Traps for sacrifice: Bateson's schizophrenic and Girard's scapegoat

World Futures 62 (8):561 – 575 (2006)
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Abstract

John Perceval (1803-1876), who suffered from schizophrenia, published two books on his experience, in 1836 and 1840. More than a century later, the anthropologist Gregory Bateson discovered in Perceval's memoirs a lucid anticipation of his own theories on schizophrenia. To Bateson, Perceval describes the interactive patterns between himself, his family, and the hospital psychiatrists, as examples of "double bind" interactions, in which he played the role of a "sacrificial victim." The article underlines the strong convergence between Bateson's theory of schizophrenia and René Girard's theory of the scapegoat. In the anthropological theory of Girard, the sacrificial ceremonies are the main way of constructing social order. In that perspective, the schizophenic can be considered as a particular example of a scapegoat, that is, as an important figure in social life, and not as a mere phenomenon of psychopathology. This theoretical convergence is remarkable, in particular, because both anthropologists explain the sacrificial processes through a theory of social life based on the idea that the main unit of analysis is not the individual, but the interactive dynamic as a whole: patterns of relationships, to Bateson; reciprocal imitation (mymesis), to Girard.

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