believes that one’s organ modes must be well integrated with one another and to the culture one belongs.

Erikson, presenting a play observation, ends the chapter with a conclusion that zones and modes dominate the play, behavior and character of individuals. One’s organ modes or body primarily influence one’s experiences, life, and even space.


The centrality of Erikson’s attempts to bridge the person’s body, ego and society to one another and emphasize its interconnectedness and the historicity of one’s developmental and growth processes, I can say, holds a certain power, intensity and truth in its content. His attempts are successful. The presentation of the specimens not only make clear what he wants to put forward (i.e. how the dynamics are operative) but also make his argument clear and understandable and the reading lighter and enjoyable. They inspire me to read on and on. His emphasis on the historical process, culture and its deep connection with individual and the cases or episodes cited render the book an educative aspect and at the same time a capacity to affect me in a very personal level that is, to look into my own childhood and present personal dynamics. It has the capacity of both giving me information and leading me to subject myself to it. It mirrors my own process and is very informative both widening and affirming my learning in class. Erikson’s work is rich in substance and worth reading and studying.

Moreover, I affirm Erikson’s claim on the essential role of the society and culture in one’s human growth and development. True indeed, we are beings with body and ego and have a society that we belong to. Each one has a very significant role to play and we cannot simply take one away. Culture shapes us: our values, meaning, lifestyle, etc. We are born into a particular culture and in the process we internalize it. However, given the privilege to understand and be aware of what every person undergoes at the time of birth and our great role in it, we must constantly ask if we promote development of freedom and autonomy and human flourishing. I agree that no one has a perfect childhood given the many factors that caused it but I also believe when Erikson says that no one has to be blamed for any imperfection or impediment that happened. What we need is humility, understanding, patience, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion (p. 29) so that healing and integration can happen and decisions be responsibly made for a more profound search for meaning and creative living.

Erikson’s chart of stages also confirms my belief that every person undergoes a process and we need to help them be in their own pace, time and movement of life and not force them [into our own]. Childhood is crucial stage and time and so the other processes. Awareness and respect therefore is very important.


Highly stressed is Erikson’s point that every person’s growth in body, self (ego) and incorporation into the society is interconnected and a historical process. Every person’s becoming is a historical process. It means it is ongoing, in the context of time and not a once and for all events. There is no such thing as timeless truth about our being. We must undergo every developmental stage and be rooted in our own process.

Erikson’s work makes clear to me two main interlocking points. First is the great importance of one’s childhood. We must be aware of its dynamism and processes to better understand our own experience and render justice to the children in our care and to others. This leads to the greater call and need for integration [especially of those persons who hold power and authority in the government, church and other institutions]. I believe that childhood is our root but we must not let ourselves be imprisoned by it. Rather we must outgrow and learn from it. With the many imperfections and even violence in our childhood that in turn cause so much suffering and violence in the lives of people and the world, integration, healing and wholeness are needed. Our world needs somebody who is free and capable of autonomous thinking. Somebody who knows the importance of his/her society and culture but is not locked up to it and can constructively question it. We need somebody who can make decisions and live life responsibly and not away from or against the reality. We need somebody who despite terrible experience of pain and suffering, being broken, wounded and scarred and disheartening realities in our world rediscovers God’s love and is willing to accompany others as well.

*M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie (London: Arrow, 1990)