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02. Difficulties Of Investigation Depending On The Character Of Material

The importance of complexes was realized long ago; but we are still far from forming exact ideas as to these complexes among different ethnical groups. There are, it is admitted, excellent descriptions of various aspects of these complexes, e.g. the folklore, «religions», etc. but the attempts at the reproduction of systems of psychomental complexes of non-European groups have not yet been successful. One of the chief causes of this failure was lack of adequate investigations, but cause of no less importance was a methodological fallacy, namely, a postulate of the existence of a difference between the methods; of thinking observed amongst the «primitive», «savage», and «barbarian», as opposed to the «civilized man». Certainly, after the failure in constructing these theoretical types according to which the existing psychomental complexes might be classified, the position of the investigators became somewhat better, for they now know that they must, as far as possible, eliminate the influence of their own complex on the inferences made from the facts observed; and especially they must eliminate a conscious and unconscious selection of the facts to be dealt with. Indeed, the psychomental complex is an extremely difficult matter for an observer. First of all, the investigator must forget, if it is possible, his own complex and record the facts without making selection, like a mechanical apparatus, if such a comparison may be allowed, without permitting his own positive and negative reactions on the facts observed, and the facts which may be observed, to interfere with the process of observation and record. Such a requirement may seem to be fantastic, for human beings cannot be abstracted from their ethnical milieu and they cannot be mechanized. When I formulate such a requirement, I mean it as a certain ideal for the investigator and not as condicio sine qua non, — the investigations (observations) have already been carried out, and they will be carried out even by persons who have no idea how they must approach this kind of work or of what is required from them.

In the process of gathering preliminary information, before reaching the goal of the investigation, the investigator has to go through the difficulty presented by an unknown language. Of course, the study of a language, as a complex of grammatical rules, including phonetics and the memorising of the lexical material, does not present great difficulties, — it is only a question of time and memory; but a real difficulty comes with the semantic variations, in superficial view, — minor shades of meaning of words - and syntax which make manifest the most delicate elements of the psychomental complex. As a matter of fact, there is, for instance, many a piece of literature which cannot be translated into other languages. The difficulty of this task is well known from the treatises dealing with the Indian, Chinese and Creek Philosophy, where the notions like nirrhwanna, dao, logos (of Plato) need long explanations requiring space and time, and still remaining difficult, if not incomprehensible to the people who are not familiar with the subject in the language in which these notions were originally treated, The difficulty of comprehension consists, of course, not in the complexity of their native complex, but in the fact of their belonging to alien, different complexes. Even in the same language the meaning of words changes with the current of time so much that texts, need long commentaries. There are languages for instance, the Chinese written language, the perfect knowledge of which is almost impossible, if one does not live from childhood amongst the creators of this complex. Yet, in reference to the literary Chinese language, which exists apart from the Chinese spoken languages and has grown, so to speak, above the composite Chinese complexes, at the same time deeply rooted in them, becomes more difficult for understanding and assimilation than, for instance, the complex of European science for the non-European groups, although the complex of European science is chiefly based upon the complex of formal logic. Indeed, in a lesser degree, the same may be said with reference to other non-European languages when they studied by Europeans. This is well known from the science of general linguistics and philology; but simple and important conclusions do not always reach ethnographers. Again the reason is that the «words» belonging to an alien language complex and when they are translated in the mind they go straight along the existing «channels» of the translator's mind (complex). The same idea may be better expressed in terms I have proposed in my publication Ethnological and Linguistical Aspects (1931). In fact, if we consider the psychomental complex, in so far as the method of thinking and the reactions are concerned, as a system of conditioned reflexes and language as a complex of «starters» in the sense from the function of language is to «start» corresponding reactions in the hearer (they may be produced by different methods, — the sounding starters, visual starters and others) by the speaker, then it will be obvious that when we «translate» words, they produce a different chain of reflexes, when the psychomental complexes are different. The «meaning» of translated words may thus become wider or narrower than that in the native complex. Moreover, this process is only partly controlled and it proceeds chiefly in the pre- and sub-conscious complexes (strata), where it is often affected by the well known hindrances of the subconscious complexes of a purely psychological even some times physiological character in a narrow sense of the phrase. Therefore we may very often hear an inference from practical experience, namely — it is impossible to understand people (language) without loving it. The love for the people under the investigation at first may appear as one of the conditions of success, for in the process, of understanding an alien complex those who hate (amongst the ethnical units this a somewhat prevailing attitude towards each other) the object of their studies, they meet with the hindrance which resides in their own complex of a sub-conscious character, such as the fear, disgust, aversion and the like. The farther the complexes are distinct and the farther physical («racial») (differences are, the smaller is the chance of carrying out a successful investigation, however, love may not be recommended as a means of eliminating the psychic hindrance for approaching in alien complex. As such it cannot help the investigator. More than this, the sympathy-complex may affect the result of the investigation even carried out by those investigators who are scientifically absolutely correct and honest. In fact, many investigators who «loved» the object of their investigation (especially in the field of ethnography) have contributed a large amount of wrong description, which in extreme cases turns into a sentimental naivete of a European complex [1] At the basis of this complex the results of sympathy are that the elements of an alien complex, which are in conflict with the investigator's complex, are rejected or justified by a mind-soothing rationalization. Since the love for one's own complex is typical of the mechanism of maintaining the existence of one's own ethnical unit (or merely group), the complex of sympathy is very likely to affect the investigator when he deals with the groups with which he is bound, either by the similarity of the complex or by the personal connection or dependence. Therefore, as the result of the observation of investigators, we may say that the nearer the complexes and the nearer the physical (racial) characters, the less is the chance of carrying out a successful investigation. It may also be noted that in the case of the sympathy-complex, the investigator carrying out his work amongst very distinct groups is not in a better condition; for he falls into sentimentality without even being able to record the fact.

