Chapter 8

Chapter 8:
Culture and Psychology
© 2014 Mark Moberg
• Robert Lowie summarized the Boasian view of culture as a “planless
hodgepodge, [a] thing of shreds and patches.” This metaphor suggests
that within a given culture some practices result from diffusion and
others independent invention. They remain as unrelated to one another
as the squares on a patchwork quilt.
• Many of Boas’ own students dissented from Lowie’s analogy. Benedict
and Mead characterized cultures in terms of their configuration, a
psychological orientation that suffuses a culture’s world view, ritual life,
and mythology. Benedict’s Patterns of Culture identifies configurations
for three societies in terms of character types defined by Nietzsche for
classical Greek drama. Each has a distinct psychological orientation
ranging from Dionysian (unrestrained megalomania among the
Kwakiutl) to Apollonian (restraint and stoicism for the Zuni) to paranoia
(Dobu). Benedict suggested that each culture selected from a wide arc of
possibilities those characteristics that it found most gratifying.
© 2014 Mark Moberg
• Following Freud, later anthropologists emphasized the role of child rearing
in determining adult personalities, linking what they called a “basic
personality structure” to experiences such as toilet training, weaning,
sibling rivalry, and sexual contact. These they identified as “primary
institutions,” while “secondary institutions” arose from the needs and
tensions created by the basic personality structure. These include taboos,
rituals, folktales, aesthetics and any other aspects of culture that comprise a
projection of the individual’s personality into the broader natural and
supernatural worlds.
• Flaws in this approach became apparent when anthropologists were
recruited to analyze Japanese personality and morale during WWII.
Anthropologist Jeffrey Gorer claimed that Japanese aggression resulted
from repressed rage at severe early toilet training, which occasioned
outbursts of sadism against enemies. When such “findings” were
disseminated into the popular press, they implied that the Japanese were
collectively mentally ill. Apart from the fact that such claims were offered
without the benefit of fieldwork, they also glossed over the considerable
variability found in even small-scale societies, much less a modern nation
state such as Japan. Today, the basic personality structure is recognized as a
stereotype that conceals, rather than reveals, the actual psychological
characteristics of any given culture.
© 2014 Mark Moberg

similar documents