‘Freud’s Speculations in Ethnology’: A Reflection on Anthropology’s Encounter with Psychoanalysis

By Rivera, Patrick S. | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, June 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

‘Freud’s Speculations in Ethnology’: A Reflection on Anthropology’s Encounter with Psychoanalysis


Rivera, Patrick S., International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Introduction

In February 1924, Ernest Jones - at that time President of the International Psycho-Analytical Association - gave a speech at the Royal Anthropological Institute in London, on the topic of 'Psycho-Analysis and Anthropology.' He was gratified, he told the assembly, at the invitation to explain the "unflattering" doctrines of psychoanalysis to an audience with shared interests. "The similarity of the data investigated by anthropologists and psychoanalysts is often so striking and unexpected as positively to call out for explanation," he said (1924, p. 48). "In these circumstances, the two can only profitably approach each other in a spirit of mutual benevolence and co-operate together in their work until they are a both superseded by a race of anthropologists who are experienced in field-work and also trained in the methods of modern psychology" (1924, p. 47).

A collaboration between anthropology and psychoanalysis seemed natural at the time. Each discipline is, in its own way, a science of the 'irrational,' an attempt to make sense of an inexplicable Other. Little Hans' terror of horses (Freud, 1909) and the Trobriand Islander's fear of sexual sorcery (Malinowski, 1927) both, to borrow Jones' phrase, "call out for explanation." Jones was confident that the two disciplines would reinforce each other as their methods and interpretations became increasingly sophisticated. That has - for a variety of historical and theoretical reasons - not been the case. Anthropology's flirtation with psychoanalysis was brief, ending in personal acrimony and a dispute over the primacy of the Oedipus complex. In the intervening decades anthropologists have largely maintained their distance, casting a wary eye at the descendants of the Freudian enterprise. This paper traces the three events that framed cultural anthropology's initial encounter with psychoanalysis - the major actors, the major works, and the critical response - in order to determine how the current impasse came about, and to suggest some future directions for engagement.

The story begins, as psychoanalytical stories invariably do, with Sigmund Freud, whose Totem and Taboo (1950 [1913]) represented psychoanalysts' first and most audacious foray into cultural anthropology. Freud patiently and methodically derived the origins of human culture - religion, social organization, and material inventions included - from an act of primal patricide. By placing this original Oedipal act at the beginning of history, Freud made a claim of intellectual primacy for psychoanalysis and began a long-standing debate regarding the universal nature of psychology and the relativity of culture.

A decade later the father of modern ethnography, Bronislaw Malinowski, would explore Freud's 'speculations' in the wake of his three voyages to the islands of New Guinea. Malinowski, caught up in his own Oedipal trials, made an almost Scholastic effort to synthesize cultural particularism and Freudian psychology. He believed he had discovered a new psychological complex unique to the organization of a matriarchal society. His efforts had the misfortune of crashing upon the shoals of Ernest Jones' uncompromising dogmatism. The dispute between the two put an end to the initial era of collaboration and contributed to the anthropological dogma - still current - that Freud had been disproven by the ethnographers (Spiro, 2010, p. 1). Later attempts to counter Malinowski's conclusions by demonstrating the universal nature of the unconscious (Róheim, 1947) would fall on deaf ears.

The last chapter of this encounter is the story of the rise and fall of the "culture and personality" school associated with the anthropological luminaries Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Historians of anthropology tend to see this school as an extension of psychoanalysis into the domain of culture studies (see, e.g., McGee and Warms, 2011; Brettell, 2014). The culture and personality theorists, however, based their framework on gestalt psychology and behaviorism - George Devereux (1978, p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

‘Freud’s Speculations in Ethnology’: A Reflection on Anthropology’s Encounter with Psychoanalysis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.