These difficulties in the preliminary study of the language spoken by the groups under investigation are not yet all to be overcome in ethnographical work. When the meanings, terms and notions are clear in the complexes they must be translated into the language in which the matter is treated; and in the investigator's mind they must be presented in terms of scientific complex. The choice of ways of translation and that of terminology depends, of course, on the investigator's art and knowledge, also on the degree of advancement of science. The difficulty of translation sometimes is so great that even the best dictionaries of the European languages, which have in common most of the elements of the European cultural complex, can give only approximate meanings of «words» and have to give reference to a series of synonyms. Yet, such complete dictionaries do not exist, so the foreigners must use the famous Oxford, Webster's, Larousse's, Meyer's and other dictionaries

With the languages of non-European groups it is still more difficult (for a writer in one of European languages) and is not easier with the languages in which the dictionaries have not yet taken the form of the above indicated «great dictionaries*. Is it really possible to give an absolutely exact translation of all terms and «notions». especially those related to the psychomental complex, met with within an alien complex? I do not think so. There may be given only very rough approximations which to some readers will seem to be flat and thoughtless, just as some jokes and witticisms when translated lose all their flavour and even sometimes produce on the people just an opposite effect.

Thus, from the point of view of language, even with a good knowledge of it, the gathering of the material and its treatment is very difficult, but not absolutely impossible, especially with reference to some particular subjects. One of the conditions of success is that the investigator or his reader must not treat the alien complexes from the point of view of his own ethnographical complex.

