Psychological Anthropology (Anderson-Levitt)

Anthropology 482 and 582

Psychological Anthropology

UM-Dearborn, Fall 2000


Instructor: Dr. Kathryn Anderson-Levitt
Office: CASL Annex Apt. 29 (upstairs)
Office hours: Tues. 1:00-2:00; Thurs 9:40-10:30; other hours by appointment
Phone: 313-593-5049


This course explores the intersection of psychology and anthropology. In it, we will ask how culture affects people’s behavior. One possible answer is that early childhood experiences or other experiences which vary from one society to another influence the course of one’s life, the shape of one’s personality, and the way one solves problems. However, a more interesting answer is that people develop different cultural models of human nature–models that individuals take to be the “natural” ways in which anybody would behave. We will look for the cultural models implicit in scientific and everyday explanations of human development, behavioral disorder, and ordinary behavior and thinking.

The main objective of the course is to get you to question the explanations of human behavior you use yourself and you hear other people using: Is what you have been taking for granted really the truth about “personality” and behavior? Is there a truth? Does it matter to you in your job or your family life that there might be alternative explanations of human nature just as valid as your own?

Prerequisite: Anthropology 101 or permission of instructor. An introduction to psychology is highly recommended.

Tentative Schedule of Topics and Assignments

Sept. 7

  1. Models of the person: How do you explain human behavior?
    1. Everyday models from elsewhere; read BockPreface

Sept. 12-14

    1. Ifaluk models; read Lutz
    2. Java and Bali; read Geertz
    3. How to explain differences between “their”models and “ours”? evolutionism, universalism, relativism; read Bock ch. 1.

Sept. 19-21

  1. Scientific models are cultural too; read LuhrmannIntroduction.
  2. Your project.

Sept. 26-28

    1. Psychiatric models of disordered behavior
      1. biomedical model; read Luhrmann ch. 1 & ch. 2


    1. psychoanalytic model; read Bock ch. 2

Oct. 3-5

    1. contemporary psychiatry; read Luhrmann ch. 5 & ch. 7
  1. Some folk models of disordered behavior
    1. Guatemalan Maya; read Paul

Oct. 10-12

      1. Kanpo in Japan; read Lock


    1. Latah, a culture-bound syndrome in Malaysia; read Bock ch. 11

Oct. 17-19

    1. Culture-and-personality models of child development
      1. Benedict and Mead; read Bock ch. 3.


    1. Basic personality structure; read Bock ch. 4 & ch. 6.

Oct. 24-26

    1. Modal personality and a critique of culture-and-personality models; read Bock ch. 5 & interlude & ch. 7.

(Hand out exam 1, due on Nov. 7.)

Oct 31-Nov 2

  1. Some folk models of child development
    1. Japan, China, U.S.; watch Preschool in three cultures

Nov. 7-9

    1. U.S. on developmental stages; read Harkness & Super
    2. French on immaturity; read Anderson-Levitt

Nov. 14

  1. Models of ordinary adult behavior
    1. Social interactionism; read Goffman, Bock ch. 8

(November 16 no class due to anthropology meetings; work on projects.)

Nov. 21

    1. Anthropology of emotions; read PotterBock ch. 12.

Nov. 28-30

  1. Models of intelligence and learning
    1. cognitive anthropology; read Bock ch. 10
    2. situated cognition or the cultural-historical model; read LaveWertsch

Dec. 5-7

  1. Presentation of your projects

Dec. 12

  1. Conclusion: Are some models truer than others? ReadBock Postlude.

(Hand out exam 2, due on our exam date.)


Bock, Philip K. (1999). Rethinking psychological anthropology, 2nded. Waveland. (The first edition from 1988 is also acceptable.)

Luhrmann, Tanya. (2000). Of two minds: The growing disorder in American psychiatry. Knopf.


  1. Lutz, Catherine. (1985). Ethnopsychology compared to what? Explaining behavior and consciousness among the Ifaluk. In Person, Self and Experience (Ch. 2, pp. 35-80). Geoffrey M. White and John Kirkpatrick, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. Geertz, Clifford. (1984). “From the native’s point of view”: On the nature of anthropological understanding. In Culture Theory (Ch. 4, pp. 123-136), Richard Shweder and Robert LeVine, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Paul, Benjamin. (1953.) Mental disorder and self-regulating processes in culture: a Guatemalan illustration . In Personalities and Cultures (Ch.7, pp. 150-165), Robert Hunt, ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967.
  4. Lock, Margaret. (1982/1984). Popular conceptions of mental health in Japan. In Cultural Conceptions of Mental Health and Therapy (Ch. 8, pp. 215-233), Anthony J. Marsella and Geoffrey White, eds. Boston: Kluwer, for D. Reidel in Dordrecht, Holland.
  5. Harkness, Sara, Charles M. Super, and Constance H. Keefer. (1992). Learning to be an American parent. In Human Motives and Cultural Models, pp. 163-178. Roy D’Andrade and Claudia Strauss, Eds. Cambridge University Press.
  6. Anderson-Levitt, K. M. (2000). Explaining “falling behind.” Chapter 9 ofTeaching Cultures, forthcoming with Hampton Press.
  7. Goffman, Erving. (1967). The nature of deference and demeanor. InInteraction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior (pp. 47-95). Doubleday/Anchor. (Reprinted from the American Anthropologist of the American Anthropological Association, vol. 58, June, 1956, pp. 473-502.)
  8. Potter, Sulamith Heins. (1988). The cultural construction of emotion in rural Chinese social life. Ethos: The Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology 16(2):181-208.
  9. Lave, Jean, and H. J. Reed. (1979). Arithmetic as a tool for investigating relations between culture and cognition. American Ethnologist 6:568-582.
  10. Wertsch, James V. (1998). From chapter 2 of Mind As Action (pp. 23-46). New York: Oxford University Press.


