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Cadernos de Saúde Pública

Print version ISSN 0102-311XOn-line version ISSN 1678-4464

Cad. Saúde Pública vol.31 no.5 Rio de Janeiro May 2015 


Roger Bastide: the social construction on the border of disciplines. Mental illness as a field of study

Everardo Duarte Nunes 1  

1Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brasil.


The paper explores the contributions of Roger Bastide (1898-1974) to the field of insanity and mental illness, revisiting his work in social psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychology and, sociology of mental disorder. It highlights the interdisciplinary nature that marks Bastide’s works, that also include religion, art, literature. The paper presents biographical data and highlights the importance of Bastide to the field of sociology of health/illness. The analysis situates Bastide’s work at the time of its development, comparing it with the development of the sociology of mental illness today.

Key words: Medical Sociology; Community Psychiatry; Mental Health; Scientific Domains


O artigo trata das contribuições de Roger Bastide (1898-1974) para o campo da loucura e da doença mental, recuperando seus trabalhos em psiquiatria social, psicanálise, psicologia e sociologia das doenças mentais. Destaca o caráter interdisciplinar desses trabalhos, marca dos estudos de Bastide também presente em outros temas como religião, arte, literatura. O trabalho apresenta dados biográficos e o legado de Bastide para o campo da sociologia da saúde/doença. Analisa a obra de Bastide à época da sua produção e aspectos atuais da sociologia das doenças mentais.

Palavras-Chave: Sociologia Médica; Psiquiatria Comunitária; Saúde Mental; Domínios Científicos


El trabajo explora las contribuciones de Roger Bastide (1898-1974) en el campo de la locura y la enfermedad mental. Versa sobre la recuperación de su trabajo en la psiquiatría social, el psicoanálisis, la psicología y la sociología de las enfermedades mentales. Resalta el carácter interdisciplinario de estas obras, también presente en otras temáticas como la religión, el arte, la literatura. El artículo muestra datos biográficos y el legado de Bastide en el campo de la sociología de la salud/enfermedad. Además, analiza la obra de Bastide en el momento de su producción y los aspectos actuales de la sociología de la enfermedad mental.

Palabras-clave: Sociología Médica; Psiquiatría Comunitaria; Salud Mental; Dominios Científicos


In the presentation Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz 1 wrote for the collection of studies by Roger Bastide (1898-1974), many times the sociologist is seen as someone who worked at the interface of different disciplines. When contemplating his work, what immediately comes to mind are his contributions to the field of medicine and mental disorder, psychoanalysis and social psychiatry, as Ravelet clearly demonstrates 2. There are a number of studies in these fields, developed between 1941 and 1972, which are the source or our analyses. In this article, we have selected texts based on the references indicated by Ravelet 3 and supported by the collection of articles, discussions and memories organized by Pereira de Queiroz 1, Ravelet 2, and the Institute of Brazilian Studies 4. The purpose of this paper is, primarily, to revisit this output, compare it against the analyses already made, and, secondly, to critically re-position it in view of the most recent developments in the field of sociology of mental disorders.

Author and works

Roger Bastide was born in Nîmes, France, on April 1st, 1898, to a family of Calvinistic tradition. After elementary school, he attended the lyceum of Nîmes, from 1908 to 1915, when he received a scholarship to prepare for the l’École Normale Supérieure. According to Ravelet 3, the war interrupted his studies; while he was drafted to the army, he studies for a degree in Philosophy. In 1917 he goes to the front as a telegraphist, and in 1919, when he is demobilized, he attends the special preparatory classes for the École Normale Supérieure that were given to soldiers. He then moves to Bordeaux, where he will go to the university and get in contact with the literary life of the city. In 1921 he presents his manuscript to receive his DES degree (Diplôme d’Études Supérieures) in Philosophy.

Between 1924 and 1938, Bastide taught in Cahors, Lorient, Valence and Versailles, successively. In 1938 he was invited by French physician and psychologist Georges Dumas (1866-1946) to replace Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) as professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo’s Department of Social Sciences, created in 1934, where he stayed until 1954. Back to France, he writes two doctoral manuscripts, presented in 1957: the “major manuscript” Les Religions Africaines au Brésil, and the subsidiary one, Le Candomblé de Bahia; in 1958 he became full professor of Social and Religious Ethnology at Sorbonne. He also taught at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and the Institut des Hautes Études d’Amérique Latine. In 1961 he created a Center of Social Psychiatry that he managed until his death. He passed away in Paris on April 10, 1974.

