Phenomenology, Psychoanalysis, and Subjectivity in Java


Good, Byron J. 2012. “Phenomenology, Psychoanalysis, and Subjectivity in Java.” Ethos, Journal of the Society of Psychological Anthropology. Ethos, Journal of the Society of Psychological Anthropology. Copy at
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Date Published:

Mar 1, 2012


This essay outlines the evolution of my personal thinking about phenomenology and subjectivity. In previous work, I drew heavily on cultural phenomenology for studying illness, subjective experience, and medical knowledge across cultures. Here I describe why I have become increasingly dissatisfied with this framework for understanding subjectivity and the subject and suggest alternatives I consider important for psychological anthropology. I focus in particular on questions of how to investigate that which is largely unspeakable and unspoken in everyday speech but at times erupts into awareness as complex specters haunting the present. I provide a case from my ongoing research in Java of a young man who suffered an acute psychosis, drawing implications for a theory of subjectivity and methods for psychological anthropology. I point briefly to the relation of madness and memories of political violence as sites for investigating subjectivity, suggesting the importance of a “hauntology” for psychological anthropology. Finally, I address questions about whether a method that addresses hidden aspects of psychological experience requires a stance in which ethnographers “know better than” those with whom they are interacting.


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