My undergraduate background was in literature, and I discovered anthropology “by accident” through my two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa where I got to know several anthropologists. After my conversion to the discipline, I did my graduate work in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s when the Anthropology Department there was deep into symbolic anthropology and what was called “culture theory,” under the influence of David Schneider (who became my mentor), Clifford Geertz and Victor Turner. While my interests, based on my experiences in Samoa, were naturally oriented toward psychological and cognitive issues, psychological anthropology was not emphasized by the department, and I was actively discouraged from pursuing training in things psychological.
While very much engaged by the symbolic and structuralist dimensions of culture theory in which I was being trained, I also found the anthropology I was being taught devoid of any viable conception of human agency. It was symbol-centered or structure-centered rather than person-centered. There was a stress on meaning, but it was more “meaning of” (symbols and structures) rather than “meaning for” (people as active agents). Hunting about in the literature of the time for remedial models of analysis, I was thrilled to come across Bob Levy’s seminal work The Tahitians, a masterful person-centered ethnography of Tahiti that gave me just the model I was looking for. And so I became a psychological anthropologist. In the early 1980’s I discovered cognitive science and cognitive linguistics and realized that “the cognitive turn” was an important contribution to psychological anthropology. Within anthropology I was strongly influenced by the work of Roy D’Andrade, Naomi Quinn, Janet Keller, Dorothy Holland and, later, Claudia Strauss.
Over the past half-century Psychological Anthropology and the SPA have provided me with a rich and balanced vision of Anthropology, empirically grounded, theoretically nuanced and non-dogmatic. The colleagues I have gotten to know through the SPA have been inspiring models for how to do anthropology, at a time when that was not always so clear. Psychological Anthropology, bringing culture to life, has given me hope for the future of our discipline. And it has given me an intellectual home I can be proud of.