Socio-Psycho-Cultural Criticism (Kim)


From the 1930s on there was a tradition of critique of the effect of modernity on the individual. This sampler gathers together a diverse array of authors who introduced ideas on this theme that have become, in many cases, a part of our every day discourse about the human condition.

To fully understand the Socio-Psycho-Cultural Criticism, you must also understand the two systems of thought, sociology and psychoanalysis and, in turn, how the two effect each other. Fromm does this in his article aptly titled, "Psychoanalysis and Sociology(1929)."
When applying psychoanalysis to sociology, we must not assume that the psyche and the individual are responsible for actions where the answers of sociological factors such as economics, technical, or politics are sufficient answers. However, psychoanalysts must push the idea that there is no “society” which exists in and of itself, that society is made up of human beings who have feelings and should be the subject of sociological studies. As well, there is no difference in an “individual” or “mass” psyche. In other words, there are not two minds inside an individual, but only one where the same mechanisms and laws apply whether the individual is seen simply as individual or as a part of society. Yet, at the same time, it is important to investigate how much the individual psyche affects the ways in which the society develops.
Yet, when applying sociology to psychoanalysis, the psychoanalysts must realize while it is important to put out that an individual is just that, they must also not underestimate the extent to which an individual in reality only exists as a socialized person. This starts when a child is born and when they are connected to their families.
However, it is important to question to what extent a family is itself a product of a particular social system and how socially conditioned changes within the family might elicit an individual change in the human, individual, psyche.
This, then, leads us to the principle proble, the connection between psychoanalysis and sociology is one which is reciprocal, often leaving it impossible to define a social or individual problem through one lens or one persepective. This means that we have to use both methods of critique when looking at the individual and the society.


In this sampler, I draw from theorists such as: Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) and Thomas Adorno (1903-1969), who are considered the founders of the German school of Critical Theory. Both were trained in philosophy, the arts and literature and were forced to flee Nazi, Germany after which they continued their studies in New York at The New School for Social Research. David Riseman (1909-2002), was educated at Harvard and then Harvard Law School, eventually clerking for Justice Brandeis. After practicing law, he began to teach social science at the University of Chicago, later teaching at his Alum, Harvard. Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was of Danish parents in Germany and eventually ending up living in Vienna, where he taught school and began his analytic training. He mentored with the Freud's and eventually moved to Boston, Massachusetts where he became the city's first child analyst. He taught at schools such as Harvard, Yale, and UC Berkeley, retiring as a renowned child psychologist.Erich Fromm (1900-1980) was an early associate of the Frankfurt School but his ties to the School grew weak when he moved to the United States. There he became a popular teacher and writer, as well as a practicing psychoanalyst. Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929) grew up, attended and eventually became a professor at the University of Michigan. As a professor, he played a large part in the early development of sociology in the United States. And, finally, Frederic M. Thrasher (1892-1962) was an American sociologist trained at the University of Chicago in urban studies. The particular study in this sampler, Personality and Status Within the Gang, is the reason why the University of Chicago is known so well for its ethnographic writings and delves into urban hardships.

What They Have To Say:

Riesman, "Character and Society: The Other-Directed Personality," 1950.

A society creates in individuals a specific character that will be able to survive and thrive within the given culture. This societal pressure is eventually internalized through some kind of conformity, which instills in the individual a desire to do what is necessary to exist within the society. Over time, revolutions have changed the majority of societies, specifically more developed ones, into a more consumer based arena.
The way in which we can see how the population in a certain area, particularly in Western civilizations is through using the science of demography. Empirically, demography shows us that populations grow in an “S”-like fashion. The bottom horizontal part of the “S” represents a time when population growth is either non-existent or very low. This is because birth and death rates are near equal, yet both are extremely high. If the death rate decreases, then the population has a high chance for growth, leading to this stage of the “S” being called a period of “high growth potential. This then leads to the vertical part of the “S,” which is termed the “transitional growth” period. However, at this point, the birth rate starts to decline in response to the decline in the death rate. This change brings us to the incipient population decline, the top horizontal line on the “S.” During this period, the birth rate and the death rate are again about even, however, this time both rates are very low.
At each of these planes of the “S,” society creates a different kind of character to exist within these different societies, yet each calls for a level of conformity. The high growth potential period enforces conformity through tradition, creating a tradition-directed person. Society of transitional population growth enforces conformity through acquiring early in life an internalized set of goals developing inner-directed people. And, finally, Society of incipient population decline enforces conformity through a tendency to be sensitive to the expectations and preferences of others, other-directed people. Currently, contemporary societies, in this case America, are other-directed people.
Other-directed people live their lives based on the opinions and preferences of a wide range of others. In comparison, tradition based people only care about their society or culture’s view of them, which they receive from a close-knit group of people. Even tighter are the inner-directed people who only receive feedback from their parents or others in positions of authority.
Therefore, the most common contemporary person is other-directed: “shallower, freer with his money, friendlier, more uncertain of himself and his values, more demanding of approval than the European.”
In summary, character is created by society, characters: tradition-directed, inner-directed and other-directed, other directed bases view of self on others and is most contemporary Americans