The body of work of Bastide is quite extensive, and some studies attempted situating and classifying it. Ravelet 3 mentions the tremendous diversity of themes in Bastide’s works, including general sociology; religious sociology; anthropology; social psychiatry; Brazilian sociology; French and Brazilian literature; art and sociology of art, particularly folklore and architecture; philosophical reflections; education; psychology; psychoanalysis; mental disorder; incidental texts on war; international relations. Particularly in regards to psychology, psychoanalysis, social psychiatry, “madness” and mental disorder, themes such as mysticism, dreams, and trances are intermixed.

Despite having written such diverse works, Bastide is an investigator who sought, in his works, to respond to some fundamental issues that accompanied his life, with “no need to talk about himself”, and developed a work whose characteristic is a theoretical and methodological rigor 5 (p. 4). According to Pereira de Queiroz 6 (p. 216): “The broad array of his theoretical knowledge caused an extraordinary expansion of perspectives for those who listened to him, showing the multiple points of view and systems of thought of different authors of various currents and many countries: the differences between the Durkheim’s Sociology and that of his contemporary Gaston Richard, the expansion Max Weber led to the study of societies; the investigations by Radcliffe-Brown; Karl Mannheim and the development of Sociology of Knowledge; the contributions of the American Cultural Anthropology”.

Peixoto 7 (p. 17) perceives that “during his Brazilian stay, Bastide develops a particular theoretical and methodological point of view, dissonant from the standards of his time”. This perspective comes from the tradition of French social sciences, the contact with North-American sociological and anthropological works and the “local intellectual lineage”. Accordingly, the dialogues with Mário de Andrade, Gilberto Freyre and Florestan Fernandes are instances analyzed by the author for the formation of Bastide’s ideas. She revisits the theoretical position previously indicated by Pereira de Queiroz 1 when she notes: “We could say that Bastide put forth interdisciplinarity at a time when such posture was not taken as today. Being at the border of disciplines became a vantage point from which he took broad theoretical profit7 (p. 202). His works concerning mental disorder, psychoanalysis, dream, trance and others are clear instances of his stand, as we will show in this study. In addition, even though Peixoto has not addressed these aspects of Bastide’s works, her ideas enlighten our way of understanding that author, particularly when she mentions that Bastide “put forth a sociology that is sensitive to the complexity of the social, avoiding its reduction to a single dimension or having a univocal sense7 (p. 20).

Psychoanalysis, psychology, social psychiatry, sociology of mental disorders: a pathway and a return way

Bastide’s work that addresses psychological issues is extensive, and mixes different subthemes, ranging from psychoanalysis to the sociology of mental disorders, and including psychology and social psychiatry, with a fundamental variation in his thoughts and investigation, that of ethnopsychiatry. These subthemes cross his intellectual output, and are not addressed as such, but, as we will see, in some of his books the author tried to summarize his thoughts about these different fields of knowledge.

Bastide arrived in Brazil in 1938, having started his academic output in 1920, including works of historical natural about mystic life and religious sociology. His first work here was Psicanálise do Cafuné, published in 1941 8. Only in 1948 he would publish Sociologia e Psicanálise 9, and, soon after, Introducción a la Psiquiatría Social 10.

Christian Lalive d’Epignay (1938) analyzed the first works by Bastide, and stated that “three characters cross and unite” his work: “l’etranger, le fou (l’alienus), le dieu (...) These three characters are also founders of the individual and of society, they are imposed on the individual as the three manifestations of the Alter”. For him, “[in] the analysis of mutations of a rite”, in Psicanálise do Cafuné, the psychology/sociology relations already appear, and will be completed in later works 11. When summarizing the approach of Sociologia e Psicanálise, he says that Bastide, when discussing the achievements of psychiatry and, particularly, the thought of Sigmund Freud, that if he “reintroduced the social in psychology, now one must reintroduce the psyche in sociology, and Bastide borrows from the great Viennese the concept of libido to make it an operational category of his sociology” (emphasis of the author). With this, he develops an understanding of the individual as “a being of impulses, dreams, desires and fears”, and psychoanalysis as “la tentation de l’abyssal11. This analysis had already been made by Vírginia Leone Bicudo (1915-2003) by mentioning that Bastide, overcoming prejudices, “particularly scientific prejudice”, will relate “the reciprocal contributions between psychoanalysis and social psychology, the latter being a link between psychology and sociology12 (p. 168). We highlight Bicudo’s observations when she states that “In order to rethink sociological theories, Roger Bastide proposed the re-examination of the family organization under the vertex of the psychoanalytic theories, with reference to censorship and sublimation of the libido in the process of child life12 (p. 169).

