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Kluckhohn, C. (1959). Taboo: By Franz Steiner. With a preface by E. E. Evans-Pritchard. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1956. 154 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 28:540-541.

(1959). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 28:540-541

Taboo: By Franz Steiner. With a preface by E. E. Evans-Pritchard. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1956. 154 pp.

Review by:
Clyde Kluckhohn

This is a compact and learned little book. Dr. Steiner gives a history of the use of the word 'taboo' in ethnographic literature, sketching the cultural contexts involved. He then reviews and criticizes various theoretical positions, explicit and implicit. He concludes that all of the things that have been discussed under the rubric of 'taboo' cannot be seen in terms of a single problem; '… taboo is an element of all those situations in which attitudes to values are expressed in terms of danger behavior …'.

The chapter on Wundt ('the German counterpart of the English mid-Victorians') and Freud will probably be of greatest interest to the readers of this journal. Steiner eschews any criticism of Freud on psychological grounds, dealing only with matters that are 'believed or assumed to have some bearing on sociological generalizations'. He feels that Freud's consideration of the ethnographic materials stresses only two points: the difference between, and distinctiveness of, fright and horror, and the automatic nature of the taboo sanction. Steiner sees 'a certain arbitrariness' in this following of 'the best tradition' of the Victorian intellectuals.

There follows an acute criticism of the four points that Freud found in common between taboo customs and the symptoms of obsessional neurosis. The absence of offered motivation is not an acceptable criterion, for, if it were, 'the by-laws of a railway company would be closer to taboo than parental orders'. As a rule, motives are not assigned in cultures. 'This is an elementary observation, which no theory of drives can invalidate.' Second, the evidence does not support Freud's assumption of 'internal necessity' except in so far as all culture is internalized. Third, Freud's concept of 'morbid contagion concepts' confounds, from the ethnographic standpoint, two categories of things with two different sets of abstractions. Fourth, Freud's assertion that taboos give rise to injunctions for the performance of ceremonial acts begs the question. Cultural studies indicate that the chain of events often starts from the reverse direction.

Finally, Steiner calls attention to many points in Freud's argument that are demonstrably incorrect from the ethnographic data.

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