Attendance and participation, oral and written, including presentation of project



Exams (5 essays)



Project, including proposal and draft 1 as well as final version



Graduate students: book critique


points: 200


for grad students: 240


Attendance is, of course, taken for granted except in cases of illness; it is impossible to recapture through other people’s notes the experience of a class discussion, in-class exercise, or film.


Participation will include sharing your thoughts in class, discussing with me outside of class, discussing with classmates, and bringing in outside experiences (e.g., clippings, TV shows, lectures) relevant to the course. I will also probably ask you to write reactions to some articles during or before class, and this writing will be counted toward your grade.


Project. Alternative models for explaining a behavior or a feeling

The purpose of this project is to force you to try out alternative models of (that is, explanations for) the same behavior. It aims to exercise your thinking by making you try out at least one model that is not particularly compatible with your ordinary way of explaining behavior.

Select a question about human behavior that interests to you. For example, why do some children “bounce off the walls” in classrooms? Why do some people walk down the street having arguments with no one? How can one recognize normal intelligence in a 7-year-old? Your objective is to explore the possibility that different explanations of this behavior may be equally “true.” Become an expert in two different models relevant to the problem that concerns you, and develop an explanation based on each model, making each explanation as convincing as possible. Yes, you may choose an everyday or non-Western explanation for one of your two models, but become an expert in it to the extent possible.

Step 1. Select a topic and find out what kinds of information are available about it.

Step 2. Consider which two models you’d like to apply to your problem and find out what kinds of information are available about them.

Step 3. Turn in a project statement with a first bibliography of actually available works you intend to use by September 28.

Step 4. Turn in first draft by November 21.

Step 5. Present your work-in-progress either formally or informally as time permits, and receive feedback from the class.

Step 6. Turn in final polished version by December 12Please turn in two copies.

Some models we will probably “cover” to some extent in class:


Scientific models Everyday models
Psychoanalysis Ifaluk (Micronesia)
Biomedical models of behavioral disorder Javanese
Various models from the Culture-and-Personality School Balinese (see writings by Unni Wikan as well as Geertz)
Social interactionism French teachers on child development
Anthropology of emotions Middle-class Americans on child development
Cultural-historical models of learning and thinking French teachers on child development
Japanese on child development
Chinese on child development
Chinese on will and emotion
Guatemalans on behavioral disorder
A Japanese approach to behavioral disorders



There will be two take-home essay exams. The first will probably consist of two essays on issues of child development and behavioral disorders. The second will probably require three essays, one on ordinary behavior, one on thinking, and one recapitulating themes of the course. Please turn in two copies.



Read one book-length study in psychological anthropology and critique the book in the light of what you know so far about culture and human behavior. That is, summarize the author’s argument, then evaluate and comment on it in light of what you are learning in this course and what you have learned in other courses. Due date: **

You may choose either one of the classics in the field (by an author such as Sigmund Freud, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, John and Beatrice Whiting, Erving Goffman) or a more recent work (for example, by Gil Herdt, Richard Shweder, Catherine Lutz, Michelle Rosaldo . . .). Browse in Bock’s list of references for more ideas. Education students, a number of beautifully written “classics” concern children’s and adolescents’ “education,” broadly defined, and would be of particular interest to you.

Other recent publications I recommend include:

Bettleheim, Bruno. 1983. Freud and man’s soul. Knopf.

Lave, Jean, and Etienne Wegner. 1991. Situated Learning. Cambridge.

Rogoff, Barbara. 1990. Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context. Oxford. (Mardigian)

Runyan, William. 1982. Life Histories and Psychobiography. Oxford. (Mardigian)

Whiting, Beatrice, and Carolyn Pope Edwards. 1988. Children of Different Worlds. Harvard. (Mardigian)

Confirm your choice of a book me several weeks before the due date.

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The University will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students should register with Disability Resource Services located in 1060 UM. You must be registered by January 29, 1999 to be guaranteed services during Winter Term 1999.

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Note: The anthropology discipline will be keeping one copy either of your exam essays or of your project as part of our assessment effort. They will be used to document our students’ learning over the course of years.

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Plagiarism is not acceptable. Do not submit any work in which you represent the words or ideas of someone else (for example, another student, an author of an article or book, an anonymous author on the web) as your own ideas or words. Use other people’s ideas (thoughtfully), but cite your sources!


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Please email me with your correct email address when you have read this syllabus.

Copyright © 2001 Kathryn Anderson-Levitt

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