Path-breaking anthropologist George De Vos dies at 87BERKELEY — George Alphonse De Vos, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a pioneer in cultural psychology, ethnic identity and migration studies, died Friday, July 9, of congestive heart disease at his home in Oakland, Calif. He was 87.
De Vos's ground-breaking research generated international recognition for then-emerging fields of culture and personality studies, psychological anthropology, and the cross-cultural application of psychological tests such as the Rorschach.
His research ranged from psycho-cultural adaptations of Koreans in Japan and Native American cultural psychology to arranged marriage in Japan to Francophone Caribbean and African immigrants in Paris. He is said to have introduced a multi-cultural perspective to anthropology before the term was invented, and is known for insisting that anthropology belongs to the world, not just to intellectuals and scholars in Europe and North America.
De Vos is acclaimed for his work on post-World War II Japan, and often collaborated with the late Hiroshi Wagatsuma, a professor of behavioral science at Japan's University of Tsukuba. In ?Invisible Race: Caste in Culture and Personality? (1966), the two contended that caste relations exist in Japan and the United States, as well as in India. Their co-authored books, ?Socialization for Achievement? (1975) and ?Heritage of Endurance: Family Patterns and Delinquency Formation in Urban Japan? (1984), are considered landmarks in Japan studies. The first book examined achievement in Japanese culture, and the second explored community influence on juvenile delinquency in Japan.
In the early 1960s, De Vos conducted some of the earliest and most influential studies of immigrant assimilation to the United States.
His bibliography included more than 200 scholarly articles and 20 books. He and his son Eric produced two volumes in 2004 on the value of projective tests as a window into psycho-cultural processes.
George De Vos' influence extended to commonly used terms in the scholarly and popular lexicon. For example, he and anthropologist Lola Romanucci-Ross initiated the term ?ethnic identity,? now widely used in social sciences, with the publication of ?Ethnic Identity: Creation, Conflict and Accommodation? in 1975. Also, ?cultural psychology,? a term now widely used in the social sciences, first appeared in a chapter by De Vos and anthropologist Arthur E. Hippler in ?The Handbook of Social Psychology? (1969).
De Vos saw race, class and gender ideologies as fueled by more than economics and politics and based primarily on primitive psychological mechanisms and defenses.
In ?Oasis and Casbah? (1960), De Vos and Horace M. Miner drew on psychodynamic psychology and cultural anthropology to provide an understanding of Arab society and culture. This led to De Vos? expert testimony in the trial of Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 1968. De Vos analyzed Sirhan's Rorschach tests to determine that Sirhan was a paranoid schizophrenic and in a trance-like state when he killed Kennedy.
Born in Detroit, Mich., on July 22, 1922, De Vos earned his academic degrees at the University of Chicago: a B.A. in sociology in 1946, an M.A. in anthropology in 1948, and a Ph.D. in psychology in 1951. His studies were interrupted from 1943 to 1946 while he studied Japanese with U.S. Army intelligence.
De Vos accepted a public health fellowship at the Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute in Chicago from 1949 to 1950, and worked as a research associate in psychology at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago from 1950 to 1951. He served as chief psychologist and director of psychological intern training at Elgin State Mental Hospital in Elgin, Ill., from 1951 to 1953, before accepting a Fulbright Fellowship at Nagoya National University's Department of Neuropsychiatry in Nagoya, Japan, from 1953 to 1955.
De Vos returned to the United States in 1955 to take posts at the University of Michigan as an assistant professor of psychology and as director of the Ford Foundation's Japanese Personality and Culture Research Project. He became an associate professor at UC Berkeley's School of Social Welfare in 1957. From 1962 to 1966, he had a joint appointment in social welfare and in anthropology. In 1965, he became a full professor of anthropology and remained at UC Berkeley until retiring in 1991.
Former colleagues and students said De Vos' scholarly brilliance was matched by his wit, indefatigable work ethic and encyclopedic knowledge of ethnicity and ethnic groups. They also recalled De Vos as an extraordinary mentor to generations of graduate students, younger scholars and junior faculty.
?The role George loved most was the intellectual trickster, a coyote figure and a gadfly to some of his inter-disciplinary colleagues and to generations of anthropology graduate students,? said Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a UC Berkeley professor of medical anthropology and a former student of De Vos?.
Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, another former student of De Vos? who is now a professor at New York University, recalled the first time he walked into De Vos' office, only to be peppered with questions about the Basques and Galicians, the Russian-Germans of Argentina and the Welch.
?He took my breath away,? said Suarez-Orozco. ?When I brought him to Harvard University 20 years later to debate author David McClelland, the two lions --- after quickly seizing each other on the stage at the Askwith Auditorium -- went on to dazzle the standing-room-only crowd in an unforgettable interdisciplinary tango whose sweet music reverberated for weeks in those magical auburn fall days of Cambridge.?
De Vos was known for freewheeling seminars with brainstorming on everything from psychological testing to fresh psychological tests results from researchers at an Israeli kibbutz or in highland New Guinea.
In 1944, De Vos married clinical psychiatric social worker Winifred Olsen. They divorced in 1974, and he married Suzanne Lake, an actress and singer. The couple traveled frequently, from the Adriatic to the North Atlantic, from Bali to Patagonia and to the Galapagos Islands, where, as his health began to fail, De Vos had to observe the islands from the deck of a ship.
In addition to his wife, Suzanne Lake De Vos of Oakland, Calif., De Vos is survived by three children: Laurie Moore of Bremerton, Wash.; Susan De Vos of Madison, Wisc.; Eric De Vos of Saginaw, Mich.; and by five grandchildren and several great grandchildren. His son Michael De Vos died of a heart attack in 2000.
Contributions in George De Vos? memory can be made to the World Wildlife Fund.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.