Thepsychoanalytic perspective has a great influence across a variety of fields. Onearea in specific is the field of psychoanalytic anthropology.
The influence ofFreud on psychoanalytic anthropology can be seen not only in the methodologyused within the field such as the Thematic Apperception Test (Murray, 1991) andthe Rorschach tests but also in the use of case studies and individualethnographies in explanations of their findings. Enthusiasts of the psychoanalytic school ofanthropology often used psychoanalysis to be able to explain such cultural andsocial phenomena such as the development of personality, symbols, and familydynamics and how child rearing can have an impact on adulthood. The relationship between anthropology and psychoanalysisis one which is particular in nature; this is mainly due to the fact that theconcepts used in psychoanalysis can be considered to be unfamiliar and abstractin relation to that of anthropology. In light of this unique relationshipbetween the two fields anthropologists have used cross-cultural investigationsto seek to investigate the commonality of psychoanalytic theories (Ducey, 1981). There is a great deal of emphasis on the symbolswithin culture and this area has been particularly heavily influenced by notonly Sigmund Freud but also by Carl Jung. Freud believed that the use ofsymbols, such as art, religion, icons etc. were purely symptoms of motivationsthat lie deep within out unconscious mind, the ID. Therefore symbols are in essenceconsequences of our unconscious mind (Eller, 2016).
Another key concept of psychodynamic theory that has been integrated into thefield of anthropology is that of the existence of universal concepts such asthe Oedipus and Elektra complex, this forms during infancy when strongpsychological bonds are being developed with caregivers (Keesing &Strathern, 1998). Given the importance ofsymbols in culture and the way in which symbols represent ideologies andexpress social structures, the use of them in rituals cannot be over looked.The manner in which a symbol is used and the context of its use is also vital,as a symbol in itself is only of relevance within the culture it exists(Womack, 2005). The meaning of such symbol must be both learned and acceptedfor it to become a shared belief (Keesing & Strathern, 1998). This culturalrelevance can be seen Ndembu tribe located in Zambia. Within the Ndembu tribewe can also see how the environment also contributes to the symbols that areused within the rituals.
The mudyi tree is used in a multitude of rituals dueto it releasing a white milky sap when cut. The release of the sap can be arepresentation of the physical, such a mother’s breast milk or social, the bondof mother with child and also sometimes used as an abstract representation(Keesing & Strathern, 1998). The Tallensi of Ghana holdextremely elaborate rituals to symbolize rites of passage.
They believe thatthe most important goal within ones lifespan is to leave a lineage specificallythrough a male heir. The Tallensi also emphasize a strict hierarchical societywhich is shown in both male and female offspring. The males may not wear thefather’s cap or tunic nor carry his bow and quiver, also the male offspring isnot permitted to look into his father’s granary, Furthermore once the maleoffspring reaches adolescence he may not meet his father at the entrance of thehomestead. Similarly female offspring are forbidden from the mother’s storagepot. Once the parent dies the male offspring is adorned the clothing previouslyforbidden and escorted for the first time into the granary by an elder as arite symbolizing the son taking the place of the father therefore reaching fullmaturity with the father taking the place as mediator to the ancestors (Keesing& Strathern, 1998). This Tallensi ritual can beseen as way of maintaining the hierarchical society but also the acknowledgmentof the ancestral linage helps to alleviate the feelings associated with thefinality of death and also easing the loss of loved ones (Keesing &Strathern, 1998).
One might also question if the customs of the Tellensi fatherand son may be a response to the Oedipus complex. As understood the son seesthe father as a rival for his mother’s love, as a response the father maymaintain this image of authority by withholding certain aspects (cap, tunic,bow, quiver, entrance to the granary) thus asserting his power and control.Further from this as the child now reaches adolescence he may be seen as moreformidable rival and therefore further displays of authority are enforced suchas not being able to meet at the entrance of the homestead. These rituals, beliefs,morals, knowledge etc. are ingrained in the individual through enculturation(Eller, 2016). This in turn shapes personality and the sense of self, with thisthe sense of ones gender and sexuality are also learned. Physical sex andgender are not to be classed as the same.
In most societies it considered thatonly two genders exist and this gender is “given” at birth along withconfirmation of the physical sex, however as individuals mature that individualmay not identify with the specific gender norms allocated by society (Richardset al., 2016). If gender was simply defined by physical characteristics then itstands to reason that we would not see the diversity in gender identityexhibited cross-culturally such as the gender fluidity of Navayo or such as theZuni who require specific social rituals for the child to be allocated a sex atall (Roscoe 1994).
Roscoe (1994) acknowledges that gender is multidimensional.This same understanding that holds for gender must also be adopted forsexuality, what one society may view as deviant sexual behavior; another mightview as a rite of passage such as Melanesian society and the practice of ritualhomosexuality (Eller 2016). Therefore it is a requirement that when looking atgender and sexuality in different cultures we must use an ontologicalperspective with no cultural bias. Eller (2016) states that thedefinition of cultural ontology is “a society’s system of notions about whatkind of things (including kinds of people) exist in the world and theircharacteristics and social value. A socially specific way of categorizing and valuingthe physical and social world.” Based onthis definition we can conclude that cultural ontology includes a wide range offactors along with symbols, the basic meaning (conscious or unconscious) ofthose symbols and the value given to that symbol by the culture in which it exists. ThereforeEller’s (2016) definition can support a multitude of theories including thataccording to Freud sexual desire is the basic meaning of all symbols andsymbolic behavior.