Observing the other: Reflections on anthropological fieldwork

Peter Buckley

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1 Scopus citations


Aspects of anthropological fieldwork are examined from a psychoanalytic viewpoint using two sources: (1) Malinowski’s A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, a fieldwork journal he kept in New Guinea and the Trobriand Islands “as a means of self-analysis”; (2) the analysis of an anthropologist both before and after she returned from the field. Malinowski’s Diary, written in a virtually free-associative form, illustrates how fieldwork stimulates derivatives of significant early infantile conflicts. The patient’s analysis revealed the unconscious meaning of, and motivation for, fieldwork for this particular individual. Based on these data, it is postulated that during fieldwork a new, emotionally charged object relationship, with its concomitant transference responses, may be unconsciously established by the anthropologist with the alien society being studied. “But the wilderness had found him out early—I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.”—J. Conrad—Heart of Darkness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)613-634
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology


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