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Book Forum: Thinking About the Future   |    
The Generative Society: Caring for Future Generations
Am J Psychiatry 2005;162:199-199. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.1.199
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New Haven, Conn.

Edited by Ed de St. Aubin, Dan P. McAdams, and Tae-Chang Kim. Washington, D.C., American Psychological Association, 2004, 296 pp., $49.95.

The term "generativity" first appeared in Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society(1) as one of the eight stages of human development, a psychological crisis whose failure resulted in "stagnation." Erikson developed this concept further in his later writings, and it has been extensively elaborated by others over the last 15 years. The result is a theoretical construct that combines psychological, sociological, cultural, philosophical, and political ideas to offer a new understanding of how we nurture and transmit the best of ourselves to younger and future generations.

The editors define generativity as "the adult’s concern for and commitment to the next generation, as expressed through parenting, teaching, mentoring, leadership, and a host of other activities that aim to leave a positive legacy of the self for the future" (p. 4). Just as the genetic heritage of an individual is transmitted through DNA, so the cultural endowment—values, ideas, behaviors—are passed from one person to another within the society. In later chapters the editors and contributors examine generativity from a social and cultural perspective as well as its relevance to specific institutions, such as prisons (a surprisingly hopeful chapter), child-rearing, religion, and volunteerism.

A special feature of this collaborative volume is the inclusion of Eastern and Western perspectives. Drawing on the work of both the Kyoto Forum and the Future Generations Alliance in Japan and the Foley Center for the Study of Lives in the United States, the authors present views of both cultures with insights that will be quite surprising, I suspect, to members of either group reading about the other.

The scholarly examination of generativity has so far been centered within the academic community, but it is an idea that currently preoccupies contemporary society. As this book makes clear, the narcissistic focus on one’s "identity" that characterized the 1960s has evolved into a more outward-looking consideration for the nurturance and welfare of others. The population bulge of the baby-boomers has moved into just that phase of life—middle adulthood—when concern for one’s legacy and a desire to give back to the community some of the good one has achieved becomes important. This book organizes and explains what may be to many only vaguely perceived motivations and, by making them coherent and understandable, should appeal to a large audience.

The Generative Society captures the many intriguing aspects of this complex subject and presents them in succinct and clear prose, largely free of undefined jargon. Its readability and the importance of its subject should give it a broad appeal to a wide audience.

Erikson E: Childhood and Society. New York, WW Norton, 1950


Erikson E: Childhood and Society. New York, WW Norton, 1950

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