On the Supposed Irreconcilability of Psychological and Sociological Explanations

by Joao de Pina-Cabral
On the Supposed Irreconcilability of Psychological and Sociological Explanations
Joao de Pina-Cabral
Current Anthropology
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Volume 32, Number 3, June 1991 / 331

reindeer-herder who saw a drawing of this antler con- cluded that it had belonged to a castrated male rein- deer. If this is true, then, this reindeer belonged to a reindeer-herding system and was not wild.

Obviously this conclusion is based solely on a drawing

(in Aikio 1988:177), and after seeing it one begins to

question how anyone could draw any conclusions from


Direct examination of the antler shows that abrasion

during icelwater-transport has broken off the first brow

tine-and all the other tines as well-and worn down

the corona and the pedicel edges. The result is a

rounded-off end which, poorly drawn, might be reminis-

cent of a castrate antler root. But despite the wear the

pedicel is clearly discernible, and, furthermore, the Tor-

nio antler lacks the characteristic porous texture of cas-

trate antlers. All this suggests that the antler belonged

to a normal male and that the Saami reindeer herder

might have identified it as such had he had something

better than a poor drawing to go by.

It is also noteworthy that Aikio, who comes from a

reindeer-herding family and must have been familiar

with castrated animals, seems somewhat hesitant about

the castrate nature of the Tornio antler (Aikio 1988:

169-70). One gets the impression that he is well aware

of the difficulties of observing diagnostic features from

the drawing in question. Aikio's cautious "if this is

true" (I988:I83) contrasts with Bahn's assertions, the

confidence of which seems to have increased within a

few months:

It is interesting that a reindeer antler found in Finland

in the 1970s and dated to 34,000 years ago has been

identified by a Saami reindeer herder as belonging to

a castrated male and thus ascribed "to a reindeer-

herding system." [CA 30:618]

It is always useful to look at both sides of an argu-

ment, and the Finnish antler is a new piece of evidence

coupled with the view of an expert. . . . [CA 31:74]

I hope that the additional information presented here will prevent the Tornio antler from becoming another "piece of evidence" for Palaeolithic husbandry. The un- critical acceptance of ambiguous, often questionable data casts serious doubt on other evidence and claims for Palaeolithic man-animal interaction patterns no matter how legitimate they may be. Undoubtedly it was this unfortunate practice that inspired White's (CA 30:609- 32; 31:70-71) critical paper. Although White does polar- ize the issue, he has done us a service in pointing out the problem and thus stimulating a needed discussion on the interpretation of Palaeolithic man-animal rela- tionships.

References Cited

AIKIO, P. 1988. "The changing role of reindeer in the life of the

Sami," in The walking larder. Edited by J. Clutton-Brock, pp.

169-84. London: Unwin Hyman.

BAHN. P. 1989. Comment on: Husbandry and herd control in the Upper Paleolithic: A critical review of the evidence, by Randall White. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 30:6I 7-20.

-. 1990. Motes and beams: A further response to White on
the Upper Paleolithic. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 31:71-76.
DONNER,J. J., K. KORPELA, AND R. TYYNI. 1986. Veiksel-
jaakauden alajaotus Suomessa. Terra 98:240-47.
HATT, G. 19 I 7. Notes on reindeer nomadism. Memoirs of the
Anthropological Association 4 (2).
KORPELA, 1969. Die Wichsel-Eiszeit und ihre Interstadial in


Perapohjola (nordliches Nordfinnland) in Licht von submoranen Sedimenten. Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae A 3 (99).

SIIVONEN,L. 1972. Peuran suvun levinneisys ja rodut. Suomen Luonto 6:218-23. -. 1975. "New results on the history and taxonomy of the mountain, forest, and domestic reindeer in northern Europe."

Proceedings of the First International Reindeer and Caribou Symposium, pp. 33-40. Fairbanks.

STURDY,D. 1975. "Some reindeer economies in prehistoric Eu- rope," in Palaeoeconomy. Edited by E. Higgs, pp. 55-95. Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press.

WHITE,R. 1989 Husbandry and herd control in the Upper Paleo- lithic: A critical review of the evidence. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 30:609-16, 626-32.

-. 1990. Reply [to Gordon]. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY

On the Supposed Irreconcilability of Psychological and Sociological Explanations

Instituto de Cikncias Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa, Ed. ZSCTE, Av. For~as Armadas, P-1600 Portugal. 5 I 91

In his reply (CA 31:395-96) to my article on the Medi- terranean as a category of regional comparison (CA 30:399-406)) Gilmore portrays me as a belated Portu- guese version of a 1950s structural-functionalist. While it does not really further the discussion, such a rhetori- cal procedure is perfectly legitimate, for ultimately the responsibility rests with the reader to judge whether I actually did say what he claims I said. I do not feel, therefore, that it is necessary to answer him.

However, something comes out of his attack which I believe to be of more general interest, perhaps deserving some public discussion. Gilmore's choice of terms is clear evidence that phantoms continue to haunt anthro- pological theoretical discourse even though, according to my understanding, they should have become things of the past. I have in mind, in particular, the supposed irreconcilability of psychological and structural explana- tions.

