Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 123–136 | Cite as

Fromm and Habermas: Allies for Adult Education and Democracy

  • Ted FlemingEmail author


The legacy of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research has been a powerful force for critically understanding social reality. Erich Fromm was one of the early and best known members of the Institute. Fromm emphasised the centrality of culture and interpersonal relations in the contruction of the psyche. The unconscious was not only the location for buried repressed matter but also for the imaginative potential of the human person. He is a forgotten and neglected contributor to the story of the Institute having been written out of this history. This retrospective of his ideas explores his work in the light of the recent work of Jürgen Habermas who is also an active but less controversial engager with the psychoanalytic tradition. The implications for adult education will be addressed. The paper outlines Fromm’s radical reinterpretation of psychoanalysis emphasising the importance of social existence as distinct from the impact of instincts; key concepts of the market, commodity fetishism and automaton conformity; The implications for adult education in the tradition of radical (Freire) and transformative learning theory (Mezirow) and addressed and make connections between Habermas and Fromm that further the project of critical theory. Both attempted in different times to identify and realise the potential of (though neither used the term) of lifelong learning as part of the process of bringing about a more just and caring society and a shared attention to the importance of having free conversations about how the emancipated life might be created and sustained.


Erich Fromm Habermas Psychoanalysis Adult education Democracy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Research in Adult Learning and EducationNational University of Ireland MaynoothMaynooth, Co KildareIreland

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