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Wilson, E., Jr. (1992). Psyche. XL, 1986: George Devereux. Toward the Understanding of Psychoanalysis as an Epistemological and General Cultural Discipline. Brigitte Milkau-Kaufmann and Florian Rötzer. Pp. 665-677.. Psychoanal Q., 61:138-139.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Psyche. XL, 1986: George Devereux. Toward the Understanding of Psychoanalysis as an Epistemological and General Cultural Discipline. Brigitte Milkau-Kaufmann and Florian Rötzer. Pp. 665-677.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 61:138-139

Psyche. XL, 1986: George Devereux. Toward the Understanding of Psychoanalysis as an Epistemological and General Cultural Discipline. Brigitte Milkau-Kaufmann and Florian Rötzer. Pp. 665-677.

Emmett Wilson, Jr.

The authors review details of Devereux's biography, from his birth in Hungary in 1908, his early years in Paris as a student of theoretical physics, his shift to ethnology, and his eventual move to sociology and psychology. In 1932 Devereux emigrated to the United States and conducted field research on the Hopi and Mohave Indians. He later studied the Papuan and Indonesian peoples. Upon his return to the United States he taught and carried out research at various psychiatric institutions in Massachusetts and in Topeka, where he became a psychoanalyst. From 1959 to 1963 he was in private practice in New York, and taught ethnopsychiatry at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. His training analysis began in German with Jokl, continued in Hungarian with Róheim, and finished in French with Schlumberger. After 1963 he returned to Paris to the École Pratique des Hautes Études to continue his research in ethnopsychiatry, a science he had virtually founded. He died in France in 1986.

Devereux's primary theoretical interests focused on the epistemological basis of

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psychoanalysis, especially on the dyad of observer-observed, and were obviously influenced by his earlier training in physics, specifically by the principle of complementarity. The "myth" of distance and objectivity in other sciences was for him an indication of defense against anxiety in the would-be observer, who deluded him/herself with a fantasied shield of objectivity. For Devereux, psychoanalysis was the paradigmatic example of a scientific discipline, in contrast to other sciences, because it took into account transference-countertransference phenomena as well as epistemology and methodology. Thus the seemingly never-ending debate about its scientific status was turned around completely, with its methodology now shown to be an ideal that other sciences approached only with difficulty. To Devereux, psychoanalytic mimicry of objectivity was misguided; tests, instrumentation, one-way mirrors, and psychoanalytic anonymity betray information about the observer in that parapraxes and lapses of memory provide information about a psychoanalytic patient. Self-reflection in an investigation does not lead to a paradoxical circularity, but opens up a dialectical field, similar to the Hegelian structure of self-consciousness. Reciprocal self-awareness and interaction are not disruptions but the foundation of knowledge. Ethnopsychoanalysis is not an autonomous discipline with a limited field of inquiry and a specific method, but reflects the interrelations between individual and group, a complementarity between psychology and sociology. Human phenomena do not, according to Devereux, have a single explanation. The discourse between sociology and psychology is quite interdependent, and sociological and psychological explanations are not reducible one to the other. His thinking was thus trans- or pluridisciplinary. He tried to avoid premature solutions and simplistic explanation. For that reason his writing often seems diffuse, for he progressed by montages of heterogeneous fragments rather than in a closed, workedout system.

Devereux preferred to call his approach trans-ethnographic or meta-ethnographic or even meta-cultural, in contrast to what has come to be known as trans-cultural psychiatry. He attempted to avoid the extremes of the medical model of sick and well, normal and abnormal, as well as the relativistic extreme in which all psychological difficulties are explained through a cultural determinism. Nonetheless, Devereux believed that there are limitations to the plasticity and variation of human affect and behavior and therefore held out the possibility of a universal and general psychopathology. He also discussed an ethnic unconscious, but this was, in his conception, quite different from the collective unconscious of Jung. This ethnic unconscious is built from cultural directives and precipitates, and not from archetypes. It is the specific constellation of the defense mechanisms that a given culture brings to bear on human experience, and through which the necessary renunciation of the realization of wishes and fantasies can be achieved. For Devereux every culture is as analyzable as every individual.

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Article Citation

Wilson, E., Jr. (1992). Psyche. XL, 1986. Psychoanal. Q., 61:138-139

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