Assess Freud’s Contribution To The Sociological Understanding Of ‘The Self’

3811 words - 16 pages

Assess Freud’s contribution to the sociological understanding of ‘the self’.
Sigmund Freud is without a doubt one of the most famous and controversial psychologist in history. His nephew Edward Bernays and his daughter Anna have also made names for themselves in the academic world in the field of psychology. Their ideas have influenced the world in many forms and their ideas still hold sway today. All have contributed to a better understanding of the self. Concepts such as the ‘unconscious’ and ‘libido’ were popularized by Freud. I will explain clearly his theories on human nature and psychoanalysis and show how it has influenced society and thus sociology. The concept of ‘the self’ has ...view middle of the document...

What has Bernays contributed to a sociological understanding of the self and how could Freud’s theory account for some of society’s ills we face today such as mental illnesses (e.g. depression) and excessive amounts of violence (e.g. murder)? Lastly, I will draw a comparison between Freud and Elias thesis of the civilizing process and explore some of the connections in their work. I will focus on the more plausible aspects of Freud’s theories, focusing on his theory of human nature, death-drive and his method of psychoanalysis to demonstrate that there is some relevance of his ideas in sociology today.



Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist born in 1856, in the midst of the Victorian era, a conservative time of prudishness and rigidity. Emotions strictly belonged to the private sphere and it was uncommon to openly share your feelings with the world around you.
In an attempt to understand the self and society better, Freud developed a theory of human nature and the human psyche that is determined by environmental and biological factors. Freud argues that within the mind of every human being there are hidden sexual and aggressive forces that steer our lives. Freud’s idea of the self is constituted of three parts: the id, the ego and the super-ego. When these three are out of balance, the individual and thus consequently society will suffer.

The id is the part that represents all human basic instincts and needs. We are animals that strive to survive and reproduce; and thus we feel hunger and have a libido. Furthermore we are naturally inclined to avoid pain and most humans fear death because we want to live (eros/life-instinct). When the demands of the id are not met, the desires intensify and can move from the unconscious mind to the conscious one, this can lead someone to become tense or anxious. The id is present within us from birth until we die. A new-born has no ego or super-ego yet but is solely made up of the id. The id functions according the pleasure principle and is always in pursuit of instant gratification of desires; not having in mind long-term consequences of one’s actions. It is very hard for humans to control the id’s- wishes as they are mostly unconscious ‘drives’ (Trieb). According to Freud people’s drives (or ‘urges’) can differ greatly while all human instincts are the same, without food you realize soon enough you will need to eat in order to survive, this ‘id-instinct’ becomes conscious when it is suppressed. A trieb is more deeply hidden in the unconscious mind and thus we are not really aware of them. The id seeks excitement and wants to satisfy primitive sexual and aggressive forces that are unconscious in conflict with the ‘super ego’.

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