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Grey, A. (2001). Uncultured Psychoanalysis: On the Hazards of Ethnotransference. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(4):683-688.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(4):683-688

Uncultured Psychoanalysis: On the Hazards of Ethnotransference

Alan Grey, Ph.D.

For the Chronologically Orthodox, the year 2000 is the last year of the twentieth century. This same year also is known to the psychoanalytically heterodox as the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Erich Fromm. His writings alerted us to the psychological consequences of contemporary societal changes, especially to the impact of economic institutions on group character. The message is of particular relevance in an era marked by the dramatic emergence of a virtually global economy. Burgeoning international trade is exposing most of the world to the rapid import and export of things, ideas, and people. Fromm's legacy would caution us against an all-too-human temptation to judge all of these things, ideas, and people as understandable from a single universal (i.e., culture-free) perspective.

A culture-free psychoanalysis is ideally suited to culture-free patients treated by culture-free analysts. But such creatures do not exist, because they cannot exist. Human survival depends on the acquisition of what Medawar (1959) calls an “exosomatic” culture heritage. Inevitably, growing up requires socialization into one or another of the diverse array of human societies, each with its own distinctive beliefs and practices for guiding us through life. An unfamiliar culture can be learned vicariously, but we cannot become intimately attuned to its nuances without actually living them. This is a realization thrust on me long ago and far away, in an ancient city watered by the sacred Ganges river of northern India.

Despite more than a million inhabitants, Allahabad preserved an almost rural tempo that blended well with its university where I came to serve as a Fullbright lecturer. As a contribution to the expansion of my psychoanalytic skills, my academic hosts arranged for me to be therapist to an undergraduate whom I will call Lallit. He was a good choice, because he wanted guidance through a painful struggle with his physician father, Dr. Agarwal. Lallit was quite personable and addressed me in excellent, if typically Indian, English that was spoken in his home.

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