The seminar

Anthropology, Culture and Cognition

Freud, a century after Totem and Taboo

13-14 March, 2013


Anthropology Department/ CAPP

School of Social and Political Sciences

Technical University of Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal

Venue: ISCSP, Lisbon


In the book review on Edwin Wallace’s Freud and Anthropology, Joan Mark argued that no “scientific discipline outside his own gave Sigmund Freud’s ideas such long-sustained and critical attention as did anthropology. Conversely, no other social or behavioral science so affected Freud’s thinking over the course of his long career” (1984:444). This statement reveals the long-lasting dialogue between anthropology and psychoanalysis, drawing our attention to the development of such relationship over the last one hundred years. In fact, anthropology’s influence on Freud’s theories is clearly acknowledged in one of his most provoking works, Totem and Taboo. Published in 1913, Totem and Taboo reflected Freud’s incursions into anthropological knowledge, presenting arguments that were inspired by evolutionist proposals, such as Frazer’s writings on the notion of the totem and about taboo beliefs and practices.

The subtitle intrigued many anthropologists: Some points of agreement between the mental lives of savages and neurotics. Yet, what Freud suggested was a parallelism between individual and asocial forms of neurosis (as a subjective status) and certain “cultural products” such as taboos, animism and totemic beliefs. Thus, Freud showed how psychoanalysis could explain these phenomena and could be applied or implied in cultural formations as identification and defensive mechanisms.

Although hardly avoiding intense criticism by anthropologists such as Boas and Malinowski, Freud’s theories did, however, have a profound impact upon anthropology, receiving an enthusiastic reception among Culture and Personality theorists during the middle decades of the 20th century. Leading anthropologists of this trend relied on Freud’s contributions to develop approaches based on the relationship between culture and personality, expanding their views on the importance of culture in personality formation, on the constitution of culture patterns and on the formulation of national character.

One hundred years after the publication of Totem and Taboo (1913), this two-day seminar seeks to address the influence of Freud’s legacy in contemporary anthropological thought. It also aims to explore the new interface between the two disciplines, namely through the recent work produced on kinship and on the cognitive approaches to the study of religion.

The seminar intends to bring together anthropologists and scholars in related disciplines whose research focuses on anthropology, culture and cognition by presenting their work and by engaging in fruitful academic debate and possible future co-operation.

The seminar will include a keynote lecture, panel presentations (day one), and the screening movie of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method by followed by a roundtable discussion (day two). An undergraduate student’s poster session will also be held during the seminar.


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