Anthropology incurs several subfields due to its versatility in its discussions and topics. The topic’s subfields may include linguistic, archeological, biological, and cultural sectors. Therefore, the subject has shown substantial potential when it comes to connecting with other subjects. One of these growing subfields that has recently become a topic of popular discussion is psychological anthropology. Psychological studies encompass the human’s mind, way of thinking, and life experiences. Therefore, the study may already seem quite similar to anthropology in some instances.
However, whilst psychology focuses on the individual thought process, anthropology explores a more societal view of an imagined community’s cultural and social prospects. Moreover, during the twentieth century, several notable anthropologists, such as Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski, Clifford Geertz and Claude Lévi-Strauss, have continuously speculated on psychological spaces and thought processes. Therefore, the connection between the two fields has become evident with increased speculation. Thus, it has become a fluid subject. Lévi-Strauss described the ethnological subject as the “first of all psychology”. However, the phrase is quite reductionist, since it belittles the larger subfields that encapsulate anthropology. The subject has entailed two differing patterns. The first paradigm may entail personality and culture. The concepts include a culture’s religious practice, child development or parenting, among other social dimensions that constitute the psychological setting of a community’s personality and cultural growth. The second paradigm examines a more cognitive outlook with regards to the subject. For example, it can include perception, ideology, emotions, moral configurations, as well as social interactions. Thus, the aforementioned paradigm provides a deeper look into an individual’s inner self.
Social Scientists’ Speculations
Furthermore, psychology has provided anthropology with the needed depth in observation of societal and human behavior, therefore, pinning anthropology as a science, rather than a mere collection of cultural events. Psychological anthropology’s presence was most noteworthy during the 1960s and 1970s. The term was procured by the president of the American Anthropological Association from 1977 till 1978, Francis Hsu. Hsu’s contributions to the growth of anthropological anthropology can be attested by his various definitions of the subject.
For instance, he specified that psychological anthropologists are individuals involved with, “any work that deals with the individual as the locus of culture. Any work that gives serious recognition to culture as an independent or a dependent variable associated with personality [that is, culture may be explored as a cause or effect of personality factors.” In effect, Hsu has also noted that psychologists that contribute their analysis within a cross-cultural frame are identified as psychological anthropologists. Moreover, psychological anthropology is surrounded by numerous topics. The most commonly researched topics may include, the relationship between social structures, values and morals in child-rearing patterns and the connection between child-rearing techniques and mechanisms in an individual’s personal development and behavior. Other popular topics may include the relation between the individual’s personal structure to their role system and projective cultural sectors, such as art and religion, and, finally, the relation between characteristic elements towards deviant actions projected by individuals, which may differ in their reflection of each group. Researchers have drawn a strict barrier between social and psychological anthropology, due to past discrepancies with regards to their distinctions. They have conjured three key differences between the two studies.
Distinctions between Subfields
The first main difference between the two subfields is that while social anthropology dwells upon experimentation and quantitative research, psychological anthropology has only begun to focus on forming hypotheses, building theoretical frameworks, and, in turn, going through the process of verification. Secondly, social anthropology has mostly drawn its framework from Western societies, whilst psychological anthropology has fostered a cross-cultural perception whilst examining frameworks and case studies. Lastly, psychological anthropology is not purely concerned with the effects of a society’s cultural upbringing on an individual’s personality ( on which social anthropology is mainly focused), but it also concerns itself with the dynamic of change that spreads over a society as a result of the personal characteristics its society offers. Furthermore, anthropology has shaped meaningful definitions of culture. These definitions may also somewhat pertain towards a psychological factor. In a purely anthropological context, culture has been best defined by the author of ‘Primitive Culture’, Edward Burnett Tylor.
In his introductory excerpt, Tylor wrote, “Culture or Civilization, taken in its broad ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” However, others have derived a more psychological outlook towards culture. Victor Barnouw’s ‘Culture and Personality’ has defined the term, believing it is, “The way of life of a group of people, the configuration of all of the more or less stereotyped patterns of learned behavior which are handed down from one generation to the next through the means of language and imitation.”
Similarly, anthropologist Ralph Linton, drawn from a psychological perspective pertaining to culture-personality analysis. Linton portrayed culture as, “the configuration of behavior and results of behavior whose component elements are shared and transmitted by the members of a particular society.” Therefore, Linton’s view stems from the belief that all individuals combined create culture.
Culture and Personality
Accordingly, psychological anthropology ascertains a relation between culture and personality. It may seem that both are quite distinctive in definition, as culture mainly refers to a shared public experience, whilst personality is more concerned with individual interpretations. However, researchers have connoted a distinctive connection between the two concepts. The relationship has run through significant criticisms, as social anthropologist, Fred Navel, noted that researchers, “may take it for granted that there is some connection between the make-up of a culture and the particular personality (or personalities) of its human carriers. Yet in taking this connection to be a simple and obvious one, so simple and obvious that one can be inferred from the other, we run the risk of arguing in a circle.” Which also means that culture can cause personality and personality can cause culture.
