Anthropology and Psychoanalysis: An Encounter through Culture

By Suzette Heald; Ariane Deluz | Go to book overview

8

Gendered persons

Dialogues between anthropology and psychoanalysis

Henrietta Moore

Issues of human identity, intention and agency have always engaged the attention of philosophers. In recent years, they have become the focus of anthropological enquiry. One result of this has been an explosion of interest in indigenous concepts of person and self. What is interesting about this research is that although it has developed contemporaneously with the anthropology of gender there has been little attempt to bring these two fields of enquiry together. Indigenous concepts of the person and the self are presented, most often, as gender neutral, but on closer examination it is clear that the implicit model for the person in much ethnographic writing is, in fact, an adult male. 1 The apparent resistance to joining these two domains of enquiry is curious for a number of reasons. Firstly, anthropologists have long recognised that there are many instances in which women and men are thought to be different sorts of person as a consequence of their different gender identities. Secondly, an explicit concern in much anthropological writing on the person with the boundaries and physical constitution of the person, and with the associated questions of agency and intention, raises immediate questions about the relationship between personal identity and embodiment. One such link is evident, for example, in the case of procreation beliefs, where ideas about the physical make-up of the body are closely connected both to ideas about the nature of the person and to ideas about gender. Thirdly, the demarcation of the anthropology of the person/self from the anthropology of gender seems particularly curious given the fact that psychoanalysis provides western culture with a model of the acquisition of human subjectivity and identity which is crucially dependent on sexual difference. 2 The subject of psychoanalysis is always a sexed subject.


ANTHROPOLOGY AND ITS THEORIES OF PERSON AND SELF

Anthropologists have never assumed that the western concept of the person is universal, and, almost uniquely among academic disciplines, they have

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