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Anthropology, a term common to the European languages, has several meanings, ranging from the theological—the expression of divine things in human terms—to the modern—the study of humanity as a unit, including an examination of its biological, psychic, and social nature, as well as mankind's historical and prehistorical development. During Freud's lifetime, the term acquired new connotations through the expansion of anthropological research, by both Anglo-American and European researchers. The word "anthropology" was not part of Freud's vocabulary any more than "sociology," which Freud integrated (Sozial-, oder Massenpsychologie) with psychoanalysis. His avoidance of the terms is significant. In the case of anthropology he used the German Geisteswissenschaften, literally the "sciences of mind," and enumerated the domains in which psychoanalysis was pertinent: the explanation of the "major cultural institutions," exogamy, the construction of the state, law, the social order, art, morality and moral awareness, religion. He also refers to research on myths, tales, and legends, cultural history and development, linguistics and ethnology, the history of the development of the human species—in fact, the principal subjects of anthropology. Freud's justification of the relevance of psychoanalysis to these fields was systematized after the publication of Totem and Taboo (1912-13a). In "The Claims of Psycho-analysis to Scientific Interest" (1913j), there is a lengthy explanation of this, an idea that was further developed by Freud in his later writings (1914d, 1923a, 1924f, 1925d, 1926e, 1933a). Initially a medical specialization concerned with neurotic symptoms, the status of psychoanalysis changed with the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). "The analysis of dreams gave us an insight into the unconscious processes of the mind and showed us that the mechanisms which produce pathological symptoms are also operative in the normal mind. Thus psychoanalysis became a depth-psychology and capable as such of being applied to the mental sciences" (1923a, p. 253). Moreover, psychoanalysis, which is the science of the genesis of psychic formations, is the basis for all psychology, "since nothing that men make or do is understandable without the co-operation of psychology, the applications of psychoanalysis to numerous fields of knowledge, in particular to those of the mental sciences, came about of their own accord" (1933a, p. 145). In 1907 Freud found a resemblance between compulsive activities and religious practices (1907b) and compared the phenomenology of rituals with a shared etiology of conflict. In 1913 he postulated the identity of the "dynamic source" that generated "the psychic behavior of isolated individuals and societies" (1913j). In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c) and later in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930a [1929]), Freud showed how the instinctual dynamic of groups is the same as that of individuals, and excluded any "herd instinct." This identity enabled psychoanalysis to be applied to (or implied in) the explanation of cultural formations and allowed researchers to exploit the profound analogy between individual psychic formations and cultural formations. The fundamental analogy is that of the "two wishes which combine to form the Oedipus complex coincide precisely with the two principal prohibitions imposed by totemism (not to kill the tribal ancestor and not to marry any woman belonging to one's clan)" (1923a, p. 253). Here Freud's research makes a direct reference to anthropology. All the central concepts of psychoanalysis are related to anthropology and to group psychology because of their intrinsic relation to individual psychology, the family being the intermediate term. Aside from the Oedipus complex and ritual, the ego, ego ideal, and superego are derived from this, as are identification and defensive formations, which are associated with education and culture, especially inhibition and sublimation. The study of myth, religion, and society extended Freud's work, primarily through the writings of Otto Rank, Theodor Reik, and Géza Róheim. Later, American cultural anthropology made use of the psychoanalytic point of view, although in diluted form. As anthropology evolved and became more interdisciplinary, psychoanalysis became one of its key referents. In France, authors such Georges Devereux, Roger Bastide, and Bernard Juillerat are examples of this interrelation. In Tristes Tropiques (1955), Claude Lévi-Strauss insisted on the decisive role played by the discovery of Freud's theories in his training as an ethnologist. According to Freud, psychoanalysis discovered universal psychic processes; moreover, it possesses explanatory and not purely descriptive capability. Critics of the relevance of psychoanalysis for anthropology have attacked both aspects of its explanatory powers. In fact the articulation of knowledge through field studies is as complicated as it is in the case of metapsychology and therapeutic methods. However, Freud provided us with a way to move forward in Moses and Monotheism (1939a [1934-38]), his masterful analysis of Jewish and Christian monotheistic cultures.

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1923a). The libido theory. SE, 18: 255-259.
  2. ——. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.
  3. ——. (1939a [1934-38]). Moses and monotheism. SE, 23: 7-137.