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Sunday 18 December 2011

Psychological Anthropology


Psychological Anthropology approaches the comparative study of human experience, behavior, facts, and artifacts from a dual socio-cultural and psychological most often psychodynamic perspective. It emerged in the early twentieth century as an attempt to understand our common humanity, led by such figures as Franz Boas and his students Edward Sapir, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Melville Herskovits. Psychological anthropology displays an arc of theoretical approaches ranging from scientific positivism, which embraces objectivity and the scientific method, through various hermeneutic humanisms that emphasize the role of subjectivity in fieldwork and writing (Suárez-Orozco 1994). Its origins are rooted from theoretical concept developed by F. Boas and his students termed as Culture and Personality. Culture and personality was a broad and unorganized movement that brought together anthropologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists who agreed on the mutual relevance of their disciplines but lacked a common theoretical position, an acknowledged leader, and an institutional base. Its founders were Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Edward Sapir, all students of Franz Boas, whose influential concept of culture had implied a psychological dimension they attempted to spell out and translate into research. They argued that culture played a role in individual psychological development (Mead) and in the emotional patterns typical of particular cultures (Benedict), and also that individuals of a particular society realized its culture in different ways (Sapir).

The Freud minded anthropologists: Anthropology and psychoanalysis

Some early modern anthropologists became intrigued by many aspects of psychoanalytic theory, developed by Sigmund Freud that could be applied to the study of culture. In 1900, he published his first great book, The Interpretation of Dreams. By 1910, Freud had turned his interests to a demonstration of how psychoanalysis could help to explain how cultural institutions arise and how they function. His book Totem and Taboo, published in 1913, had a dramatic impact, attracting to psychoanalytic theory such influential “Freudians” as Erich Fromm, Ernest Jones, J. C. Frügel, Geza Róheim, George Devereux, and Erik Erikson. In arguing that social prohibitions – “taboos” – were comparable to the self-imposed inhibitions of “neurotic” individuals, Freud sought to explain why taboos such as those surrounding rulers and the dead came into being and how they were maintained. The Freudian impact focused psychological anthropologists on child training, including such often criticized topics as toilet training, and on the general question of the relationship between personality and culture. In 1928 one of Freud’s disciples, Hungarian Geza Róheim, went to the Aranda of Central Australia to describe what he called “delayed infancy,” the length of time that humans are dependent on adults. He argued that each culture is founded on a specific childhood trauma which produces the type of personality of people in that society. Other Freudian scholars such as Weston LaBarre, Bruno Bettleheim, and George Devereux produced influential work as well, but their psychoanalytic writings were soon eclipsed by an emerging field known as culture and personality.

The culture and personality school:

Edward Sapir was the first to describe the unconscious configuration of grammar and sound, and his work led to the study of how personality and culture were configured.
In her book Patterns of Culture, published in 1934, Ruth Benedict compared the basic configurations of culture and personality among the Pueblo and Plains Indians, the Kwakiutl of the Northwest Coast, and the Dobu of Melanesia. Portraying the Pueblo Indians as “Apollonian,” the Plains Indians as “Dionysian,” the Dobuans as “Paranoid,” and the Kwakiutl as “Megalomaniac,” Benedict argued each culture had its own personality and that because some individuals could not cope with their culture’s demands they became alienated and frustrated. Her book was enormously popular, making her one of the best known anthropologists of all time.
Benedict’s friend and colleague, Margaret Mead, was also a major psychological anthropologist. She helped to found configurationism, but went on to make important contributions to many other areas of psychological anthropology, including childhood development, sex roles and temperament, personality and culture change, national character, and cross-cultural socialization. Her first three books were based on her fieldwork in the South Pacific: Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Growing Up
in New Guinea (1930), and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935). Mead also wrote numerous articles in popular magazines, her name becoming a household word.
While Mead was having her early impact on psychological anthropology, anthropologists Cora DuBois, Ralph Linton, and Thomas Gladwin joined psychoanalyst Abram Kardiner in the study of “basic” and “modal” personality. The attempt to measure modal personality led to the widespread use of projective tests, especially the Rorschach and Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). During the
1940s and 1950s the Rorschach was widely used. One of the most widely known uses of this test was by A. F. C. Wallace among the Iroquois Indians in New York. He found that only 26 of the 70 individuals tested fell into a modal class, although another 16 were close to this class (Wallace 1952).

