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Gilmore, D.D. (1994). Intimate Communications: Erotics and the Study of Culture. By Gilbert Herdt and Robert J. Stoller. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1990, xvi + 467 pp., $40.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 42:281-285.

(1994). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42:281-285

Intimate Communications: Erotics and the Study of Culture. By Gilbert Herdt and Robert J. Stoller. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1990, xvi + 467 pp., $40.00.

Review by:
David D. Gilmore, Ph.D.

Anthropology and psychoanalysis have had an uneasy relationship ever since Malinowski challenged the universality of the Oedipus complex in the 1920's. Sometimes adversarial, sometimes collaborative, this relationship has produced some splendid monuments of interdisciplinary research (one thinks of E. H. Erikson, A. Kardiner, C. Du-Bois, and a few others of the culture-and-personality school, mainly in the 1940's and 1950's); but unhappily these joint efforts never eventuated in any standardized methodologies or mutually accepted concepts or theories. Today the disciplines' relationship may be described as an amicable divorce: friendly but indifferent.

Practitioners of both fields recognize that the major impediments to a truly analytic anthropology have been methodological rather than theoretical. These problems have proven frustrating and intractable. The participant-observation method of ethnography, with its stress on prescribed behavior and formal norms (i.e., "collective representations") seems at odds with clinical methods involving transference and therapeutic interventions. Other practical problems abound. Few scholars can master both crafts; anthropologists cannot put busy natives on the couch without dire consequences to the routines they wish to study; interventions or interpretations, the very stuff of analytic method, are considered taboo in sociological fieldwork because they are said to contaminate empirical data. There are also conceptual obstacles: how does the observer distinguish between individual symptom and social fact, between neurotic fantasy and collective myth? How can one be an ethnographer (of a society) and a psychoanalyst (of individuals) at the same time?

On the surface, Intimate Communications, a collaborative effort between anthropologist Herdt and psychoanalyst Stoller, appears very innovative in addressing such questions.

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