Eleventh Emeritus Faculty Lecture
Honoring George A. DeVos

Remarks by Nancy Scheper-Hughes
On the occasion of The Eleventh Emeritus Lecture
UCB Anthropology Department
April 24, 2001
In honor of George A. DeVos

I can't tell you what an honor it is for me to be here briefly introducing the man who is being honored today - George A. DeVos. I cannot possibly take you on the voyage I would like through his long, multi-faceted, hyper-active, and extraordinary professional career, lest their be no time for our distinguished guest speaker, Robert LeVine to deliver his honorary lecture. But I will touch on a few highlights.

George DeVos is a profoundly interdisciplinary scholar. He took all his degrees at the University of Chicago but in three different subjects, earning a BA in Sociology, an M A in anthropology and his Ph. D in psychology. He is sort of a one-man Department of Social Relations. And, consequently, he worked in variety of professional settings - as a Japanese language and area training specialist for the US army during the crucial years - 1943-1946, as chief psychologist and director of psychological intern training at Elgin State Mental Hospital in Illinois, as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, as Associate Professor of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley and then, finally, admitting to his true colors, DeVos joined this Department of Anthropology as professor in 1965, becoming professor emeritus in 1991. From '65 -'91, a very long time to play the role of intellectual trickster, a coyote figure, and gadfly to some of the less inter-disciplinary and theoretically stogy anthropology faculty and to generations of graduate students, mine included.

In this regard, George let nobody off the hook. He was (and is) brilliant and irreverent. Even when taking you down several pegs he would make you laugh. When in the early 1970s structuralist approaches to understanding human behavior predominated, I recall George musing about Mary Douglas's analysis of New Guinea subincision as an exchange of meanings between the bifurcated moiety system and the bifurcated body. "But why do symbols have to be so painful?" he asked playfully.

In the Kroeberian tradition, George's extensive bibliography -- perhaps rivaled only by Alan Dundes and John Ogbu -- brought international recognition and fame to DeVos, a begrudging respect for psychological anthropology as a sub- discipline, and honor to the University of California, Berkeley. But the massive weight and heft of that bibliography with its more than 200 articles and 20 books, edited volumes and monographs - also brought fear, trembling and considerable resistance each time the department had to form its own internal committee to review him for promotion. The word was "Watch your lower back ", for George's latest promotion "case" would come in several large box loads.

There are so many landmark publications and I can't possibly do justice to his contributions to anthropology and to social science more generally. I will mention in passing only a few. In Japan's Invisible Race - Caste in Culture and Personality (written with Hiroshi Wagatsuma) George introduced a key concept in his comparative study of social inequality - the radical notion that caste relations can be found in Japan and the United States as well as in India. It is an approach to inequality that George shared with another member of our faculty, Gerald Berreman, and for which they were often rebuked by cultural interprevists who argued for the phenomenological uniqueness and specificity of all cultural institutions which denied and obscured the coevalness of certain key human experiences across space and time.

For DeVos the essential elements of caste oppression were expressive and psychodynamic in nature as well as instrumental and economic. While Marxist theory was helpful in decoding the nature of class oppression, George always argued that there was much more behind race, class, and gender ideologies than economic and political forces. Caste relations were grounded in a logic of exclusion based on primitive psychological concepts, projections and defenses related to ideas about dirt, contamination and pollution and to feelings of disgust and revulsion. One had to understand human tendencies to debase that which one simultaneously fears, hates, and desires. Ideologies of racial and sexual purity derived from early socialization - from what we have later come to call habitus - all the unconsciously absorbed beliefs and rituals related to practices of intimacy, to the uses of the body and its desires, to what is deemed proper, pure, and sacred verses what is deemed profane and polluting. These symbolic representations are diffuse and appear -" pop up like gargoyles" George once said - when we least expect them and are marshaled in the defense of the invisible barriers erected between individuals of different social groups, whether races, the sexes, or ethnic minorities. I had long suspected that there was something missing in Marx's view of social inequality and after reading George's brilliant article - "purity and pollution as related to social self-identity and caste" in conjunction with George Orwell's provocative essay, " The Lower Classes Smell" - I knew that the answer lay in these unconscious and early learned and embodied representations of self and other.

Socialization for Achievement and Heritage of Endurance (written with Hiroshi Wagatsuma) are monumental works that treat a lifetime of research put to the task of understanding the inner world of the post World War Japanese. Socialization for Achievement was widely acclaimed as the major work in the field of Japan studies since Ruth Benedict's Chrysanthemum and the Sword, which was an early inspiration and a foil against which George argued that the Japanese are a deeply interiorized and guilt-ridden people and not just motivated by the profound sense of social shame that Benedict had identified. But it was De Vos's deep analysis of the extraordinary achievement motivation of the Japanese that is the most enduring contribution of this work. Heritage of Endurance takes up some of the themes that are touched upon in Socialization for Achievement - the reverse-side and complementary issues of deviance, alienation, and criminal and delinquent behavior in Japan, a subject that was generally ignored by other social scientists because of its relative rarity in Japan compared to other industrialized nations.

Finally, DeVos's path-breaking volume, Ethnic Identity: Creation, Conflict and Accommodation, which he edited with Lola Romanucci-Ross, is now in its third edition, each time revised and updated, in order to reflect the global changes that have radically transformed the meanings of ethnicity, minority status, and resistance since the original 1970 Wenner Gren Conference on ethnicity which lead to this volume. As I recall, it was also at that famous Wenner Gren Conference that George 'outed' Margaret Mead. He could not for the life of him get Maggie up to dance a spirited polka, a sure sign, said George, of Mead's unreconstituted Yankee WASP-ness. The polka was one of George's back-pocket projective tests.