National character studies:

The next major development in psychological anthropology was the study of national character – the personality of most members of an entire nation. Characterizations of the national character of the British, Germans, French, Italians, and other Europeans go far back in history. In 1928, for example, Salvador de Madariaga wrote Englishmen, Frenchmen and Spaniards, contrasting English “action” with Spanish “emotion” and French “thought.” But it was the eruption of World War II that initiated the empirical study of the national character of our enemies and even our allies. As early as 1939, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Eliott Chapple, and other anthropologists tried to devise ways that psychological anthropology could support the war effort. After the United States entered the war, others moved to Washington, where they attempted to analyze the national character of the Japanese and the Germans. Ruth Benedict did much research on the Japanese, trying to reconcile their restrained aestheticism with their fanatical militarism. Although her book The Chrysanthemum
and the Sword (1946) has been roundly criticized by Americans and Japanese alike, it was studied by US military leaders and used by the postwar MacArthur occupation forces. Benedict considered it her finest work. In Escape From Freedom (1941) Erich Fromm tried to explain the appeal of Nazism to the German people in terms of their national authoritarian personality. Such a person is obedient and subservient to superiors, but overbearing and scornful to social inferiors. Walter C. Langer wrote
The Mind of Adolf Hitler for the American Office of Strategic Services soon after the war broke out, but it was not published for the public until 1973. Erik Erikson also studied Hitler for US military, characterizing him as a superhuman leader who created terror among his followers and involved them in crimes which they could not deny.

Modal personality studies:

Other scholars studied American modal personality. Margaret Mead wrote And Keep Your Powder Dry in 1942 as a wartime morale booster. Geoffrey Gorer wrote The American People in 1948, arguing that the American and British national characters contrasted dramatically. David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney followed with The Lonely Crowd in 1950, describing Americans as “other-directed,” constantly scanning their environment for cues to the correct attitudes and behaviors. They also emphasized perceived American behaviors of rivalry, jealousy, and individualism. Philip Slater, in his book The Pursuit of Loneliness (1970), suggested that our core of individualism must be replaced in our value system if our society is to remain viable, while the Chinese-born anthropologist Francis L. K. Hsu argued American national character is one of self-reliance, the search for political, economic, and social equality.

The Cross Cultural Research Strategy:

There were other studies of national character as well, but this kind of approach increasingly came under fire from many quarters for its political prejudice and lack of objectivity, as well as its assumption that there was a causal relationship between culture and personality. The most powerful criticism came from someone within culture and personality itself, Melford E. Spiro. In 1951 he wrote a detailed article in the journal Psychiatry entitled “Culture and Personality: The National History of a False Dichotomy,” arguing persuasively that the field of culture and personality had failed to show any causal relationship between culture and personality because the development of personality and the acquisition of culture were a single process.
In response to criticisms like that of Spiro, the study of culture and personality fell by the wayside to be replaced by a new cross-cultural comparative research strategy championed by G. P. Murdock, who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of world ethnography. Murdock established the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) at Yale, making available a host of cross-indexed data on hundreds of non-Western societies. One of Murdock’s students was John W. M. Whiting, whose earliest field research in New Guinea provided rich empirical data about the process of socialization. Joined by psychologist Irvin L. Child, Whiting then employed what they called the correlational method of testing hypotheses utilizing HRAF data. This work resulted in their influential book Child Training and Personality (1953). Other correlational research appeared as well. At the same time, Robert A. LeVine and Melford E. Spiro, both of whom were trained in anthropology and psychoanalysis, carried out ethnographic field research on various ways in which people adapt psychologically to the world in which they live. Spiro focused on Burma and LeVine worked in East Africa. While they produced their stimulating findings, John Whiting and his wife Beatrice were developing their highly influential “Six Cultures Project.” Six pairs of investigators, usually husband and wife teams, were sent to six different societies to observe the behavior of children aged three to eleven as they interacted with infants, other children, and adults, in an effort to learn in what ways culture impacts children’s lives. Their findings were presented in three major books: Six Cultures (1963), Mothers of Six Cultures (1964), and Children of Six Cultures (1974). The research was the most meticulous yet conducted and it continues to attract attention. However, it did not lead to any conceptual breakthroughs. At the same time that the Whitings were carrying out their intensive data collection, a team organized by Walter Goldschmidt was conducting controlled interviews and observations with samples from eight populations in East Africa, searching for psychological and behavioral differences between farmers and pastoralists. The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Societies (1971) is Robert Edgerton’s assessment of the changing lives of individuals living in four of these eight East African societies. He demonstrated the variability of psychological adaptations within and across social and cultural settings.