Past studies have surfaced a different point of view with regards to psychological anthropology. In the 1700s, a concept of the ‘psychology of the people’ was developed in a German context. German historian and philosopher, Johann Herder, constituted that each ‘Volk’, which translates to folk in German, had their own unique set of characteristics, such as, spirit, soul, and way of thought. His rendition of a people’s spirit is through their soul, art, mythology, folklore, as well as philosophy. Therefore, the thought was to essentially unite an imagined community. Progressing towards the 1800s and 1900s, scholars have moved towards more advanced arguments. There are those that defend the psychic unity of humankind, where they believe in the unity of psychology of every human. This notion was later developed by Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, and became identified as ‘archetypes’, which have simplified and categorized human behavior into main models.
Psychology and Religion
Tylor stressed the presence of a tether between religion and psychology. The emergence of religious beliefs and spiritual awareness can be reverted back to the human mind. Psychological factors that arise in this instance can be hallucinations, dreams, mental experiences, and even out-of-body experiences. Prehistoric human belief explored the idea of visions and dreams coming from a separate part of their bodies, therefore, characterizing them as spirits.
Moreover, this religious interpretation found in psychology can also be further supported by the psychological anthropologist, Franz Boas’, statement: “One of the chief aims of anthropology is the study of the mind of man under the varying conditions of race and environment”. Therefore, Boas considers the manifestation of humankind under conditions of society, culture, and certain values. Sigmund Freud, more notably known as the father of modern psychology, has produced several speculations that continue to showcase their impact on anthropology to this day. Following the release of his ‘Totem and Taboo’, subtitled ‘Some Resemblances/Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics’ in 1913, anthropologists began to draw from the psychological analysis found in his readings. Freud’s analysis reflected anthropological study through its belief that social experiences shape and construct an individual’s personality. Freud has also focused on a child-rearing technique’s effect on behavioral constructs. Cultural proof provides a deep analysis into an individual’s experiences and perceptions.
Application of Freud
Bronislaw Malinowski was an early anthropologist from 1884 till 1942. Malinowski, unlike other anthropologists, built his functionalist theoretical perspective (holding that several social aspects, such as institutions, norms and role systems, serve a vital purpose to the making of society) on an individual scale, specifically in the religious sphere. In Malinowski’s study of religion, he chose to analyze the Trobriand Islanders. His observations have led to significant findings on the relationship between psychology and religion.
The native islanders would have a higher likelihood of praying and leaning more towards their religious endeavors when they are unable to locate land on their sailings. However, once land is within distance, their religious practices are significantly depleted. Therefore, Malinowski speculated that fear stimulated the need for prayer, since the situation of open-water travel is riskier and more dangerous than travelling near land. Moreover, the islanders sought control over their precarious situation.
Prejudice in Psychological Anthropology
Anthony Wallace, who was reputedly known for his theory of the revitalization movement as well as his intersections with psychology and anthropology, described culture in a frame where, “Those ways of behavior or techniques of solving problems which, being more frequently and more closely approximated than other ways, can be said to have a high probability of use by individual members of society.” In other words, Wallace characterizes the cultural and personal connection by stating that personality involves the methods of solving issues which are highly probable for the use of one individual. Drawing from the revitalization movement, the emergence of Nazism has provided the needed framework to interpret the psychological implications of studying the group in an anthropological context. Nazism essentially stems from the belief in the superiority of a race, or most commonly known as, racism. The psychology of racism has become a widely addressed topic throughout the years.
Psychologists believe the first instance of racism can be found in a more primitive era, where resources were prized. Therefore, groups felt the need to oppress others in order to gain the benefit of more resources. The French anthropologist, Pascal Boyer, simply phrased the prejudiced behavior as, “ a consequence of highly efficient economic strategies,” allowing us to “keep members of other groups in a lower-status position, with distinctly worse benefits.”
Nazism and Psychological Anthropology
When viewing the psychological trajectory the Nazis have developed towards their prejudice, social scientists have examined their main components. Nazism has brought forth an extreme ideology intensely criminalizing and dehumanizing the Jewish population. The ideology positions Jews as a parasite, whereby a ‘race-soul’ is non-existent. Anthropologists identify the race-soul as only belonging to the human species. Drawing from the psychological perspective, the Terror Management Theory postulates that human prejudice can often be derived from the need to amplify an individual’s own importance.
The theory suggests that the racist behavior can be drawn from the need to belong to a certain group, which is why certain nationalist tendencies may come across as biased. Moreover, the framework may also lay ground for findings with regards to defense mechanisms. Although nationalism may breed prejudice in numerous instances, it is not always the case. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in where an individual comes from their physical characteristics, cultural beliefs, norms, and systems. However, this pride may turn towards affliction with other groups, thus, breeding an ‘Us vs Them’ narrative. The emotional intelligence accompanied by each group may be hindered due to the loss and withdrawal of empathy towards other groups. Furthermore, the Nazis had withdrawn their empathy when targeting the Jewish population, specifically through torture and genocide. Therefore, the notorious Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, had intensely fostered the belief of Aryan superiority over all other groups.
After observing merely a fraction of information given about psychological anthropology, it becomes clearer that the subfield implicates great depth in perception of an individual’s mind and personality with regards to their cultural input. Despite extensive research already built around psychological anthropology, limitations may arise. For instance, the lack of quantitative analysis can be a major setback when attempting to solidify its theoretical frameworks.
The study is also reduced to only a few psychological models, such as Freudian psychoanalysis. With that being said, the subfield holds a prospective future towards analyzing factors such as the effects of modern corporations and institutions on individuals. Thus, this subject may delve deeper into conformity of groups. Furthermore, the future is bright for the subject, as it holds new reflections and contexts in everyday human life.