In psychology, the study of tradition-directed societies (Riesman, 1950) has usually served to “confirm” existing theories as being of universal validity. The same holds true of psychoanalysis: in 1929, Geza Roheim travelled to Normanby Island in Melanesia to prove the universality of the Oedipus complex. He did so in reaction to Bronislaw Malinowski, whose research with the Trobriand Islanders had led him to question that idea. Similarly, C. G. Jung thought he recognized specific archetypal manifestations of the collective unconscious in the tribal traditions of primitive populations.
The primary concern of the psychoanalysts was to identify and understand certain regularities in the aliens and to draw parallels between alien and western psychological processes. They were aware of the different psychological structure of members of tradition-directed societies, but their evaluation was biased by their feeling of mental and moral superiority. This bias often resulted in an overly obvious reproduction of the earlier colonialist power structures. Ultimately, the alienness of those populations was as frightening as their similarity; they reminded us of the alien within ourselves, of our own unconscious which Freud called the foreign, or alien, interior.