Talcott Parsons on building personality system theory via psychoanalysis

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences: “Talcott Parsons on building personality system theory via psychoanalysis,” by A. Javier Treviño. Abstract:

This article examines Talcott Parsons’s efforts at building the theory of personality system as a special case of his general theory of action and places those efforts in historical context. I demonstrate how, during the middle decades of the twentieth century, Parsons employed elements of classic Freudian thought to advance a new appreciation of the personality system and its relations to other action systems. I begin with an overview of the reception of psychoanalysis at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, the Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Harvard Department of Social Relations, showing how Parsons’s thinking on the personality system cannot be understood apart from his association with these three institutions. I then turn to how Parsons endeavored to integrate his particular brand of sociology with his own interpretation of Freud’s writings to explain how the personality system functions and develops. I conclude by showing that while Parsons’s involvements with psychoanalysis became more intermittent after the mid-1950s, to the end of his life he remained steadfast in his enthusiasm for Freud’s theory of personality. In short, Parsons always believed that for sociological theory to progress, it needed to engage with psychoanalysis.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.