The Psychology of Culture: A Course of Lectures

The Psychology of Culture: A Course of Lectures

The Psychology of Culture: A Course of Lectures

The Psychology of Culture: A Course of Lectures

Synopsis

This work presents Sapir's most comprehensive statement on the concepts of culture, on method and theory in anthropology and other social sciences, on personality organization, and on the individual's place in culture and society. Extensive discussions on the role of language and other symbolic systems in culture, ethnographic method, and social interaction are also included. Ethnographic and linguistic examples are drawn from Sapir's fieldwork among native North Americans and from European and American society as well. Edward Sapir (1884-1939), one of this century's leading figures in American anthropology and linguistics, planned to publish a major theoretical state - ment on culture and psychology. He developed his ideas in a course of lectures presented at Yale University in the 1930s, which attracted a wide audience from many social science disciplines. Unfortunately, he died before the book he had contracted to publish could be realized. Like de Saussure's Cours de Linguistique Generale before it, this work has been reconstructed from student notes, in this case twentytwo sets, as well as from Sapir's manuscript materials. Judith Irvine's meticulous reconstruction makes Sapir's compelling ideas - of surprisingly contemporary resonance - available for the first time.

Excerpt

In 1928, after a conversation with Alfred Harcourt on the TwentiethCentury Limited out of Chicago, Edward Sapir wrote to Harcourt, Brace proposing to publish a book on 'The Psychology of Culture". Estimated at about 100,000 words in length, the book was to be based upon a graduate course of the same title which Sapir had been giving for three years at the University of Chicago. The course had attracted a considerable audience, drawing in psychologists as well as anthropologists and sociologists. Sapir hoped that the book, too, might appeal to a wide circle of non-professional readers.' The book proposal and the chapter outline accompanying it were well received, and Harcourt contracted to publish the work.

Despite Harcourt's enthusiasm for the project and Sapir's sense of its potential importance, the book was not to be. Other projects intervened, including duties which Sapir undertook for financial or administrative reasons. But the idea for the book was not merely a momentary flash of enthusiasm conceived in a heady train conversation and forgotten as soon as the train pulled into the station. Although Sapir's interest in the project appears to have fluctuated, he continued to teach and to rework the course on which it was to be based, and to refer to his intention to complete the book, until almost the end of his life. He gave the course several times after his move to Yale in 1931, and materials from the last version of the course (1936 – 37) suggest new ideas and a renewed excitement about the project, especially toward the end of the academic year.

The following summer (1937), after a strenuous eight weeks' teaching at the Linguistic Institute in Ann Arbor, Sapir suffered a serious heart attack and had to curtail his work effort and travel plans for his sabbatical year (1937 – 38). Still, in a hopeful mood in October 1937 he wrote that "it is my plan to work at 'The Psychology of Culture' during this sabbatical." As it turned out, recurrent illness made it impossible to carry out this plan. Though he again mentioned the work in a letter of October 1938 as "a book that I have still to write", by that time it was all too clear that his physical strength was waning. Sapir died in February 1939, this project and many others remaining unfinished.

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