Erik Erikson, "Youth and American Identity," 1950.

When children enter their youth, they have already answered some questions about their personal identity. However, at this point, rapid growth of the body and maturation of the genitals lead to a questioning, once again, of their identity. Because of all of this newness about their bodies, youths become primarily concerned with what they appear to be in the eyes of others, rather than what they feel they are and how to connect with what they’ve learned previously to the tasks that they will come into contact later.
However, there are some dangers at this point for role confusion. If this occurs, then it is possible for children to have mental breakdowns. To avoid these, youth overidentify to the point where they lose their own identity because of how much they identify with the leaders of cliques and groups. This is the beginning of teenage love, which is often filled with so much conversation because youth see their partner as the reflection of themselves, which gradually clarifies the identity of the original youth.
Within their cliques, youth are often clannish, mean, leaving people out due to skin color, cultural background, tastes, abilities, and petty things such as dress and gesture.
In American culture, there are so many contradicting values, wanting to be migratory versus wanting to be sedentary, yet living their lives based on slogans, truths, which are constantly shifting despite the permanency of a person’s identity. Although this is something that makes American culture very dynamic, it is also something which damages the potential of the growing youth’s identity. Because there are so many different, contradictory things being asked of and being told to the youth, it becomes nearly impossible for them to create a stable identity.
In summary, youth culture develops identity through overidentification in cliques and contradictions in American society create contradictions in self-identity.

Horkheimer and Adorno, “The Culture Industry as Deception,” 1944.

In this essay by Horkheimer and Adorno, the main claim that the rest of the argument and essay is based upon is that culture has become much like a factory which produces ideologies and ideals for the culture through the usage of advertising in radio, television, and print sources.
In the past, advertising had been used to make the consumer aware of the choices which they had within the culture and was something that saved labor time. However, it has turned into something which now excludes sellers who are not already apart of the market, advertising’s price has created a monopoly on the market. As well, advertising is becoming just like the editorial sections of the magazines. Yet, the authors argue that the advertisements, their pictures, and their words make the advertised world look factual and lifelike, something which the editorials can only inspire to be.
As well, the authors bring up the idea of language as a powerful social structure, which has also been changed as it has been influenced by the advertising world. They argue that the connotation of the words that are used in the advertisements has almost totally turned them into propaganda. In other words, the way that people feel about what is being advertised depends on what words that sellers use. However, the way that people feel about words depends on how they have been used in the history of the culture as well as the products that they have been linked to in previous advertisement.
Finally, the authors' main argument that the rest of the essay relies upon and supports is in the last sentence, “That is the triumph of advertising in the culture industry: the compulsive imitation by consumers of cultural commodities which, at the same time, they recognize as false.” This argument that was made in 1944 by the authors still rings true today in the way that advertisers sell all women in their scenes as obscenely thin with perfect skin. Although this is an image that we know, as a society, is something that has been airbrushed, retouched and is almost impossible to attain, it is still a commodity which sellers can push upon us and we still accept it, even though we recognize it as a false ideal.
In summary, society has become like a factory, basis of ideas from mass media, presented false image of America for consumers to buy.

Charles Cooley, "The Looking-Glass Self," 1902.