* * *

We have just seen that the observation and recording of the facts regarding the psychomental complex of other ethnical groups present great difficulties, however, this is not the opinion of some observers who take for granted that observation is simple and easy. In this case they are misled by the fact that they accept, i. e. understand as «observation» the process of their own reactions, positive and negative. When one needs to have a real understanding as, for instance, in international relations, the difficulties become evident. As a matter of fact, understanding even between nations of the same, or nearly the same cultural complexes, presents great difficulties for the practical activity of diplomats' on account of the difficulty of understanding an alien complex; but when the difference in cultural complex is great, the difficulty of understanding [2] becomes absolutely impassable. This is the position of many a traveller amongst the «primitive» and «barbarian» ethnical units (and groups) when the traveller looks at the groups investigated from the point of view of superiority and inferiority of the cultural complexes. Yet, in the case when the investigator has no such an idea as to inferiority and superiority and looks at the other complexes simply as distinct from that with which he is familiar, the difficulties are not yet overcome for there remains the problem of choice of facts to be recorded. It is physically impossible to record everything which is seen and heard, so that a choice of facts is inevitable. Therefore, the observer has to pay more attention to some facts and less attention to other facts. Owing to a multitude of conditions he pays attention to a selected group of facts which may enter into the range of his personal complexes, for in every particular case the starting point is the investigator's own complex. With certain experience in observation the investigator may attain a relative independence from his own complex; but it is not in the reach of all observers for it requires long experience, personal will power, and great effort on the part of the observer [3]. Theoretically we may say that if there is preferential selection of facts recorded, if the ethnographer has his own strong reactions on the facts, and if he has his own complex (or that of the unit to which he belongs) which conditions his inferences, the work may have only one value, namely, the value of a document reflecting the author's complex and not that of ethnical groups discussed. As an ethnographical work, it has no value at all; but as ethnographical material it may be used by other ethnographers who are studying the ethnography of the unit or group of unit; to which the author belongs. This class of work's is the most numerous in the ethnographical literature.

The problem of time and equipment needed for a thorough investigation into the psychomental complex now requires consideration. It is evident that this work cannot be carried out in a few weeks, as it was by great number of investigators in the past. Indeed, the term «time» needs certain corrections. In fact, other conditions influence the amount of the material gathered: namely, preparedness of the investigator from the point of view of his personal power of observation, — an individual character, perhaps inherited complex, — his familiarity with ethnography which, let us add, does not consist only of memorising various theories and hypotheses, and his ability of establishing good relations with the populations. I do not need to quote cases when investigators stay for long years among a group and remain absolutely ignorant is to the culture of this group and incapable of understanding the most simple attitudes of the people. Perhaps I should not speak about it, for it is evident. Yet lately this problem was discussed in the sense that the investigator must spend a very long time (in terms of years) among the same people to be able to know them; while the question of the quality of the observers was put aside as of no importance. As a matter of fact, the idea of carrying out scientific investigations by means of enrolling large numbers of persons was lately quite fashionable and somewhat in accordance with the idea of substituting quantity for quality — an idea which may have very limited practical application, namely, when no brain is required for the field work -. Indeed, there also exists a minimum limit of time, even for the most endowed observers, however even this limit is variable. In fact, the volume of culture of groups is not the same, and when going from one to another group of more or less similar complex one may see much more than when one remains for a very long time at the same spot. The minimum is that which is needed for studying language (this also depends on the investigator's ability) and the gathering of a sufficient amount of facts for description of the complex. I think that for the same investigator in some cases a few months may suffice while in some other cases long years would be needed. Thus no definite limit as to the minimum may be formulated, but the investigator himself must decide whether he feels himself to have mastered the psychomental complex or not and he must also feel how much more he can produce. As a matter of fact, sometimes it is hopeless to remain even a minimum of time for the group cannot supply the needed material. For instance, when a group is found in a state of complete ethnical disintegration, the investigation should be directed along quite different lines. This question must be decided at the spot by the investigator himself, for nobody can help him to find a practical solution [4]. It is sometimes believed that the first condition of scientific success in ethnographic work is financial funds. The persons who are not familiar with the character of ethnographic work believe that, — the more funds, the better. This opinion is absolutely wrong. The excess of funds used in such work may be quite pernicious to the result of investigation. What is actually needed is a good equipment. The latter depends on the conditions of travelling. For instance, travelling in a steppe region requires a different type of equipment as compared with travelling in the mountains or along the rivers, or as compared with «settled life» in villages. The work may be more successful if the equipment does not become a burden, and an equipment which consists of very expensive and seemingly up to date devices and scientific paraphernalia may become as useless toys if it is not adapted to the practical needs of work. So that even in this sense there are limits put by the practical conditions of work: a heavy equipment sometimes may greatly affect the outcome of the work. Yet, money will not gather ethnographic material, as unfortunately is sometimes practised by investigators. Even an abuse of gifts may produce bad effect by attracting a selected group of people unscrupulous enough to use t his opportunity. In fact, if the group or the individuals under investigation are paid or get appreciable benefit from the ethnographer there would be an almost inevitable flow of wrong information invented by the persons inclined for gain [5]. On the other hand, the making of a scientific investigation into kind of exploit for the investigator may also greatly affect the outcome of his work. In fact, I have met with some naive investigators who professed that the smallest possible funds must be spent, for scientific work is an heroic action which requires heroic means Therefore, the investigator must abstain from food, comfortable sleep, even medical assistance, and so on [6]. Indeed, the conditions of travelling must be adapted to local conditions and the individual tastes of the traveller and the latter must be ready for submitting himself to certain hardships and privations.

