ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Anthropology and psychotherapy
Location Room 1
Date and Start Time 14 April, 2015 at 11:15
Sessions 2


  • Aleksandar Boskovic (Institute of Social Sciences) email
  • Salma Siddique (University of Aberdeen) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Inga-Britt Krause (Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust)

Short Abstract

The panel will explore the current relationship between anthropology and psychotherapy, as anthropologists become frequently involved in working with NGOs, or provide assistance to victims of abuse, which brings the issue of dealing with 'the other' a whole new perspective.

Long Abstract

Anthropology and psychotherapy share a common history, going back to W. H. R. Rivers´ work at Cambridge more than a century ago. Both combine theoretical issues with practice. Psychoanalysis (as a form of psychotherapeutic practice) and social and cultural anthropology both become established in the modernizing world of the early 20th century. Their founders had an intention to 'scientifically' explain societies and their cultures, and they also have a history of a very productive (even if sometimes tense) relationship. Scholars like Cora DuBois, Geza Róheim, George Devereux, Melford Spiro and Henrietta Moore were able to successfully explore the points of convergence and different challenges offered by the intersection of these disciplines, creating a unique, almost holistic perspective. The panel will explore the relationship between anthropology and psychotherapy (including psychoanalysis), as anthropologists in recent years increasingly become involved in working with NGOs, helping more vulnerable categories of people, like refugees or immigrants, or providing assistance to victims of sexual abuse or torture. In some areas (like East Africa), they are also frequently asked to provide advice on dealing with post-conflict situations and their consequences. This makes the role of anthropologists as responsible social actors even more important. All of this brings the issue of dealing with 'the other' a whole new perspective, as it makes anthropological practice even more important, as an important tool of helping people to make sense of the rapidly globalizing world, as well as of their own place in it.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Anthropology and psychoanalysis: between individual identities and group interactions

Author: Aleksandar Boskovic (Institute of Social Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Anthropology and psychoanalysis both share a belief that human behaviour can be scientifically analysed and explained, and there is a long line of authors, from Freud, via Kroeber, Roheim, to Devereux, Stoller and Herdt, who profited from their realtionship.

Long Abstract

When it comes to relationship between anthropology and psychoanalysis, W. H. R. Rivers was one of the early champions of the new approach, a view echoed by the "culture and personality" school in the US (DuBois, Benedict, Mead), as well as by anthropologists like Kluckhohn. Over the decades, other anthropologists, trained in psychoanalysis or psychology (like Kardiner), did produce influential and important studies, culminating in Devereux's "ethnopsychological" approach. Somewhat paradoxically, ethnopsychoanalysis became one of the most prominent features of the German-language anthropology during 1960s and 1970s, thanks to Paul Parin's establishment of the seminar at the University of Zürich. There is also a long line between Malinowski's interest in the "sexual life of the savages," just after the First World War (with his original enthusiasm for psychoanalysis, later to be replaced with scepticism, during the famous LSE postgraduate seminars), via Leach's grudging acceptance that psychoanalysis did have some value, to Obeyesekere's studies of "Medusa's hair" and Spiro's re-examination of Oedipus in the Trobriands (1982). Henrietta L. Moore, explored in great length the relationship between psychoanalysis and anthropology in her work (2007) - just as the French analyst Eric Smadja did, from a psychoanalytic perspective (2009).

Overall, in more recent years, relational approach opens a new venue for possible collaboration between the two disciplines. Some of its aspects are reflected in the work of several very influential contemporary psychoanalysts, like Christopher Bollas and Adam Phillips.

Pluricultural perceptions in a Freudian praxis

Author: Laurence Doremus (Paris VII Diderot )  email

Short Abstract

Our research asks the multicultural perceptions of somebody by a Freudian analysis : We ask how some concepts of cultural anthropology (myths, totemism) are appropriated today by an European who talks in front of a 16th century ethnographic mask from Gabon, from the Musée du Quai Branly.

Long Abstract

Our PhD's investigation combines the fields of anthropology and psychoanalysis.

We first present a theoretical part each one of the two disciplines in their foundations, and we ask the links between the two sciences : the theoretical links and the epistemological links, from a review of the scientific literature, which places the authors in dialogue.

We emphasize how the question of the mythology and the question of the totemism unite and separate the two sciences, through all the receptions of the Totem and Taboo (Freud, 1912) by the anthropologists since the 1910's.

Our methodological part is a clinical praxis, based on a Freudian method.

This methodology is asking the theory developed before, proposing the picture of an African mask in front of a person, a single patient. Our patient is the only one participant. As a psychoanalyst, we listen to the speech of the person who responds to the question « what could you tell me in front of this photography ? ». We record the speech, transcribe it, and analyse the contents.

Our results appear after the clinical interviews, and after their analysis. We make the observation of singular symptoms from the person. Because from his imaginative productions, appear some unconscious processes which are universals. His perceptions reveal symbols which cross the periods and the cultures.