The self, and “I,” can either be a social phenomenon or a reference to an object. The object version of this “I” is demonstrated when we are playing something such as golf. Often, people do not say “the ball is there,” rather, they proclaim, “I’m on the green.”
The second, social version of “I” is one which is dependent upon others within society. This means that we perceive ourselves, change our appearance, and speak in ways to be pleasing to others within society. This is because each person is like a looking glass to us. When we pass by them or speak with them, we get a reaction from them which tells us what they are thinking about us and we receive feelings on a sliding scale of mortification to pride depending on how they respond to us.
Therefore, the process is like this: someone sees us, we imagine what they are thinking about us and then we respond to their perceived judgments by feeling a range of emotions, either positive or negative, depending on what we think they think. This is made evident in the fact that we act differently around different people. To one person, we might be able to cry about an emotional subject, but to another, who me might fear would view us as weak to do so, we would hold our tears.
In summary, "I" is a social phenomenon, we only gain a sense of "I" through interacting with another.

Thrasher, "Personality and Status Within the Gang," 1927.

The personality of an individual and how it relates to a social group can be well seen inside of gangs. Every boy within and belonging to the gang plays an essential role. He is like a puzzle piece, without him, the gang cannot be complete. As with every other kind of social group, a gang has an action plan. Action plans are models of how every person in the group must interact with each other to make the group function and thrive. These action plans are not something with are absolute. Rather, they are constantly changing just as members of the gang and the environments in which the gang exist are constantly changing. In order to carry out these action plans, gangs have a social hierarchy within them which consists of the inner circle, the rank and file and the fringers. The inner circle consists of the leader of the gang and his close friends and family. The rank and file are those who are not quite as capable as the inner circle. And the fringers are made up of boy followers who are not always used within the gang to make things happen, but their presence and support of the gang are welcome. Because of this hierarchy, there is a struggle within the gang to move up in the ranks. This creates multifaceted relationships between the leader and all members of the gang. Belonging to the gang, then, is how the boy develops his personality, his sense of “self.” Because he views himself as the gang, as part of the gang, he does things within society and within himself that will gain him respect within the gang. This then means that the differences between the boys is what creates their strengths and weaknesses and determines whether or not they move up in the gang. Therefore, the social group of the gang is how many young boys and men determine their sense of self.
In summary, this article is the application of the above theorist's work into the real world. It's an ethnographic work which puts the theory into practice.


Fromm explains to us why it is that, often, we need both the works of psychoanalysis and sociology in order to understand social phenomenon. That is, at times, a person acts from some inner desire, but often they act due to an interaction with another in society. This is explained by Riesman as he details the other-directed self who acts off of how he thinks another individuals perceives the "self." Erikson then delves into how youth develop their identity, that is, through over-identification with a group, or "clique." However, the problem with this, as Horkheimer and Adorno show us, is that society has become manufactured. The media is now the source of affirmation for the "other-directed" self, yet the media presents images to society which are virtually unattainable with their airbrushed models and get-rich-quick schemes. This, then, is why the self, as Cooley explains, has become a looking glass. Since society has become manufactured and since we base the self off of societal standards, that is the self is a social phenomenon, then we adjust who we are and how we act for the sake of the "other" we are with at the time; we have become manufactured, tailored to the desires of the media and those we interact with. This, then, has lead to youth, such as those in the gang world, to form protective groups. Yet, the same issues, hierarchies and changing the way one acts based on who they're with, exist within the world of gangs. Therefore, the socio-psycho analyses has infiltrated every fiber of our being. Every person has both inner and outter desires and standards that they must meet, so it has become impossible to analyze a situation using just one framework, we must use both in combination.


Horkheimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. 1944. "The Culture Industry as Deception" (325-329)
Riesman, David 1950. "Character and Society: The Other-Directed Personality" (329-334)
Erikson, Erik H. 1950. "Youth and American Identity" (334-337)
Baudrillard, Jean. 1983. "Simulacra and Simulations: Disneyland, Reactions and Alternatives" (470-484)
Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1932. "Moral Man and Immoral Society" (247-249)

See Calhoun (below) chapters 13, 14

Calhoun, Craig. 2007. Sociology in America : A History. University of Chicago Press. (Ebrary HM477.U6 — S63 2007eb)

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