Freud and the American Ethos

Jan Armstrong, University of New Mexico

Note: This essay is currently under revision. It will eventually be available in print form. Please contact me [jka "at" unm "dot" edu] if you would like to read a draft of the revised manuscript. Feedback always welcome! Jan A.

The essay addresses historical perspectives on 19th century family life

Historian John Demos (1997) has examined why Freud was probably more influential in the United States than in Europe during his lifetime. People responded to Freud’s theory as though a new discovery had been made. This is because there was an ideal "fit" between Freud's theoretical ideas and the changing context of family life and parenting in urbanizing America. Freud once said "America is a mistake: a gigantic mistake…" Demos concludes, the mistake was that Freud was not an American.

This essay is draws on an two articles by Demos (1997): Oedipus and America: Historical perspectives on the reception of psychoanalysis in the United States (1978, reprint) and another Demos essay titled History and the psychosocial: Reflections on "Oedipus and America." In, Pfister, J. and N. Schnog, editors, (pp. 63-83), Inventing the psychological: Toward a cultural history of emotional life in America.

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Created 9/04/01 by jka. Modified 3/21/10 jka.