Qualitative Family Research
A Newsletter of the Qualitative Family Research Network National Council on Family RelationsVolume 8, Numbers 1 June 1993
Erik Erikson and the Use of Case Studies By Jane Gilgun
ike Freud and Piaget, Erik Erikson used a clinical case study approach to develop theoriesthat revolutionized Western thought. While most of us will not attain the genius of anErikson, Freud, or Piaget, we can emulate their methods and hope to bring greater understanding to the issues of our day.
A "Field" Education
Erikson started but never completed a Ph.D. His education was life-long and in the"field," learning from his patients, from his anthropological field work, from research interviews,and from his colleagues. A great theorist, he developed his ideas from vital involvement withother persons.In his late twenties, he left his job as an itinerant sketcher of children to tutor children for a summer. At summer's end, he founded a progressive school with his high school friend Peter Blos and Anna Freud. He became Anna Freud's analysand. By 1933 he finished his analysis andhis training as a psychoanalyst and began to practice child analysis.A Jew through his mother's second marriage, Erikson and his wife Joan left Vienna for the United States to avoid what he thought would be a Nazi reign of terror. He became a childanalyst at the Harvard Medical School, where he was a colleague of anthropologists MargaretMead, Gregory Bateson, and Ruth Benedict, and the psychologists Kurt Lewin and HenryMurray.
Work Based on Case Studies
He based all of his work on case studies.
Childhood and Society,
published in 1950, hada profound effect on many disciplines and also attained a popular audience. Among its manystrengths was its grounding in cultural anthropology and social psychology, demonstrating thevarious levels of social influences on human development.He expanded these themes to two book-length case studies,
Young Man Luther
(l969), whch won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer prize. His numerousessays were published in
Insight and Responsibility
Identity: Youth and Crisis
Refused to Sign Loyalty Oath
During the height of McCarthyism, Erikson refused to take a loyalty oath required at