How has psychoanalysis influenced sociology? How did Freud seek to establish a link between the two?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Let’s begin with some definitions of sociology.  In a general way, sociology is the study of facts, processes, and and actions of social groups, it is, in other words, the “science of society.”  Some, like French sociologist Emile Durkeim define sociology primarily relating to societies nomothetics (that is, the laws societies impose on its members).  George Simmel, the German philosopher and sociologist, defines sociology as the way in which shapes itself based on the actions that occur between individuals. Max Weber, the German economist and sociologist argues that sociology is the ways in which those studying the workings of a social group strive to understand that group.  And Marcel Mauss, French sociologist (and nephew of Emile Durkeim) claims that sociology is the study of "the living aspect, the fleeting moment when society, or men, become sentimentally aware of themselves and of their relation to others.”

The connection between sociology and psychoanalysis comes to us courtesy of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.  Very early in his works, among them, “Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices" (1907) and " 'Civilized' Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness" (1908) Freud makes connections between the two fields.  In “The Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest," Freud argues that understanding the importance of psychoanalysis could greatly aid both social sciences and psychology, when these disciplines realize the effect of the unconscious on human behavior. 

Freud’s later works, including Totem and Taboo (1913) and Moses and Monotheism (1939), further explore the role of the unconscious and its links to the formation of civilizations and the problems that civilizations experience as a result of their unconscious motives and motivations.

Other sociologists and psychologists, and other scientists have sought to expand understanding of social groups.  One of the most prominent of those who followed Freud was Wilhelm Reich.  In the early to mid-twentieth century, Reich founded a field of study he called “Freudo-Marxism.”  Freudo-Marxism studied the role of the family and how families shaped authoritarian behavior.  Reich also, through Freudo-Marxism, tried to understand the how capitalist and patriarchal societies suppressed individual instincts.

Like Reich, German sociologist Herbert Marcuse studied how the capitalist system suppressed the individual so much that he became a “one dimensional man.” Géza Róheim continued Freud’s study as well.  Róheim successfully argued that Freud’s hypothesis that the “primitive hoard” and the Oedipus Complex (kill the father; fall in love with the mother) are both present in all cultures, regardless of their differences. 

The work to link sociology and psychology continued into the late twentieth century, with social scientists  like Wilfred R. Bion and Eliott Jaques in Britain and Max Pagès, Gérard Mendel, Didier Anzieu, René Kaës, Jean-Claude Rouchy, André Lévy, and Eugène Enriquez in France attempting to strengthen the connections between the two disciplines.  Although results have met with mixed success, in 1993, clinical sociology was recognized as a branch of sociology by the International Sociological Association. 

Source: International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, ©2005 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The analysis of human thought and behavior has certainly made important contributions to society. The analysis of criminal behavior has led to the capture of dangerous individuals, and the advancements of such men as Jean Piaget and his study of the minds of children has improved methods of education and understanding. Carl Jung's understanding of how the unconscious contributes to behavior has also helped people to becomes more balanced mentally. For, Jung felt that people become whole when both the conscious and unconscious parts of their minds work in harmony and that people have a natural tendency to move toward balance and self-healing.

For both Jung and Sigmund Freud, dreams are important because they concern themselves with what one cannot resolve by conscious deliberation and action. Sometimes, too, dreams are wish fulfillments. These include such desires as the wish for the continued existence of a loved one who is already dead, a craving for sleep as the means of escape from reality, a wish to return to childhood, and desires for revenge when revenge is impossible. In an analysis of dreams, as well as repressed desires, especially sexual desires, Freud was convinced that people's psychoses could be found and treated. Such treatment then leads to a more balanced individual who can better participate in society. Freud himself remarked,

One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be "happy" is not included in the plan of Creation.

With this as a premise, psychoanalysis is an on-going procedure that is truly beneficial for many members of society.

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