The habitus and mind:

One of the key texts to prompt a re-examination of anthropological theories of mind, at least among European anthropologists, has been Bourdieu’s Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977). He argued that the anthropologist observer was bound to produce a distorted account because, in making the lives of others an object of analysis, the anthropologist re-ordered the dynamic flow of people’s day-to-day practice into a set of explicit ‘representations’ or worse, ‘rules’ for behaviour. But in going about our own everyday lives, in doing the things we do and saying what we say, our behaviour is so highly nuanced, so subtly accommodating to novel situations, that we cannot be following ‘rules’ or acting in terms of ‘representations’; it follows that there is no reason to suppose that others are doing so. Bourdieu proposed the idea of the ‘habitus’ a set of predispositions to certain behaviours inculcated in the course of socialization, to account for the way that people everywhere come to have a ‘sense’ of how to behave, and thus to take for granted their own ideas and practices as right, as the only proper way of being in the world. But Bourdieu’s habitus, while it almost managed to collapse the mind-body distinction, was not sufficiently well theorized to bring about a paradigm shift in respect of theories of mind.
Nevertheless, Bourdieu’s theory of the habitus as embodied practice has been fruitful in forcing anthropologists to recognize that mind is constituted in practice by persons relating to one another as subjects. In other words, I do not relate to others as if they were simply objects in my world, but as persons who, like me, are the active subjects of their own actions. Moreover, I do not have to reflect continually upon what I do because my habitual mode of being in the world—for example, the way I walk, eat, talk, feel and in general relate to others is constituted by me over time and embodied in me as taken for granted, as ‘the way I am’, and as such may never be made the object of conscious scrutiny.

Phenomenology and Embodied mind:

The focus on practice has developed alongside attempts to use the insights of phenomenology to analyse ‘embodied mind’. Here the theoretical emphasis is on the body as ‘the existential ground of culture’ and thus as at once manifesting and constituting mind (see, for example, Csordas 1990). A phenomenological perspective is becoming increasingly important for theory in contemporary anthropology and biology, and is beginning to penetrate academic psychology (see, for example, Varela et al., 1991).
As a school of philosophy, phenomenology strives at once to render transparent the validity of the variety of human experience of the world and to show how this variety is referrable to the processes through which mind is constituted. Anthropological studies that take a phenomenological perspective tend to focus on how human beings ‘live their world’, on how they come to embody their consciousness of that world as a function of experience that is always mediated by meaning, even while it is always concrete and material—that is to say, real and lived. By the same token the reality of lived experience crucially informs the processes by which we make meaning. A remarkable ethnographic example of the relevance to anthropology of a radical phenomenological approach is provided by Jadran Mimica’s work on the counting system and conception of number of the Iqwaye of Papua New Guinea. Mimica shows how the binary mathematic of the Iqwaye ‘is generated on human fingers and toes…[and] although this systematic expression has a very concrete, indeed substantial, form, the number is simultaneously constituted in it as an abstraction’ (1988:7). Moreover he is able to show how the cognitive structures that are constitutive of the Iqwaye system of counting ‘became entangled and developed as a unified mathematical form in relation to the Iqwaye view of the cosmos, their system of kinship and marriage’ (ibid.: 140). By virtue of his analysis of the specific characteristics of Iqwaye rationality, Mimica’s anthropological theorizing is also a systematic critique of Western mathematics as a form of cultural knowlege. By demonstrating the validity of the Iqwaye conception of number Mimica throws into question the taken-for-granted Western assumption that our vaunted ‘scientific objectivity’ is the only valid form of knowing the world. This critical perspective is intrinsic to an understanding of mind as embodied for, as the phenomenological psychology of Merleau-Ponty makes plain, perception is immanent in consciousness (see Merleau-Ponty [1945] 1962). In other words, if perception is not, as most cognitivists assume it to be, an autonomous process that precedes and is theoretically separable from conscious experience, then we can no longer hold to the idea that the facts and, more particularly, the scientific facts are ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered. In Merleau-Ponty’s view, intentionality as a function of embodied mind has to be considered as historically constituted.