According to him, this is how I "lay down the law": "psychology is never to be used in culture study. . . . such phenomena as sexual mores, interpersonal rela- tions, notions of gender identity have no real psychoge- netic component but are results of the acting out of


structural principles" (p. 395). Of course, I never said

this. How could anyone suggest that the fabric of culture

is not subject to the effects of the human psychological

make-up? The problem, however, is deeper. It lies in the

theoretical bases which Gilmore presumes to be at the

bottom of our disagreement. It was Durkheimian struc-

turalism that produced this dichotomy between socio-

logical and psychological explanations.' I am, however,

by no means the first to note that there were significant

changes during the 1970s and 1980s in the theoretical

universe within which anthropologists operate (cf. Ort-

ner 1984). LCvi-Straussian structuralism, which claimed

to be the gateway to a whole new paradigm, now seems

more likely the swan song of structuralism.

Our point of departure is no longer Durkheim's notion

of structure or Boas's notion of culture. Indeed, the very

difference between cultural and social anthropology-

apart from some quaint academic habits and

preferences-is, to my mind, becoming rather hard to


Very few of us today would disagree with Ro-

saldo, for example, when he says that "human life is

both given and constructed" (1980: 14). During the

1980s there slowly and silently developed a transatlantic

consensus that social life is both a given and a con-

stantly recreated process. In short, most anthropologists

today, whether they are conscious of it or not, have bro-

ken with the structuralist paradigm and its synchron-

icist bias. Within such a universe, the irreconcilability

of psychological and sociological explanations vanishes.

As soon as we develop a preoccupation with process, we are forced to take into account personal action, choice, and reaction-in other words, practice. In conse- quence, experience and consciousness assume a forma- tive role in anthropological theory that they did not have before (cf. Turner and Bruner 1986) Now, the latter are psychological processes, subject to psychological constraints, which means that the old polarity between psy- chological explanations and sociological explanations loses much of its meaning. It is not surprising that Vic- tor Turner, who was one of the more active exponents of a processual approach to social life, should also have been one of the few anthropulogists of his generation to address himself directly to psychological theories. In the 1980s~ this approximation has become increasingly ap- parent. Some of the livelier areas of anthropological dis- cussion have depended on a creative dialogue with psy- chological theories-gender studies is perhaps the best example.

I am not saying that we have finally reached the utopia of absolute agreement. My claim, rather, is that the edge of the disagreement has shifted elsewhere, that new problems are arising. We have recently heard impas-

I. For a history of this rift as it developed in British social anthropology, see Kuper (1990).

2. See Kuper [1990:41o) for a demonstration of how the distaste of British social anthropologists for psychology was historically associated with the split which occurred in the late 1930s between social and cultural anthropology, under the leadership of Radcliffe- Brown.

sioned arguments in favour of the centrality of the self (Cohen 1989)) but we have also heard pleas that the baby not be thrown out with the bathwater (de Coppet 1990). The notion of the person has acquired a new polemical guise.

Thus, Gilmore has misunderstood the aim of my cri- tiq~e.~

I was not arguing against psychological (or even psychoanalytical) explanations in general. Rather, I was raising methodological objections to a number of spe- cific explanations-particularly his own attempts at ex- plaining "phenomena associated with cultural regional- ism in terms of individual psychological development."

It is at moments like this that one feels that our theo- retical thinking is fin de si8cle. It is overburdened by its past, as if the ghosts of our ancestors stood guard over us, preventing us from opening the doors of haunted rooms and looking out of windows they have sealed.

References Cited
COHEN, ANTHONY. 1989. "La tradition britannique et la question de l'autre," in L'autre et le semblable. Edited by Martine Skgalen. Paris: CNRS.

DE COPPET, DANIEL. 1990. Societies as socio-cosmic systems. Paper presented at the 1st Conference of the European Associa- tion of Social Anthropologists, Coimbra, Portugal, September I.

GILMO RE, DAVID. 1990. On Mediterraneanist studies. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 31:395-96. KUPER, ADAM. 1990. Psychology and anthropology: The British experience. History of the Human Sciences 3:396-413. ORTNER, SHERRY. 1984. Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History 26: 126-66.

PINA-CABRAL, TOAO. 1989. The Mediterranean as a category of
regional comparison: A critical view. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY

ROSALDO, RENATO. 1980. Ilongot headhunting, 1883-1974: A study in society and history. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

TURNER, VICTOR w., AND EDWARD M. BRUNER. 1986. Editors. The anthropology of experience. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

On the Antilles as a Potential Corridor for Cultigens into Eastern North America

Centro de Investigaciones Indigenas de Puerto Rico, Apartado 383 I, Viejo Sun luan, Puerto Rico 00904-383I, U.S.A. 30 XII 90

There are additional data that should be considered in Riley, Edging, and Rossen's discussion of the possible "Antillean connection" to eastern North American hor- ticulture (CA 31:s~~-41).

Knapp states that "the occu- pation of the West Indies by agricultural societies was

3. In this as in other things: how could he have thought it a general- ized "attack on the work of Anglophone anthropologists working in the Mediterranean region"?

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