Totem and Taboo

An Introduction

The inter-disciplinary studies nowadays are the new binge for the educationist and researchers. Though some claims that it plays with the subject matter and authenticity of the subjects; but it has given immense result in the forming of a better understanding of the concepts being delivered in context of man, societies and social phenomena being studied. As to make it evident Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud are the three different personalities talking of three different phenomena, still compelling us to rethink about our making. Meaning what are we (the humans), who are we, where we come from and what is our fundamental nature in particular?

But what intrigued me the most was the diffusion of Psychology with Anthropology. Well as anthropology is the study of human and the most unique and interesting thing about human is his mind (the psyche) and this is where psychology has to take control in order to study a man completely. Though Margret Mead brought this angle of study later in 20th century in context of culture and personality but before that in late 19th and early 20th century a man named Dr. Sigmund Freud was way ahead of everyone trying to understand the working of human mind beyond its physical functioning and evidences. Therefore, he went into a deep dive where he discovered so much of human mind and its working which if studied on the individual basis like theories, it helps us to understand a singular person acting for certain reasons but when later on he spoke of it in society in his works like Totem and Taboo and Civilization and Discontents he talked in totality which was just way beyond the psyche working. Instead he gave out whole working of man in society and formation of society with the neurotic being (modern men) compared to the primitive being (repressed men). With the readings and understanding of his work one would experience a flow of analytical to dialectical study. To go back there we need to know what has been in the past: the beliefs, the stories and the folklore that followed whether the reasons behind them are mystical or supernatural or just like Dr. Sigmund Freud would say scientifically empirical.

And like every action has a reaction similarly every belief and practice is a reaction to some untethered thought or perception which is deep in human mind and has been held upon and repressed for a long time over and over again that it has been rooted in one’s unconscious mind. And with the practices of same rules and taboo in the society this has been passed along with the generation as history with the lack of conventional reasoning and understanding and thus the formation of superstition occurred. In many works of Dr. Freud he has tried to uncover the reasons behind such sort of thoughts and thinking and how one perceives this and came up with conventional scientific theories and explanation which actually go beyond the physical working of brain deep into it where it looks out for the reason possible to understand the unconventional reasoning and actions in primitive society and in modern society, be the repressed or the neurotic man.


In order to dig deep and know more about Dr. Freud’s theories and explanation on human psyche and thoughts one needs to understand the works of Dr. Freud that have showcased his theories in practical world where he had tried to give it a voice in a form in which he compared the primitive world with the modern contemporary world. In his one of the major concept of psychosexual stages of development called as Oedipus complex and Electra complex which occurs during the phallic stage (3-6yrs of age). The source of libido is concentrated in the erogenous zones of child’s body. He said that a child unconsciously develop sexual attachment to the parent of opposite gender. And with that he/she views the parent of same gender to be the rival and tries to get rid of him/her. But the fear of castration (in case of female child they think they have already been castrated) as a punishment the child resists the desire and copes with anxiety and identifies the rival parent. And even the rival turns to role model and thus the child gets onto acquire the superego (in case of female child they have harder time to develop superego which makes them less well developed).

In his one of the most famous and outlived work Totem and Taboo (1912) Dr. Freud used this concept very finely in order to explain certain practices in primitive society. In Totem and Taboo, Dr. Freud makes his first attempt to apply the findings of psychoanalysis, which have until then been drawn from the study of individuals, to broader problems of societal life. In this piece of work Dr. Freud takes the bold step of comparing so-called primitive tribes as known through the work of anthropologists, neurotic individuals of his own culture, and contemporary children. He gave 4 essays talking about 4 different aspects of human mind working in it.

Article by:- Jagjeet Kaur

© Copyright reserved Alysane Society

© Copyright reserved Jagjeet Kaur

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