Psychological Anthropology (Linger)




Daniel Linger
University of California, Santa Cruz 


This course introduces the field of psychological anthropology. Psychological anthropology seeks to understand the relations between personal and sociocultural phenomena – between such things as personality and mind, on the one hand, and society and culture, on the other. In recent years, psychological anthropologists, like their colleagues in cultural anthropology, have increasingly come to question their own analytic categories. Assumptions about both biological and psychological constants in human life have come under fire. As a result, psychological anthropology today has become a lively and innovative subdiscipline in which many central ideas are up for grabs.

Research in psychological anthropology has tended to organize itself around two paradigms. The first, culture and personality, draws extensively on Freudian models of personality, looking at such issues as culturally constituted defense mechanisms, child-rearing practices, psychological functions of religion, and the like. The second, cognitive anthropology, examines perception, thought, self, and emotion. For many years, research in this area dealt mainly on systems of categorization. Recently, cognitive anthropologists have begun to talk about more complex knowledge structures, or “cultural models.” These are shared conceptual models of, for example, emotions, the self, interaction sequences, and moral systems.

Readings and lectures will examine culture-and-personality studies, cognitive anthropology, critiques of both, and selected controversies. This is a demanding course: much of the material is difficult and may be unfamiliar even to those who have had other upper-division anthropology courses.

This is an upper-division anthropology course that satisfies the sociocultural requirement for majors. Courses in psychology may or may not prove useful; in any case, no such course is required, and historically anthropology’s concerns with psychological matters have been idiosyncratic.


We will be reading Freud, Benedict, and Parish from cover to cover. The other texts, from which I have drawn selected readings, are well worth acquiring, depending on your budget and level of interest. Edward Sapir was a brilliant, influential linguist and cultural theorist of the early 20th century; the UC Press collection of his most important writings is a real bargain. Roy D’Andrade, long a major figure in cognitive anthropology, gives an authoritative, comprehensive overview of that field in his recentThe Development of Cognitive Anthropology. The Shweder and LeVine volume offers a glimpse of culture theory in the ‘80s, featuring sharp controversies that are still unresolved. The New Directions anthology, though not comprehensive, highlights some current concerns of psychological anthropologists. Melford Spiro and Gananath Obeyesekere are outstanding practitioners of psychoanalytic anthropology. Strauss and Quinn’s recent manifesto offers a justification and research paradigm for a cognitive approach to culture.

We will be reading in their entirety:

Benedict, Ruth
1946 The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. New York: New American Library. (hereafter Benedict)

Freud, Sigmund
1961 (1930) Civilization and Its Discontents. James Strachey, trans. N.Y.: W.W. Norton. (Freud)

Parish, Steven M.
1994 Moral Knowing in a Hindu Sacred City. N.Y.: Columbia University Press. (Parish)
We will be reading substantially (more than 60 pages) from:

Sapir, Edward
1949 Selected Writings in Language, Culture, and Personality. David G. Mandelbaum, ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Sapir)

Shweder, Richard A. and Robert A. LeVine, eds.
1984 Culture Theory: Essays on Mind, Self and Emotion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (S&L)
We will be reading selections from:

D’Andrade, Roy
1995 The Development of Cognitive Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (D’Andrade)

Obeyesekere, Gananath
1981 Medusa’s Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Obeyesekere)

Schwartz, Theodore, Geoffrey M. White and Catherine A. Lutz, eds.
1992 New Directions in Psychological Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (SW&L)

Spiro, Melford E.
1987 Culture and Human Nature: Theoretical Papers of Melford E. Spiro. Benjamin Kilborne and L.L. Langness, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Spiro)

Strauss, Claudia and Naomi Quinn
1997 A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (S&Q)



The assignments are two papers and one examination.

Your evaluation (or grade) will be based on the two papers. You will be asked to address substantial, challenging questions of theory in psychological anthropology. For the final paper you will have the option of writing a paper based on your own field research.

You should remain current in the readings: it will be impossible to understand the lectures, do the papers or participate in discussions without having studied the assigned materials carefully. I think you will find the issues to be provocative.

Toward the end of the quarter, there will be an in-class final quiz. This should not make you nervous. If you have done the reading with reasonable care, you will have no problem. If you do happen to score below a certain minimum on the quiz, I will ask you to do an additional final essay. (No quiz scores will be reported in course evaluations.)


Lectures and readings

All readings are on reserve at McHenry Library. You can buy the books at the Literary Guillotine in downtown Santa Cruz.


WEEK 1. Persons and society: introduction

D’Andrade, Preface and Ch. 1, pp. xiii-xiv and 1-15.