One of George DeVos's most important and perhaps least recognized gifts to anthropology was his unassuming and non-ideologically motivated certitude that anthropology belonged to the entire world, not just to France, England and the U.S. He knew from the very beginning and at a gut level that anthropological research could not be a one-way mirror - an outsider-looking-in at the exotic other. Anthropological research required constant correction through collaboration with scholars coming from other cultural and scholarly traditions. In so many of his writings - as in his constantly shared office spaces - George invited collaborations from many different quarters. De Vos's writings were multi-cultural before that term was popularized and bowdlerized in and outside the academy. One need only think of his fruitful collaborations with Wagatsuma, Nishi, Muranatsu, among many others.

In his introduction to the foundational 1978 edited volume, The Making of Psychological Anthropology, George Spildler commented on this trait in particular calling George DeVos a "model for all of us in his early and consistent collaboration with his [foreign] - but I fear that the actual word he used was "indigenous" -- colleagues".

Over the years, George brought scholars from various countries in Europe, and from Brazil, Argentina, and Israel to work with him and his students on various projects. Similarly, George attracted the largest number of international and American minority students to study anthropology with him at Berkeley. I am almost certain that DeVos successfully trained more Ph.D. minority students than the entire Department of English during the same years. Which leads me to a brief reflection on George as a mentor.

George as Teacher and Mentor

I think that George DeVos was such an extraordinary mentor to so many generations of graduate students as well as to so many younger scholars and junior faculty because he drew so much inspiration and understanding from remaining in touch with his own youth and young adulthood. He intuitively understood young adult problems and anxieties having to do with achievement and blocked achievement, authority, and rebelliousness. Nonetheless, George was a hard task master who insisted that his students be well grounded in the classics - in Weber, Durkheim and Marx, as well as in Freud, Kardiner, Erik Erikson, and Piaget. He insisted that his students be disciplined field workers and researchers and that they learn some of the tools and techniques of psychological testing -- especially, of course, the cross-cultural uses of the Tat and Rorschach -- as means for measuring the effects of culture on individual and group development and on the formation of cultural personality and social self identity. But DeVos was also a strong critic of the misuse of these same psychological materials.

His many bootleg seminars - held in the little green bungalow across the way -- as well as in his gracious home - were memorable events. One did not have to be a true believer in psychological testing to enjoy the brain storming sessions around a new set of fresh TAT results coming in from an Israeli kibbutz or from urban New Guinea. The stories told to the TAT were treated respectfully as cultural productions - equal to the analysis of cock fights or shadow plays - not mined for individual pathologies though these certainly tuned up in them as well.

Though George and I disagreed - sometimes quite fiercely and vociferously - on the best interpretation of all those stories of broken fiddles and sour tunes given in response to card 1 of the TAT by rural Irish youth, we agreed that the responses spoke eloquently to a profound sense of social malaise - whether derived from sexual inhibitions, repression and castration anxieties (George's view) or from a sense of a dying rural world (my view). Following a recent return to rural Ireland, 25 years after the fact, I learned how incredibly sensitive the TAT really was, and that both of our interpretations were sot on. We need not have quarreled at all.

I want to end then with a few readings of George through the medium of a few favorite TAT cards. I've selected those that capture something about his life and about his lasting contributions and achievements:

Card 1 [boy with a violin]. Now here's a lad who is deep in thought. He's full of consternation. He feels different, a bit alienated, from his pees at St. Sylvester's grade schools. Most are less fortunate than he is, the sons and daughters of Irish, Polish, and Czech immigrants. Some are on the dole and even wanting for food. He feels sorry for them, sensing their shame. And here he is forced to take violin lessons by his upwardly mobile mother. Drats! - how he hates it! Besides, he really has no aptitude for the violin. He's much rather be spending time with his down to earth father, a working-class hero, full of jokes, and fun to be with. Well, maybe he'll practice for just a little while, and then he'ss go off to his uncle's library to sneak out a few of his favorite adventure books, especially Tarzan and the Apes.

Card 6BM [mother and son]. Well, your man here has come to tell his mother that he just can't take it anymore. First he had to put up with the Christian Brothers at St. Mel's High School and now he's telling her that he's had it with the bloody Jesuits at St. Mary's College. One of his professors told him to get down on his knees and pray for humility, and that was the final straw. He's breaking away. His mother sheds a few tears and looks blankly out the window asking why. What has she done wrong? "It's too late, mother", the young man says. "I have to strike out on my own now. I've already talked to the dean at the University of Chicago and I'm headed there". And so he is sadly bidding his mother goodbye.

Card 17Bm [man on a rope]. Well, here's a very successful man, an optimist to be sure, and he's heading up the rope as quickly as you please. He's quite a performer, too. Look how he's playing to the audience. And they're responding with cheers. He's something of a dare-devil, a risk taker. When he gets to the top of the rope and to a small platform he's going to dive down into a tiny tub of water. There are a few safety nets, but he never knows for sure how it will turn out. [Does he make it?] This time he will. He's right on target!

Card 4 [ man and a woman] Life has been pretty good so far for your man here. He's made a solid reputation for himself, he's well respected and well known in his field. He 's really at the height of his powers. But sometimes he 's a little hot headed. Other times he's a bit sad, taken by an old sense of alienation. Something seems to be missing. This beautiful lady here, well, she just walked into his life with a song in her heart and an infectious smile on her face. This was it, she was exactly what he was looking for. And, as the fairy tale goes, they lived (almost always) happily ever after.

So, here's to George DeVos, the passionate and compassionate intellectual, the architect, builder, and iconoclast all wrapped up in one!

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