CULTURE THEORY ESSAYS ON MIND SELF AND …
‘Culture theory: Essays on mind, self and emotion.
Shweder, Richard A., and Robert A. LeVine, eds. 1984. Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
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Psychological anthropology is the study of psychological topics using anthropological concepts and methods. Among the areas of interest are personal identity, selfhood, subjectivity, memory, consciousness, emotion, motivation, cognition, madness, and mental health. Considered thus, there is hardly a topic in the anthropological mainstream that does not offer grist for the analytical mill. Like economic or political anthropology, psychological anthropology can be seen as a perspective on the social as well as being a subfield of the broader discipline. The overlap in subject matter with the related discipline of psychology is obvious, but the approach, grounded in ethnographic fieldwork and comparativism, is usually quite different. Moreover, as a reflexive endeavor, psychological anthropology shines a light not only on the cultural vehicles of thought (language, symbolism, the body) but on the concepts we use to think about those means. Psychological anthropologists are concerned, for example, not merely with emotional practices in diverse cultures (what angers people? how do they express it?), but in the shape and cross-cultural validity of the concept of emotion. To the ethnographic question, “How do the Nuaulu classify animals?” they add, “How is their classification structured and what does that structure reveal about broader processes of cognition?” Some of the basic categories of psychology—self, mind, emotion—turn out, in cross-cultural perspective, to be less self-evident, less transparently objective than expected. While rough equivalents can often be found in other linguistic traditions, the scholar soon finds that English (or French or Malay) is not a neutral inventory of psychological universals. Comparison can be corrosive of confidence. And perhaps more than in other subfields, in psychological anthropology there is a full spectrum from the hard scientific to the soft interpretive. Indeed, a divergence between a scientific, positivist psychology—confident in its categories and methods, bent on universals—and a relativist, meaning-oriented, often doubt-ridden constructionism is one of the productive tensions that animate enquiry. Until recently, the subfield has fared very differently on either side of the Atlantic. With some exceptions, anthropologists in Britain and France until at least the 1960s pursued strongly sociological or structuralist agendas unsympathetic to psychological anthropology. American anthropologists, with their broader conception of culture and interest in individual experience, led the way with culture and personality studies, a diverse body of work that has a recent reinvention in person-centered anthropology. Parallel endeavors in psychoanalytic anthropology and cognitive anthropology drew on different intellectual traditions. These complementary, sometimes rival, approaches span and crosscut in surprising ways the scientific-humanistic division that characterizes anthropology generally.