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Commentary: Interdisciplinary Dialogue: A Site of Estrangement


  • Ellen Corin


In this article I address two broad questions: how can we best imagine a dialogue between psychoanalysis and anthropology in relation to subjectivity? And which are key elements of a psychoanalytic approach that have the potential to challenge anthropology and open interesting avenues of collaboration? In relation to the first question, I contend that dialogue has to take place not at border zones but between the most specific and conceptually advanced topics in each discipline. Building on French psychoanalysis, I emphasize several points: a dynamic notion of the Unconscious conceived as a field of struggle among competing forces, implying that the Subject is divided and nontransparent; the notion of Kulturarbeit conceived by Freud as a work of transformation of basic human drives that operates together at the individual and at the collective levels, inviting a revision of the status of culture in psychoanalysis; and an interpretative stance that builds on free associations and floating attention and operates in decomposing the apparent coherence and rationality of discourse. I present anthropology and psychoanalysis as sharing an interest in the “site of the stranger” and in the destabilizing power of Otherness. Their dialogue reveals additional textures both in ethnography and in psychoanalytic concepts. [psychoanalysis, Otherness, Kulturarbeit, interpretation, interdisciplinarity]