Some Uses of Anthropology: Theoretical and Applied

Some Uses of Anthropology: Theoretical and Applied

Some Uses of Anthropology: Theoretical and Applied

Some Uses of Anthropology: Theoretical and Applied

Excerpt

George Devereux

EACH SCIENCE has its key concept, or pair of key concepts, whose precise definition is the principal problem of that science and whose analysis is the best introduction to that field of inquiry. Thus, the key concept of anthropology is "culture," and anyone who understands it may be said to pessess the open-sesame of this science. If, in addition, he uses it as a counter- foil to the concept "society" he will soon strike an almost inexhaustible vein of productive research problems. We suggest that the paired concepts "normal" and "abnormal" are the key concepts of psychiatry, and that the determination of the exact locus of the boundary between them is the crucial problem of psychiatry, regardless of whether we view psychiatry as a "pure" or as an "applied" science. Yet, even though anthropologists write a great deal about their key concept, the problem of what is "normal" and what is "abnormal" has received relatively little systematic attention in recent psychiatric literature. This is unfortunate, since the problem is far from having been satisfactorily solved.

Psychiatric anthropology, as an interdisciplinary science, must concern itself with the key concepts and key problems of both anthropology and psychiatry. It cannot simply borrow psychiatric techniques of investigation and explanation. Indeed, from the methodological point of view, we must differentiate between the borrowing of techniques and the conceptual cross- fertilization of sciences. Archaeology borrowed Carbon-14 dating from physics, as paleontology borrowed fluorine dating from chemistry, without there having come into being an autonomous science of physical archaeology or chemical paleontology. By contrast, there exist such sciences as physical chemistry or social psychology, which are truly interdisciplinary, in that they are characterized by conceptual cross-fertilization--the concepts involved being those which are also the key problems of the several component sciences.

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