Freud and Volkan: Psychoanalysis, Group Identities and Archaeology

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Recent discourse in archaeological theory has highlighted that the discipline's approach to existence and materiality is firmly entrenched in traditions of modern thought (Thomas 1996, 2004; Tilley 2004). It has also been shown that archaeological methodology has a tendency to be used as an interpretative metaphor by other modern disciplines in the description of their own methodologies (Miller & Tilley 1984: 1). For example, a popular topic in the archaeological and psychoanalytic literature has been Sigmund Freud's 'archaeological metaphor' which he used to help illustrate the role of the psychoanalyst in treatment (see below: Thomas 2004: 161-9). Freud was an avid antiquary, and much of his thinking seems to have been inspired by the discoveries and advancements of the then burgeoning discipline of archaeology (Ucko 2001). Although archaeology has inspired many thinkers such as Freud in the development of new systems of thought, archaeologists, by contrast, have not engaged sufficiently with other newly developed disciplines in order to inspire more balanced interpretations. For example, since archaeological material is often found to be central to modern social and political discourses of identity, it is important that archaeological theory begin to engage with the theoretical issues being raised by other disciplines concerned with identity formation and materiality (Meskell 2002).

Durkheim's (1938) separation of sociological and psychological enquiry in The Rules of Sociological Method hindered anthropologists and, in my opinion, archaeologists, in their understanding of 'broad based similarities in human behaviour' sought, for example, by Trigger (2003: 680). Trigger issued a call to bridge 'the rift created by Durkheimian trod, more recently, anthropological preoccupations with purely social or cultural explanations ... to produce more holistic and convincing explanations of cross-cultural similarities and differences in human behaviour' (2003: 688). I propose to move beyond Durkheim's separation of sociological and psychological enquiry and attempt to illustrate a way in which archaeology, psychology and psychoanalysis can act as more than metaphors for each other in the study of identity (Platt 1976; Paul 1989). In particular, I will be exploring the implications of research conducted by Volkan (1997, 2003a, 2003b, 2004), founder of the University of Virginia's Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction, who, in recent studies, has formally introduced his theory of the nature of the manifestation of 'large group identity' and the role of 'internal object relations' in that manifestation. In this exploration, I will be using examples from Ireland which has been my place of work and study for the past seven years. I believe that by opening a dialogue between psychoanalytic theory and archaeological and anthropological theory, a better understanding of the role of archaeological material and enquiry in the formation of modern individual and group identity can be developed.

'Large group identity'

Studying the psychology of groups in 1921, Freud (1985) stressed the role of leader-follower interaction over intra-group relations in the construction of group consciousness. His vision of group psychology has been described by Volkan (2004: 36) as a maypole: the pole represents the leader, and the members dance around the pole, connected to it by tethers which represent Freud's concept of 'leader--follower interaction'. Thus the main avenue of identification between group members and the group is via each member's connection with the leader. Bion (1955, 1961) developed Freud's theory, emphasising that just as a group depends on the existence of individuals, individual awareness displays characteristics of group psychology. Therefore, just as individuals and groups are not mutually exclusive, so too psychoanalysis and group psychology., are not mutually exclusive pursuits. …