I was wondering about psychoanalysis since I first read Powdermaker's book called Stranger and Friend.

I read that Powdermaker had gone through a psychoanalysis and how it helped her in personal life and work. However, it was more of a side-comment as if it was normal, so it made me wonder... Is it "granted" that someone like her would undergo psychoanalysis? If so... Is it as anthropologist? As a well-off woman? As educated person?

So my question is... The anthropologists that undergo psychoanalysis to help with understanding themselves better would, in turn, possibly enable them to understand the people they study better or to be more aware of their own bias when studying them?

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Psychoanalysts and cultural anthropologists seem to have a strained relationship. Most cultural anthropologists I've talked to seem to have a certain amount of contempt for psychologists. Perhaps it's the influence of structuralism, functionalism and structure-functionalism. Anthropologists tend to see the individual as a product of their culture. Individuals learn their culture and act accordingly. In contrast, psychologists tend to look at things in terms of mental universals arising from innate natures within the mind. It's unfortunate that there is this divide. Jung's theories of the universal subconscious could contribute to anthropology and anthropology's theories on structure and function could contribute to psychoanalysis. I have been the recipient of psychoanalysis and found it very helpful. I have also had my tarot read and also found it helpful. I don't believe that supernatural forces are predicting my future. I do think that both psychoanalysis and psychic readings force you to look at your life in different ways and that is always a good thing. To get a second opinion is essential.
Psychoanalysis today has very little to do with psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freuds time. The idea that sexual tension/conflict is the root cause of human mental problems has long been discredited. I haven't read the book so I would be interested in the reason she underwent psychoanalysis and what theory did the practitioner personally held to.

I would note that the book was first published in 1967, this would indicate, to me at least, that it was a very different society than we have today, different pressures, different expectancies, different politics etc etc. I wouldn't think it is "granted" that any certain type of person would undergo a psychoanalysis. Yes, there are fads and certain groups of people do the same type of thing (Hollywood personalities flocking to Scientology for example) but to suggest that because she is an Anthropologist, or a woman of higher than normal socio-economic status, or an educated person neglects to consider the underlying reasons she or her practitioner felt it was necessary. In other words regardless of her status in life I would think most, even back in the middle of last century, practising psychoanalyst would have felt there was an underlying internal conflict that required therapy.

I don't believe just because someone is an Anthropologist requires them to undergo all types of analysis to help them understand the world they are studying better. As a well-off (relatively speaking) and educated (again relatively speaking) person I wouldn't go and have it done, nor would I have it done based on a 43 year old book, nor because it was the "in" thing to do. These are things that are done, one would hope, for a personal and professional reason (i.e. the individual may have something to work through). Find the reason and you have your answer.
Mitchell Jones,

Strained relationship? I honestly have never heard an anthropologist disregard psychoanalysis like that. However, I have not seen much mention on psychoanalysis by anthropologists either, except for some references when I googled. An example is psychoanalytic anthropology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_anthropology#Psychoanaly...).

Michael Findlay,

"Psychoanalysis today has very little to do with psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freuds time. The idea that sexual tension/conflict is the root cause of human mental problems has long been discredited. I haven't read the book so I would be interested in the reason she underwent psychoanalysis and what theory did the practitioner personally held to."

Even if you read the book, you wouldn't learn much because she did not delve deeply into it and did not relate it to anthropology.


"I would note that the book was first published in 1967, this would indicate, to me at least, that it was a very different society than we have today, different pressures, different expectancies, different politics etc etc. I wouldn't think it is "granted" that any certain type of person would undergo a psychoanalysis. Yes, there are fads and certain groups of people do the same type of thing (Hollywood personalities flocking to Scientology for example) but to suggest that because she is an Anthropologist, or a woman of higher than normal socio-economic status, or an educated person neglects to consider the underlying reasons she or her practitioner felt it was necessary. In other words regardless of her status in life I would think most, even back in the middle of last century, practising psychoanalyst would have felt there was an underlying internal conflict that required therapy."

I would like to mention that I did not suggest that Dr. Powdermaker underwent psychoanalysis because of her status, position, etc. It was, indeed, a possible factor I considered and made the post here to ask if there is a history between psychoanalysis and anthropologists.