Another important condition is that the investigator, at the same time, must not make his investigation into a kind of profession, for as a professional he runs the risks of losing the greatest impulse of work: his love for the investigation. This is one of reasons why a great number of persons owing to their lack of resignation cannot become efficient travellers, and a great number of them are not investigators but professionals living on easy works of travelling. So if there are too many funds for investigation, there is always a great influx of professionals who cannot become scientists at all, but who like an «easylife» [7].

These ideas, namely, that the work of investigation may be carried out by any one, provided he is supplied with sufficient funds for equipment, travelling, and «buying» information, are greatly responsible for the impoverishment of investigation carried on according to these principles. In fact, these principles at-tract a great number of lovers of the easy life and their «work» needs to be covered by great advertising, good pictures, popular lectures which should produce an impression on an ignorant crowd. Indeed, this system will not last a long time and at the end of this period there will remain only doubtful, scanty material, millions of dollars spent, some private fortunes made, while the real investigators work will remain as a basis of further scientific investigation [8].

* * *

After the material is gathered there is another step to be taken, namely, the analysis of the facts and their classification. At this stage ethnographical work is handicapped by still more serious obstacles, — the pre-existing theoretical conceptions to which the facts are adapted. These conceptions cannot be regarded as something different from the existing ethnographical complexes of the ethnical units amongst whom the science of ethnography is cultivated. In fact, variations of ethnographical theories are parallel to those of other branches of knowledge in which the theoretical part dominates that of the facts and scientific laws, as in physics, chemistry, and even natural sciences. On the other hand, the sciences dealing with the phenomena of cultural complexes are closely found with the prevailing cultural complexes and thus, as a part of them, they reflect the advancement of scientific knowledge in a lesser degree than the changes in the psychomental complex of the units in general. When the ethnographer comes into conflict with the prevailing ethnographical complex of the unit, he always risks of being misunderstood, and for this reason rejected. Owing to this particular position of ethnographers, and the science of ethnography prevailing theories ought to be chiefly considered as ethnical reactions on the facts observed, just as, for instance, the cosmogonic theories of Middle Ages were reflecting the folklore of local groups and their adaptation to the ethico-philosophical systems. It is thus natural that when the observer approaches the ethnographical facts from the point of view of one of the existing theories, he greatly endangers his success in establishing the scientific meaning of the facts observed [9]. Naturally the theories like that of evolution, that of Durkheim, that of Freud, and others, in spite of their scientific appearance, may be responsible for a failure. Indeed, the best result may be obtained by application of the methods used by the behaviourists, provided the method is not used for proving pre-existing theories [10]. So here we have to make distinction between methods and theories. This inference from the above discussion is evident, — the path of the ethnographer is hard when he gathers material; it is still harder when he proceeds to the analysis of the facts gathered.


1. The reason why the ethnographers are most affected is simple, — the ethnical units are in the state of struggle (it is not necessary for it to be a bloody and tragic one). Yet, the distant «race» of man are natural competitors. The zoologist is in a much better position than the investigator of human groups for he does not «hate», nor «love», the molluscs and even mammals, except perhaps the domesticated animals and rarely monkeys, when their mentality is investigated. However, the superiority, and competition-complex very often affect the work of the zoologist, too.

