Freud’s Conceptualization of the Social World: Psychology Recapitulating Sociology or Sociology Recapitulating Psychology?


  • Jonathan N. Stea


This paper articulates Sigmund Freud’s conceptualization of the social world by surveying and critically examining four of his major sociological works: Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness (Freud, 1908/1991b), Totem and Taboo (Freud, 1913/1946), The Future of An Illusion (Freud, 1927/1991d), and Civilization and Its Discontents (Freud, 1930/1991a). The paper also embeds the development of Freud’s social theory within its historical context by discussing the impact of various evolutionary, philosophical, and life event influences. It is argued that Freud’s social theory is merely a projection of his psychological theory of mind, which is predicated on the biogenetic principle (i.e., ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny). In tracing the development of Freud’s social theory over time, an isomorphism is revealed whereby the changes in Freud’s psychological thought reflect the changes in his social thought. In this way, Freud’s sociology can be said to recapitulate his psychology despite Freud’s insistence otherwise.