Tensions and Symmetries in the Ethnographic Unconscious: Lacan, Rain of the Children, Cross-Cultural Trauma


  • John Farnsworth University of Otago




This paper is situated at the intersection of a number of tensions: the registers of psyche and culture, psychoanalysis and anthropology, colonial and post-colonial, mediation and re-representation. Drawing on Vincent Ward’s Rain of the Children (2008), it proposes a move from a perspective inflected through western epistemes articulated by psychoanalysts such as Lacan to one situated within non-western perspectives. Such perspectives have recently been explored in a variety of fields such as ethnography and STS in a quest to investigate and rework existing, largely western distinctions. Yet such social science approaches are either ambivalent or silent on how psychoanalysis, the unconscious and the constitution of self are reconfigured within these shifting frames of cultural reference. This is the central question for the paper. These issues are further highlighted where difficult questions of suffering emerge, as displayed by the cross-cultural and postcolonial trauma in Ward’s film. Consequently, a key epistemic conundrum emerges in how to engage such diverse cultural perspective when dominant western paradigms are brought into question; the paper illuminates the theoretical and experiential tensions this bring into view.

Author Biography

John Farnsworth, University of Otago

Research Associate in Media, Film and Communication Department