Home Concepts Adult Development Generativity Two: The Existing Concepts

Generativity Two: The Existing Concepts

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William Bergquist and Gary Quehl

The concept of generativity is about birthing — the birthing of children, of projects, of leaders, of heritage, of community. In keeping with this emphasis on birthing, we now turn briefly to a history of the birth of the generativity concept itself. It began with the work of Erik Erikson and his initial identification of eight life stages — the seventh stage (mid-adulthood) being positioned as the point in life when we choose between generativity and stagnation. At the heart of the concept of generativity resides the process of caring, and the transformation that occurs in this caring process during one’s lifetime:

In youth you find out what you care to do and who you care to be–even in changing roles. In young adulthood you learn whom you care to be with–at work and in private life, not only exchanging intimacies, but sharing intimacy. In adulthood, however, you learn to know what and whom you can take care of. (Erikson, 1974, p.124)

While Erikson began writing about generativity during the 1960s, he primarily focused on the other seven stages–as did most developmental theorists and researchers who were building on Erikson’s work. It was only during the 1980s and 1990s that generativity began to receive much attention, but this seems to have dropped off during the first two decades of the 21st Century.

The two key developmental theorists to devote considerable attention during the late 20th Century to generativity were John Kotre and Dan McAdams. It was Kotre (1984) who first expanded on Erikson’s concept of generativity and the motivational base for this developmental stage. Specifically, Kotre suggested that generativity is “a desire to invest one’s substance on forms of life and work that will outlive the self.” (Kotre, 1984, p. 10) It is quite understandable and appropriate that Kotre identifies this wish for some form of immortality as a key motivator for generative action. It is also quite understandable that some developmental theorists have identified other sources of motivation and have referred to the inherently narcissistic orientation to be found in Kotre’s challenging proposition. We will return frequently in this book to the issue of desired immortality and the role it plays in motivating generative actions.

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One Comment

  1. Rey Carr

    June 21, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    This is a most important essay. I’ve always thought that Erikson’s identification and explanation of this stage received too little attention. And maybe that’s part of the dilemma; younger researchers theorists weren’t in this stage and just thought of it as an abstract concept? At the same time generativity became much more important to me as I got older. Your essay is brilliant and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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