Seven Plus or Minus One: Latency in Germany and Brazil
(An “Orphaned” Book Review)
Nathan Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor
This title borrows from Ted Shapiro’s classic and comprehensive article on Latency and evidence for its biological bases ((1976). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 31:79-105.). Freud thought that latency was biologically based (although his focus was on the repression of early sexuality), leaving a fallow period before the eruption of puberty and its psychological accommodation, adolescence. Briefly, Shapiro collates developmental and neuroscience data to demonstrate that latency’s biological foundation. He also reaches back in time and across Western civilizations to show our sense that something changes profoundly at latency: for instance, the Catholic Church’s communion “recognizes” that the seven-year-old now is responsible for both venial and mortal sins; in Medieval times, boys were sent at seven to apprentice; or that my Ethiopian/Israeli parents took on shepherding and cooking responsibilities about this age in rural preliterate Ethiopia. Other features Shapiro summarizes about latency: they are emotionally less dependent on family; neuromuscular mastery of the environment; cognitive strategies to “outwit and control” the environment; inhibition and control of drives with lesser need for external controls and, perhaps above all, opposing internal structures, a cardinal characteristic that Freud identified in Western humankind.
I write this to review, “On Latency: Individual Development, Narcissistic Impulse, Reminiscence and Cultural Ideal,” by Leticia Franieck and Michael Günter (Karnac, 2010). Few will read this book, in large part because it is so costly. Occasionally, I will select such “orphaned” books here.
An alternative title might be “Latency Onset in Brazil and Germany: a bifurcation of development.” Franieck, Brazilian, lives in Tubingen, Germany. This bilingual, bicultural researcher studied seven year olds from intact families in both cultures. (She also is mother of twins born in Brazil and raised in Germany.) While not abjuring the universal qualities Shapiro cites, she found that the family’s values resulted in emphases on different developmental paths: one emphasizing individualism, self-sufficiency (Germany), the other emphasizing family connectedness and community.
To assess the psychoanalytic weight of the study, one should know how it was performed. Bear with us a bit. Franieck and Günter recruited non-clinical samples of 41 children in Brazil and 41 in Germany. They assessed the children’s inner views of self and other using the MacArthur story-stem measure: give a child a beginning of a story with dolls (For instance, Mom returns home saying her keys are missing, accusing Dad….; Parents leave for an overnight, while grandmother babysits…; Parents return from the trip…. ); then at the climax, ask the child to continue the stories and give them endings. The child’s narratives are assessed for content, relationships and affect and coherence. Child ratings assess social competence, internal control, emotional coherence, narrative coherence, moral themes, positive and negative representations, and expressions of mistrust.
A questionnaire assessed the parents’ views of ego ideal and transmission of cultural values.
Franieck and Günter’s idea that cultural values are transmitted via the family harkens back to Aristotle’s Politics, in which he suggested that the family is a state and that the State’s values are transmitted via the family. Erik Erikson described the way in which parents transmit societal values by how they raise their children: toiletting, nursing and weaning (among the Sioux versus the Yurok Indians, for example). These researchers extend that idea.
They find that German parents successfully transmit the values of individual competence: self-sufficiency, individuality lead to self-esteem. Brazilian parents emphasize the importance of the family or group: solidarity, social empathy, family unity.
In their discussion, they refer to differences between “individualist” cultures (such as in North America and Western Europe) versus “collectivist” cultures (such as in Asia, Africa, South America). This reminds us of Bobby Paul’s elegant article on culture and psychoanalysis in IP.net (Click Here to Read This Article) in which he describes the importance of respect for authority in some Asian cultures, with consequent differences in psychoanalytic process. It also may connect with Piers and Singer’s classic, Shame and Guilt Societies, a psychoanalytic and anthropological exploration of these two emotions across cultures.
A brief plea here for publishers to help these books become more available. First, a publisher has some obligation at the least to decent copy-editing. Second, price books affordably. If this means making these into eBooks, that would be an advance in our field. I will be reviewing the biography of Steve Jobs, in which he convinced book publishers (and less successfully the New York Times, which he valued) to be more reasonable about pricing in order to both protect their market and also to reach readers. Jobs affected publishing from the outside, from Silicon Valley; we may need to influence academic publishers from the outside to promote distribution of intellectually rich work.
Franieck and Günter contribute significantly to understanding how development can appear to bifurcate at latency, although perhaps this bifurcation is along a continuum of “individualist” versus “collectivist” cultures. We hope to learn more from other psychoanalytic researchers in other cultures. This is another route to broadening the scope of psychoanalysis.