Freud, whole book

WEEK 2. Relativisms and universalisms

Rosaldo, Michelle Z. Toward an anthropology of self and feeling. S&L, pp. 137-157.


Spiro, Melford E. Some reflections on cultural determinism and relativism with special reference to emotion and reason. S&L, pp. 323-346.

Geertz, Clifford. 1984. Distinguished lecture: Anti-anti relativism. American Anthropologist 86:263-278.

Spiro, Melford E. 1992. Anthropological Other or Burmese Brother? Studies in Cultural Analaysis. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. (Ch. 1: A critique of cultural relativism, with special reference to epistemological relativism, pp. 3-52.)

Shore, Bradd. 1999. Cultural relativism. In MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Pp. 213-215. Cambridge: MIT Press.


Benedict, pp. 1-42


WEEK 3. Culture and personality: Sapir

Sapir, Edward. From Sapir:

- Cultural anthropology and psychiatry (pp. 509-521).

- The unconscious patterning of behavior in society (pp. 544-559).

- Personality (pp. 560-563).

- Symbolism (pp. 564-568).

- Why cultural anthropology needs the psychiatrist (pp. 569-577).

- Psychiatric and cultural pitfalls in the business of getting a living (pp. 578-589).

- The emergence of the concept of personality in the study of cultures (pp. 590-597).

Benedict, pp. 43-97.


WEEK 4. Culture and personality: Benedict

Benedict, pp. 98-316.


WEEK 5. Psychoanalytic studies

Hopkins, James. 1999. Psychoanalysis, history of. In MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Pp. 685-688. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Benedict, Ruth. 1946 (1934). Patterns of Culture. N.Y.: Mentor Books. (Ch. 8, pp. 218-240.)

Spiro, Melford E. Culture and human nature. Spiro, pp. 3-31.

Spiro, Melford E. Collective Representations and Mental Representations in Religious Symbol Systems. Spiro, pp. 161-184.

Obeyesekere, Part One, pp. 1-51.


WEEK 6. Critiques of representational approaches

Linger, Daniel T. 1994. Has culture theory lost its minds? Ethos 22(3):284-315.

S&Q, Chapters 1 and 2, pp. 1-47.

Parish, pp. 1-70.


WEEK 7. Cognitive anthropology

Schwartz, Theodore. 1978. Where is the culture? Personality as the distributive locus of culture. In The Making of Psychological Anthropology. George D. Spindler, ed. Pp. 419-441. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Casson, Ronald. 1999. Cognitive anthropology. In MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Pp. 120-122. Cambridge: MIT Press.

D’Andrade, Roy G. Cultural meaning systems. S&L, pp. 88-119.

D’Andrade, Roy G. 1987. A folk model of the mind. In Cultural Models in Language and Thought. Dorothy Holland and Naomi Quinn, eds. Pp. 112-148. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parish, pp. 71-122.


WEEK 8. Controversies: self

White, Stephen L. 1999. Self. In MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Pp. 733-735. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Geertz, Clifford. “From the native’s point of view”: On the nature of anthropological understanding. S&L, pp. 123-136.

McHugh, Ernestine L. 1989. Concepts of the person among the Gurungs of Nepal. American Ethnologist 16(1):75-86.

Hollan, Douglas. 1992. Cross-cultural differences in the self. Journal of Anthropological Research 48(4):283-300.

Holland, Dorothy. 1997. Selves as cultured: As told by an anthropologist who lacks a soul. In Self and Identity: Fundamental Issues. Richard D. Ashmore and Lee Jussim, eds. Pp. 160-190. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parish, pp. 125-187.


WEEK 9. Controversies: emotion

Oatley, Keith. 1999. Emotions. In MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Pp. 273-275. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Rosaldo, Renato I. 1989. Introduction: Grief and a headhunter’s rage. InCulture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Pp. 1-21. Boston: Beacon Press.

Briggs, Jean. 1970. Never in Anger. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Pp. 274-291, 328-337.)

Lutz, Catherine. 1988. Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Chapter 6: Morality, Domination, and the Emotion of “Justifiable Anger.” Pp. 155-182.)

Levy, Robert I. 1984. Emotion, knowing, and culture. S&L, pp. 214-237.

Parish, pp. 188-232


WEEK 10. Riddles of agency

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1992. Hungry bodies, medicine, and the state: Toward a critical psychological anthropology. SW&L, pp. 221-247.

Linger, Daniel T. (in press) The identity path of Eduardo Mori. In History in Person: Enduring Struggles and Practices of Identity. Jean Lave and Dorothy Holland, eds. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Parish, pp. 233-296.


Copyright © 2001 Daniel T. Linger