Louis Moreau de Bellaing (1932) when summarizing the relations between sociology and psychoanalysis, points to the four poles: the joint history of the two disciplines (both are born at the same time, 1896); the links between biological, libido, psychic and social; the inter-penetration and reciprocity of the social and the libido; the autonomy of the two disciplines and their complementarity. That is a guide to read Bastide, and calls attention to the fact that “many passages of the book are dedicated to ethnology, particularly those on racism13 (p. 130-3). When he points the limits of Bastide’s analysis, he mentions that Freud’s unconscious is reduced to libido, and cites the polarizations found in his work – cultural/libido, social/libido; forgetfulness of “démarche” and of the Freudian method, this means, “one should think about the Freudian work – psychoanalysis – and its relations with other social sciences within itself, starting from its own assumptions, which, bottom line, is true for all science”; the tendency to analogy, citing the sorcerer/divinity relationship, by generalizing the characteristics attributed to the sorcerer that equals him to the gods, is not accurate 13 (p. 136-8). For this author, the fecundity of the studies on the relations among psychoanalysis, sociology and ethnology are as follows: pioneering, in the 1950s, the reflections about this theme; not having hesitated in bringing closer ideas that were “in general discarded by most investigators, separating them or confining them into the disciplines, which were conceived as separate and with little association”, and mentions, as an illustrative example, the study on sexuality in which anthropology, sociology and psychoanalysis are manifestly present 13 (p. 139); having granted a special place to psychoanalysis in the roll of social sciences, but that “psychoanalysis cannot be unjustifiably mistaken, mixed (méler) with anthropology, sociology, law, history, etc., however, he stressed that without it, the social sciences – and the human science of philosophy – would be literally amputated from part of their investigation13 (p. 140).

Certainly, Sociologia e Psicanálise 9 and Introducción a la Psiquiatría Social 10 are the two most important works of the 1940s, preceding many of the ideas that will be expanded by Bastide at other times.

Bastide begins the Introducción a la Psiquiatría Social. revisiting ideas of the 19th century about degeneration – “the disintegration of nervous pathways were the cause of disintegration of social bonds10 (p. 11) – and its replacement by the idea of regression – “social disorders are consequence of disorders of the will and the personality...10 (p. 11). For Bastide, these are two more general ideas that those that separate diseases between injurious and non-injurious, being the latter of interest to the sociologist. To understand the causality, and not only the correlations – diseases and social factors – he proposes, à la Durkheim, an initial presentation of statistics according to marital status, religion, occupation, etc., as well as to criminality. In all cases “the figures indicate a correlation, nothing else10 (p. 14) between social facts and mental pathology facts. He, then, turns to the distribution of pathologies in geographic spaces (ecological method), which would help him establish correlations less vague than the previous ones, even though, without advancing towards causality, sometimes, “We glimpse certain privileged cases in which probability moves towards a sociological causality...10 (p. 26). Abandoning temporarily sociology and moving towards psychiatry, this is what the author points at. He makes a general assessment of the theories of Freud, Pierre Janet that “lead us to the idea of subjectivity”, noting that it was Blondel who insisted the most in this idea to account for mental diseases 10 (p. 39). He resorts to the “indirect experimentation” comparative method 10 (p. 43), and reviews some anthropology classics (Mead, Malinowski), but comments that this method cannot reach the degree of certainty when used in other sciences, like physics and chemistry. He thinks that perhaps this can be better observed in Moreno and sociometry. Next, Bastide argues that the interest is to know whether sociology can be useful to psychiatry, not the opposite. In the two following chapters, he recalls the collective representation of delusion and the “delusions of foreigners”, the induction to delusion, simultaneous madness (between two or more individuals).

In the 1950s and 1960s, Bastide consolidates some of the themes, and expands others; psychoanalysis is still present, as well as social psychiatry, and, in addition to the relations between sociology and psychoanalysis, the relations between ethnology and psychoanalysis are specified.