2. It is here understood that the «understanding» and «misunderstanding» are not mere forms of diplomatic ways of acting, but they are actually cases of adjustment, successful and unsuccessful. One of the interesting facts pointing to the sincerity of good diplomats in their relations as representatives of common interests of different nations is the use of languages for talking over the problems. In such a case they choose that language which can be understood by both parties regardless to the fact, whether the given language is their native language or not. Here I have in view the cases when diplomats are «honest».

3. In order to facilitate the first steps of the observer there have been made, in different countries, lists of questions to be answered by the observer' Such lists are good, when the observer has an independent mind and when he continues his investigation even after answering all the questions on the list and all questions resulting from the answers received; but for the be-ginners whose minds may be paralysed by the limits put by the questioner, such lists of questions have the most disastrous influence as to the amount of facts gathered and conclusions made. Since the observers who have inde-pendent minds may do the same work without a list of questions, and since the other observers may lose their ability to increase the power of observation, if they rely upon the list of questions, the latter have a somewhat negative influence on the increase of our knowledge as to alien ethnical groups, moreover, when one deals with such a delicate matter as the psychomental complex a list of questions is out of discussion. Thus they may be good only for the studies of simple phenomena chiefly considered from the static point of view and especially for the study of their geographical distribution.

4. For this reason, the itineraries and time schedules worked out by those who send young investigators, or merely investigators; who are not independent, show only one thing, namely, the theoretical unpreparedness of the authors of itineraries and schedules. This is usually closely connected with the complex of limitless self-confidence and impregnation with various theories intimately associated with general ignorance. It is evident that if the investigator cannot decide for himself his itinerary and schedule, he usually is not able to carry out the investigation. This is the error of his superiors who charge him with a work which is beyond his ability.

5. Even the purchase of ethnographic collections may introduce an undesirable spirit of «business» and «profit». Owing to this, most of my collections were bought in the last days of my living among the groups. Yet, if the purchase is very important, then the news about the investigator's buying ability may spread too far and affect further investigations. Therefore the investigator must not turn his work into that of a collector of specimens. Thus although my buying capacity was rather high I always avoided making large purchases of collections.

6. During my travelling I once met with such an investigator whose name I do not want to mention, and whose intention was to investigate a certain group living in the)mountainous taiga region. Since he had this conception of scientific work he took with him only some hard and dried rye bread as food, no tent, no sleeping accommodations, except his sheepskin overcoat, — very cheap but extremely heavy and uncomfortable for travelling, — only one horse for loading, and a man, a real rascal who is supposed to go on foot. After wandering in the neighbourhood for three or four weeks the investigator had to turn back, without seeing the people whom he wanted to investigate, because both of them, the traveller and guide, were exhausted by improper food and housing («tenting»).

7. I once met with a «prominent» archaeologist who confessed to me that he joined a richly equipped expedition with a good remuneration for the participants, because he wanted to have a rest from his life in a certain big city. There is no wonder that the outcome of his participation in the expedition was of a little scientific value.

8. Indeed, this point of view as to the technique of investigation is not dangerous at all for nations which have experience, but this point of view is really dangerous for nations which have not yet reached the stage when they may carry out their investigation. In this case, as in all cases of vulgarization, the European complex appears in its worst modification.

9. Here the difficulty of the treatment of ethnographical phenomena comes out which requires not only thorough knowledge of facts, but which also requires thorough knowledge of the existing theories and their analysis from the ethnographical point of view, in the ethnographical complexes in which they have been «created» and to which they have been adapted. As a matter of observation of the history of ethnography, this is a very rare occurrence. Perhaps the best way of shortening the process of self-education of ethnographers is the accumulation of facts and very broad general education in sciences which have already reached the stage of formulating definite scientific «laws», have long history, and have a well developed methodology.

10. In many recent publication on ethnographical subjects one — may often see this interesting case of adjustment. The essential of the behaviouristic method consists in the recording of the facts without the presumption that they are selected. However, the authors very often seem to use this method; actually they select facts to suit their pre-existing theories and bring them forth under a behaviouristic cover, so that the reader cannot see how far correctly the method is used.

 
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