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Frosh, S. (2004). Aboriginal Populations in The Mind: Race and Primitivity in Psychoanalysis. By Celia Brickman. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, viii + 285 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(3):457-460.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(3):457-460


Aboriginal Populations in The Mind: Race and Primitivity in Psychoanalysis. By Celia Brickman. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, viii + 285 pp.

Review by:
Stephen Frosh, Ph.D.

Psychoanalysis has not always had a happy time when dealing with issues of “race.” Searching for universalism and neglecting its own origins in the Jewish milieu of nineteenth-century Europe, psychoanalysis has tended to overlook the impact of ethnicity and culture in the clinical setting, and to be overconfident about the generalizability of its theoretical claims to all cultures. Psychoanalysis has also been deficient in examining racist attitudes within its ranks, and as embedded in its theories, and has until recently offered only weak accounts of racism as it operates in the wider world.

There are exceptions here, however, with some very important earlier work by European and American critics such as Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sandford (1950), whose highly influential study of the “authoritarian personality” included a strongly psychoanalytic reading of the conditions of emergence of racial “prejudice”; Kovel (1984), whose account of “white racism” combines psychoanalytic and sociopolitical analysis; and Fanon (1952), on the impact of racism on the consciousness (and the unconscious) of black and white people. Fanon's work in particular has become foundational for contemporary “postcolonial” studies, which focus on the effects of colonialism on the behavior, social systems, and subjectivity of both colonialists and colonized, and hence particularly on relations between the “West” and the “Rest.” Building on these predecessors, both radical critics of psychoanalysis and thoughtful mainstreamers have begun to explore both what psychoanalysis can offer to the understanding of “race” and racism, and the ways in which it draws on racist discourses in its own practices.

Outstanding examples here include the work of Michael Rustin (1991), who presents a Kleinian account of the sources of personal racism, and Neil Altman's (1996) clinically focused object relational exploration of psychoanalysis in multicultural settings.

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