"I don't believe just because someone is an Anthropologist requires them to undergo all types of analysis to help them understand the world they are studying better. As a well-off (relatively speaking) and educated (again relatively speaking) person I wouldn't go and have it done, nor would I have it done based on a 43 year old book, nor because it was the "in" thing to do. These are things that are done, one would hope, for a personal and professional reason (i.e. the individual may have something to work through). Find the reason and you have your answer."

I never said it was a requirement :) Simply that if there happen to be anthropologists that underwent psychoanalysis, maybe amongst you or some article by one who did. If so, whether psychoanalysis have impacted their work as anthropologist when it comes to their bias and perspectives or whether it was irrelevant to them.
Carolina Maria said:
I would like to mention that I did not suggest that Dr. Powdermaker underwent psychoanalysis because of her status, position, etc. It was, indeed, a possible factor I considered and made the post here to ask if there is a history between psychoanalysis and anthropologists.
Thus the reason I answered how I did.
Carolina Maria said:
I never said it was a requirement :) Simply that if there happen to be anthropologists that underwent psychoanalysis, maybe amongst you or some article by one who did. If so, whether psychoanalysis have impacted their work as anthropologist when it comes to their bias and perspectives or whether it was irrelevant to them.
I never suggested you said it was a requirement, I did suggest that it is my belief that it isn't a requirement. Anthropologists by training etc should leave their bias' behind when they are conducting work. An Anthropologist having a psychoanalytic session shouldn't mean they are suddenly more understanding of other perspectives than they were before the session. Certainly they could be more understanding of themselves, but more understanding of others?
Michael Findlay,

"I never suggested you said it was a requirement, I did suggest that it is my belief that it isn't a requirement. Anthropologists by training etc should leave their bias' behind when they are conducting work. An Anthropologist having a psychoanalytic session shouldn't mean they are suddenly more understanding of other perspectives than they were before the session. Certainly they could be more understanding of themselves, but more understanding of others?"

We are trained to leave our bias behind when we conduct work, especially ethnography, but (at least in my case) we also have been warned that we cannot be fully aware of our bias and to properly leave them behind. There is also the matter that in ethnography, who we are and what we think gets involved. I have read enough articles of ethnographers getting so involved to the point that they have or almost have made commitments with the people they study (considering adopting a family's child, marrying, etc.)... I also don't just think about ethnographer influencing the work but how the work would influence the ethnographer.

I do not know if psychoanalysis is such a good idea or not, however I do find it interesting enough to look into it and I dug deeper. So far I found one article in the JSTOR website: "The Emergence of Self-Consciousness in Ethnography" by Dennison Nash and Ronald Wintrob

"Some observers, for example, would be inclined to attribute the emergence of self-consciousness in American social and cultural anthropology to the influence of psychoanalysis. Thus Mead, who has been in the forefront of the movement toward self-awareness in ethnography, has maintained (1952:345) that "a full psychoanalysis is undoubtedly an important addition to the training of an anthropologist." The majority of contributors to the body of literature we have been examining apparently have not undertaken the full psychoanalysis Mead recommended, nor do they make extensive use of psychoanalytic concepts in their writings. In fact, a more important impetus for the growth of self-consciousness in social and cultural anthropology may be the increasing affinity of American social and cultural anthropologists for perspectives derived from role or symbolic interaction theories."

"As far as intellectual currents are concerned, we did suggest the importance of certain strains of sociology, but we did not consider that psychoanalysis had contributed significantly to the subjective trend. Now it is suggested by Whitney that must be exercised: understanding requires more than the proper performance of the fieldwork ritual. Sometimes even a properly performed ritual does not produce the desired result."
I just want to note that there are worlds of difference between psychology and psychoanalysis, and that anthropology has had a productive engagement with both throughout its short history.

For a recent work on psychoanalytic anthropology, have a look at Explorations in Psychoanalytic Ethnography (2007), edited by Jadran Mimica.
As a trainee anthropologist who received most of my previous professional training and experience in an environment dominated by psychoanalysts, I have to say that I think any kind of intense and prolonged observational training must be of some use in the field.

I do feel that the attention to inter-personal dynamics that was a big part of the closed-group and staff workshops in which I participated over the years opens up a certain sort of 'imagination' that can have its applications. Other than that, a sensitivity to the impact that your own interpretations might have on the eventual reader/participant is part and parcel of a lot of the discussion going around over accessible texts and public anthropology: all bread & butter to psychoanalysis.

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