Trauma, truth and therapy: an anthropological inquiry into psychoanalysis and victimhood in Argentina

Author: Eva van Roekel (Utrecht University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores what happens when people interpret trauma through a local conception of psychoanalysis. It elaborates on local psychoanalytical understandings and therapeutical practices amongst Argentine victims, where the verbalisation of suffering and truth telling are a social fact.

Long Abstract

Amongst victims of the last authoritarian regime (1976-1983) in Argentina trauma is neither unspeakable nor isolated in people's mind. The traumatic experience of torture and disappearance is rather profoundly social and expressible. There exists a 'social etiquette of pain' amongst victims that, from a psychoanalytical stance, favors public expressions of mourning rather than private grief and prefers the verbalization of distress rather than silence. Methodologically, these everyday 'therapies' are a rich empirical source for an ethnographer. Moreover, this paper explores conceptually what happens when people interpret the social world, its injustices and suffering through this particular cultural conception of psychoanalysis.

First, the paper elaborates on a local understanding and therapeutical practice of psychoanalysis. In Argentina, psychoanalysis is widespread and significantly describes social relations in urban Argentina. Against this backdrop of psychoanalysis as a practice and a worldview, everyday life becomes impregnated with a social form of therapy and the verbalization of distress turns into a social fact among victims in Argentina. Sharing and analyzing suffering belongs to this particular social world and constitutes the moral victim.

Secondly, the paper argues that truth telling is an important moral practice among victims in Argentina. The notion that truth frees people from grief differs from standard stories of loss when the location of the dead bodies is unknown and those responsible for the killing remain silent about their illegitimate warfare. Moreover, when people frame their previous suffering psychoanalytically, truth becomes a moral life project where victims ought to express their pain.

Psychotherapy: injecting drug users' cling to normality - a Serbian case

Authors: Bojan Zikic  email
Vladimira Ilic (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Faculty of Philosophy )  email

Short Abstract

Drug users in Serbia use their commitment to psychotherapy as a mean of self-explaining in their narratives. It is their model of normality in society which considers them physically and mentally ill. They claim the therapy helps them to be emotional in the same way as the “normal” people are.

Long Abstract

Psychotherapy is still more likely associated with mental disorders than with counseling in Serbia. Injecting drug users make a group which members eagerly talk of being engaged in psychotherapy, contrary to the most of the other people who reluctantly reveal their visits to therapists. For this particular group of people psychotherapy operates as a tool of mental constructing the distinction between social and somatic illness. Injecting drug users are aware that the mainstream society looks upon them both as physically ill and as socially deviant, so in narratives about psychotherapy they tend to draw line between their mental and physical appearance, suggesting that psychotherapy is their proof of being normal; physically damaged, yes, socially ostracized, also, but still sane and lucid. By doing this, they put strong accent on what they consider as emotional ability, i.e. that they are able to feel, express, and experience the same emotional charge in the same socially defined situations as the "normal" people do. This "triangulation" of psychotherapy as a mean of self-explaining, mental model of being normal, and the place emotions play in such cognitive process in the injecting drug users' narratives will make matter of our discussion. By displaying the explicit models of psychotherapy, normality and emotions in the cultural cognition of this group, we hope to point toward implicit models of these notions in Serbian culture.

Ethnography: imperfect love in the time of fieldwork

Author: Salma Siddique (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

The ethnographer’s journey is about awareness of ‘I’ end and ‘you’ begin. In the this journey we encounter ‘sticky moments of dissonance and distortions not when it is‘me/not me’ and the space ‘in-between’ (Bion, 1961). This paper will explore the reflective space of writing our ‘selves’ post-fieldwork.

Long Abstract

Ethnography is based on a narrative account of 'sticky moments', ethnographical encounters layered meanings (Freud, 1930). This paper will explore the notion of 'sticky moments' that are enacted in a timeless place and managed in containment within reflective space. Through the fieldwork an ethnographer learns to explore the 'potential space' of where she ends and the informant begins (Winnicott 1953). This paper will explain how a single individual may not be able represent the group but can come to represent the space between me and not me in the ethnography. The threat to the relationship occurs through the intrusion of the outside world and engaging with the knowledge of 'the third' could potentially distort the fantasy of the relationship. Maybe there is something in Freud's (1927) notion of the illusion of the ''oceanic feeling' of wholeness. A state of helplessness and longing to return to the field site where over time the boundary between self and other becomes blurred, or distorted (Strachey, 2001). It takes time for the ethnographer to recover their sense of self. For a return often signals an alienation and a lack of protection. The oceanic feeling offered a connection to others through cultural practices a path of self-recovery through our work as anthropologists. The need connection between ourselves is explained by Nussbaum (2003), who argues that "true self-development arises from highly particular transactions that constitute love between two imperfect people" (p. 103).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.