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critical examination of Erikson’s psychosocial theory reveals a more poetic
description of life than scientific basis of development. Erikson’s
post-Freudian theory, like those of other personality theorists, reflects his
background, a background that included art, extensive travels, experiences with
a variety of cultures, and a lifelong search for his own identity (Feist &
Feist, 2006). He admits himself (1950: 13) that he “came to psychology from
art, which may explain, if not justify, the fact that at times the reader will
find me painting contexts and backgrounds where he would rather have me point
to facts and concepts.” Many critics refer to ambiguous terminology and
concepts, conclusions lacking sufficient supportive data, and an overall
inadequacy of precision (Rosenthal, Gurney, & Moore, 1981; Waterman, 1982).
Feist & Feist (2006) elaborate on the vague concepts such as hope, will,
purpose, love, and so on which are not operationally defined and are lacking in
scientific value yet effective on a literary and emotional scale. Erikson
discussed at great length the critical stage of adolescence as the ideal time
for identity development in consequence of the medley of physical and social
circumstances. While Erikson considered the identity to have formed by the end
of adolescence, he maintained that the identity is constantly evolving
throughout an individual’s lifetime. Unfortunately, he did not provide a clear
impression of what the process may look like. In contrast to his thorough
conclusions on adolescent psychosocial development, he did not present great
detail regarding the subsequent adult identity process. Thus, he has been
scrutinised for broadening his concept of the ages of man past adolescence
without providing much detail thereafter. Louw (1998) notes that Erikson’s theory
only provides details for a portion of elements of human development, ignoring
aspects such as cognitive or emotional development. Furthermore, Erikson is
unclear in describing the catalysts of psychosocial development. The types of
experiences an individual must have, for example to develop independence as an
infant, are not explicitly discussed by Erikson. Shaffer (2009) regards
Erikson’s theory as a descriptive
overview of human psychosocial development which does not sufficiently
explain how or why this development occurs.

Further
criticism deems Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development to be centred
around a Eurocentric male’s perspective, not only inferring European male
cultural values as the norm, but describing the journey of a male whose
‘normally’ functioning body develops in a seemingly unhindered and effortless
style (Weeber, 2000; Gilligan, 1982; Josselson, 1988, Bennett, 1992). Erikson
wrote in the male voice, as was typical of psychologists of the time. However,
beyond this, Gilligan (1982) argues that he also perpetuated a masculine
psychology in his stages of development, observing that Erikson recognised a
divergent sequence of development for females – one that is more involved in
relationships with others than separateness and independence – but that Erikson
failed to update his stage descriptions accordingly (Fleming, 2004). Some
critics argue that Erikson’s model of identity development is irrelative to
those in reduced economic situations who cannot afford a moratorium during adolescence
to investigate various roles and form an ego identity. This stage may be
specific to those who can afford to attend college or take time out to travel
(Slugoski & Ginsburg, 1989). However, because of the inherent emphasis on
an individual’s interaction with their historical and cultural environment in
Erikson’s psychosocial model of development, many theorists have found it
effective as a basis for expanding this developing minority identity
development theories (Weeber, 2000; Seligman & Shanok, 1998; Bennett,
1992). While Erikson never expressed a model of development for a minority
identity, he did recognise how critical a shared sense of community with others
similar to oneself and the negative impacts of prejudice on the identity
development of African-Americans and Jews (Weeber, 2000).

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            Nevertheless, Erikson’s theory of
psychosocial development is heralded as one of the most successful attempts to
illustrate a coherent and reasonably whole image of human development (Louw,
1998). His theory is significant in its contribution to psychology regarding
the acknowledgement of identity development over the entirety of the lifespan, the
recognition of societal, historical, and cultural effects on said development,
and the concept of identity crisis in adolescence (Schultz & Schultz,
2005).  Many consider Erikson’s theory as
a robust open-systems view that offsets Freud’s restricted viewpoint (Hoare,
2002). While it is largely anchored in his personal observation and intuition,
numerous reflections of Erikson’s have led to further research investigations. Feist
& Feist (2006) note that the topic of ego identity alone has generated
several hundred studies. Sokol (2009) asserts that a strong effort has been
made in utilising terminology which links Erikson’s work with more recent
empirical research in a comprehensive manner. While Erikson may not have been
clear in his distinctions of identity development subsequent to adolescence, he
will always be recognised for providing a valuable conceptual framework for
comprehending human personality development through identity, while still
within the psychodynamic tradition. 

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