The Psychodynamics of Culture: Abram Kardiner and Neo-Freudian Anthropology

The Psychodynamics of Culture: Abram Kardiner and Neo-Freudian Anthropology

The Psychodynamics of Culture: Abram Kardiner and Neo-Freudian Anthropology

The Psychodynamics of Culture: Abram Kardiner and Neo-Freudian Anthropology

Synopsis

"Manson's study . . . is devoted to retrieving Kardiner from the limbo into which he lapsed some 30 years ago. The author offers a historical reconstruction of the classic psychocultural seminars and reassesses the theoretical and methodological innovations that emerged from them. As a historian Manson displays an impressive command of his materials. He does an admirable job of summarizing the ethnographic data on which Kardiner based his psychodynamic formulations and interpretations. He even manages to evoke something of the emotional flavor of the seminar sessions and the very different personalities involved. This is a consequence of his judicious use of rich primary sources: the exhaustive unpublished reminiscences of Kardiner himself, the private papers of Margaret Mead, and the recollections and/or seminar notes of Aberle, Barnouw, Du Bois and others. . . . a most worthwhile volume, one that should be read by specialists in culture and personality." American Anthropologist

Excerpt

In the 1930s, the turbulent climate of political unrest and economic instability provoked an intense interest in the potential of Freudian psychology for resolving the conundrums of social life. The interplay of character and ideology, illuminated by Wilhelm Reich (1933a) Freudo- Marxism as well as by the Frankfurt School of sociologists, was further investigated by several emigré psychoanalysts who joined newly established psychoanalytic training institutes in New York, Chicago, and other major cities. For the "neo-Freudian" analysts Karen Homey and Erich Fromm, the striking political contrast between America and Europe merely reaffirmed the need for social analysis as a complement to psychoanalysis in the study of "the authoritarian character" and "the neurotic personality of our time" (Horney 1937, Fromm 1941). As militaristic fascism and xenophobic nationalism spawned an impending mobilization for another world war, the protean irrationality of European politics plainly required the interpretive skills of both psychiatrist and sociologist. Neo-Freudian theorists such as Homey, Fromm, and Franz Alexander challenged the biologistic assumptions of classical psychoanalysis and emphasized the preeminent role of cultural factors in the etiology of neuroses and the formation of personality.

Several anthropologists began to explore the new terrain of psychoanalytic theory and were unquestionably intrigued, if not wholly converted (e.g., Sapir 1938, Kroeber 1939, Mead 1939). Influenced by orthodox Freudian theory as well as the "culturalist" revisions of Homey, Fromm, and Harry Stack Sullivan, Margaret Mead and Edward Sapir initially sketched the cross-cultural applications of psychoanalytic theory. Other leading anthropologists, however, for the most part adhered to a cultural determinist dogma which seemed to preclude psychological . . .

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