Freud among the Boasians: psychoanalytic influence and ambivalence in American anthropology

Kevin P. Groark*

*Corresponding author for this work

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5 Citations (Scopus)
65 Downloads (Pure)


In this article, I present an unpublished letter in which Franz Boas offers what would become his final remarks on the work of Sigmund Freud and the influence of psychoanalysis on anthropology. I explore the intellectual and interpersonal field of early psychoanalytic anthropology, outlining Boas’s empirical objections to Freud’s “ethnology” (what we might call the letter’s manifest content), while exploring the less obvious latent factors underpinning his antipathy toward psychoanalytic thought, the marginalization of the Boasian paradigm at Columbia University, the cultural impact of Freud’s “untenable” theories, and most significant, the paradoxical and ambivalent appeal of psychoanalysis among Boas’s former students and disciples. I close with a set of reflections on the current relationship between anthropology and psychoanalysis, offering thoughts on the role a cultural psychodynamic approach might play in what Géza Róheim called “the anthropology of the future.”

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-573, 585-588
Number of pages19
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2019 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Originally published in Current Anthropology 60(4), 2019. DOI:


  • psychoanalysis
  • Boas
  • history of anthropology
  • Kardiner
  • psychoanalytic anthropology
  • Columbia
  • Freud


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