Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry

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Dedicated to Marcel Mauss and with a preface by Roger Bastide, the essays in Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry were published between 1940 and 1967 in American anthropology, psychiatry, criminology, and psychoanalysis reviews (American Anthropologist, Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Journal of Criminal Psychopathology ). The author provided additional commentary for some of the texts at the time of their publication.

In spite of the diversity of the topics, the collection provides insight into the sources of Devereux's thought, his experiences as an ethnologist among the Mohave Indians of California and the Sedangs Moi of Vietnam, as well as his research on sociology and mythology. These included the definition of ethnopsychiatry as a reference frame for clinical work and research in psychiatry; the qualification of the concepts of ethnic personality and its disorders (sacred, typical, idiosyncratic); the status of culture in psychological disturbances such as psychosis, neurosis, somatic disturbance, deviance; and the additional possibilities of functional and cultural disturbances. For example, in "A Sociological Theory of Schizophrenia" Devereux analyzes the effects of modern societies on the disorientation and dysphoria of its members.

The author draws the attention of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and anthropologists to the reciprocity of oedipal conflicts between adult and child and to the presence in some societies of models of conventional misconduct that can be used directly in private and "negativist" fantasies. Devereux also reiterates the importance of diagnosing any antisocial "warning symptoms" in disturbed individuals, even those who are least obvious, not as a function of existing norms but as a function of their singularity and distance from culture and the materials it offered them.

For Georges Devereux culture was an interior experience and a way of "living experience." Through his methodology, based on the complementarity of psychological and sociological data, and his theoretical opposition to any form of cultural relativism in the explanation of mental disordershe believed in the mental unity of human beingsthe role of psychoanalysis in ethnological research has been established. Through its coherence and scholarship, Devereux's work provides unique support for the use of ethnopsychiatry in the investigation of culture.

Simone Valantin

See also: Anthropology and psychoanalysis; Devereux, Georges; Ethnopsychoanalysis; Individual; Transcultural.

Source Citation

Devereux, Georges. (1980). Basic problems of ethnopsychiatry (Basia Miller Gulati and George Devereux, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.