2017 SPA Lifetime Achievement Awardee: Byron Good

In accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award from Carol Worthman, I said that receiving her note telling me about the Board’s decision ranked with the invitation to deliver the Morgan Lectures many years ago as one of the two most memorable moments of my career. Given those who have received this award in psychological anthropology, this recognition by my colleagues was unexpected, and is deeply meaningful.

Picture of 2017 SPA Lifetime Achievement Awardee Byron Good. Byron Good.

As Rick Shweder mentions in Anthropology News, the Friday morning conversation at the biennial was a lovely opportunity to ask each other about how our personal lives have influenced our approaches to this field. How, I asked Rick, did his own history lead him to his convictions about moral pluralism, which appear in his earliest work. What special role does he see psychological anthropology playing in the development of cultural psychology? And what is his vision for an anthropology not only of moral personhood but of subjectivity across cultures?

For my own part, a deep memory of a visit to an old Illinois state mental hospital in the 1950’s, as part of a grade school outing, remains present with me when I see continued inhumane care for persons with psychotic illnesses, whether in Boston or Indonesia, and has led me on a long quest for understanding and engaged response. Taking up a new field site in central Java in Indonesia, where Mary-Jo and I have now worked for over 20 years, and carrying out research and developing mental health care in post-tsunami, post-conflict Aceh for nearly a decade have linked up with my earlier work, but also led me to look for new ways of thinking about subjectivity in postcolonial societies, about the immediate and long-term haunting effects of violence, and about person-centered research and human nature. I continue to look for ways to bring these two streams of my research and life experiences together.

At the SPA banquet, I had the chance to express to Carol Worthman, the Board, and many friends and colleagues how special this award is to me. It may not be obvious, I said, but I have lived for years in marginal spaces as an anthropologist in schools of medicine, as a cultural anthropologist trying to bring studies of severe mental illness to the heart of psychological anthropology, and as a scholar of culture and psychopathology trying to learn to be a genuinely psychological anthropologist.

Given those who have received this award in psychological anthropology, this recognition by my colleagues was unexpected and is deeply meaningful.
Following Rick’s lead, I acknowledged my teachers—an Igbo Catholic priest who taught a course on West African religion during a life-changing year I spent as an undergraduate in the University of Nigeria; Wilfred Cantwell Smith at Harvard Divinity School, and John Whiting, who introduced me to anthropology; a psychoanalyst Irene Finstein Briggin who mentored me during a year I spent part-time on the wards of Massachusetts Mental Hospital during my years at Harvard; and Clifford Geertz, Raymond Fogelson—a student of Hallowell and my teacher—along with Robert LeVine, at the University of Chicago. I also acknowledged my debt to an astonishing group of students and post-doctoral fellows from whom I have learned so much over the years, twenty of whom were playing active roles at this biennial meeting, and who carry this work forward in creative ways. I talked about the years of collaboration in the study of serious mental illness with colleagues such as Janis Jenkins and Tom Csordas, Arthur Kleinman, Kim Hopper, Tanya Luhrman, Neely Myers, Devon Hinton, Woodie Gaines, and Eileen Anderson Fye. I was honored to have in the room six of my very closest colleagues from Indonesia, who came to present their work and join the celebration. And I made particular mention of four people whom I have had the special opportunity to work with and learn from over these years: Bob LeVine, Janis Jenkins, Angela Garcia, and Alasdair Donald.

Finally, I described briefly how extraordinary it is to have a life companion, colleague and collaborator in this venture now for almost 50 years, and how much I owe to Mary-Jo—Professor Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good—who joined me for this event. As Rick mentioned, psychological anthropologists are a great tribe and I am proud to spend my life among you all.

Byron Good is a professor of medical anthropology at Harvard Medical School, and professor of cultural anthropology in the department of anthropology.

Good, Byron. 2017. “2017 SPA Lifetime Achievement Awardee: Byron Good.” Anthropology News website, May 25, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.452

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