From this period, in the early 1950s, we selected a course he taught at the Juqueri Hospital, and published as A Psiquiatria Social 14. The course consisted on a number of lectures that addressed object and methods, formation and development of social psychiatry, the problems of social psychiatry, cultural and psychiatric anthropology, magic mentality and morbid conscience, immigration and mental diseases.

This course was given by invitation of Dr. Osório Cezar (1895-1979), a psychiatrist at the Juqueri Hospital for forty years, since 1925, and author, along with Bastide, of an article about the relations among painting, madness and culture 15.

Attention is drawn to some aspects of this course, and even though some of the issues previously addressed are presented, this version on social psychiatry is more complete than the one of 1940. It shows social psychiatry as having been created after sociology, and its relations with psychology and cultural anthropology, and stresses the lack of methodological studies in collaborative investigations. It highlights multidimensional investigations and what was developed in the United States in the so-called area studies conducted by geographers, historians, lawyers, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and linguists, whenever there is a common aim among all researchers 14. The author goes on, and mentions that these studies, in addition of being adequate for cross fertilization, allow that interdisciplinarity occurs as the same problem is tackled by different experts. He reminds that all collaboration is a critical collaboration, and that it applies to the field of social psychiatry 14. He also mentions the correlation between social phenomena and mental disorders, rather than seeking the cause. For that, he uses “the principle of reciprocal perspectives” of Georges Gurvitch, to whom “in-depth sociology conceives the entire psychic fact, conscious or not, that finds in society as a situation of the being, particularly of the social being... The experienced is always, at the same time, collective, intersubjective and individual... reciprocally revisited14 (p. 71).

One should mention that this course was given in the 1950s, when the Juqueri Hospital enters a process of patient overcrowding, jumping from 7,099 patients in 1957 to 11,009 in 1958, and about 16,000 patients admitted in the 1960s 16, and that this fact or facts about the conditions the patients lived in the hospital, including children, are not being noted or addressed by Bastide.

We will not deal with the many works by Bastide of the 1950s and 1960s, but we will highlight a work because it summarizes others, the publication of Sociologie de Maladies Mentales 17. This is a particularly rich period in the production or works on psychiatry, madness and mental disorder. Mention should be to the works of Foucault (1926-1984), Laing (1927-1989), Cooper (1931-1986), Szasz (1920-2012) which, in different ways, launched a new concept about mental disorders and their approaches, giving rise to what Cooper 18 called anti-psychiatry, but that are not present in Bastide’s works. One should remember only tangentially Bastide 17 , 19 mentions Foucault.

The founder of ethnopsychiatry Georges Devereux (1908-1985) mentioned that this work 17 was mandatory for those who would be dealing with the sociology of mental disorders for the first time. He draw attention to the scholarly approach of the author, his understanding of theories and methods, the simplicity and elegance of his “concise logic” and originality, addressing for the first time “the body of a new science in full evolution20 (p. 657, emphasis added). He makes no reference to the fact that Bastide had not expanded his analysis to the authors (previously mentioned) – of the generation that criticized the institutionalized, hegemonic psychiatry.

Expanding issues previously addressed, Bastide makes a detailed characterization of the convergence between psychiatry and sociology, as he puts it, exciting but filled with indecisions when they get close to the development of a new field – social psychiatry. Reviewing authors from the 1920s, 1950s and early 1960s, he presents the different aims of social psychiatry: overcome the mental diseases that proliferate in society and become a social problem, train practitioners to work in psychiatric care with the aim of social reinsertion of the patient, study methods of treatment to form therapeutic communities. Being more practical than theoretical, it is closer to psychiatrists than sociologists. Bastide mentions that there is room for theoretical constructs, and that will take place as investigators find social issues in the etiology of mental disorders, when family, economic professional, religious, and other variables cross, that were revealed by the early studies with urban and native populations, on one hand, and on the other, with the study of pathological communities (collectivités morbides).

For Bastide, the understanding of social factors related to mental disorder includes three dimensions: social psychiatry, sociology of mental disorders, and ethnopsychiatry. Considering the matter according to sociology, Bastide says one could see in the origins of sociology the early time of a sociology of mental disorders that is present in Augusto Comte’s (1798-1857) positivism, which addressed the overall relations between society and madness. For Comte, “the increase in the cases of madness is related to the passing of a period of crisis; it develops at the same time and for the same reasons as individualism17 (p. 24). These reasons are associated with the selfish thought, the revolt of the individual against mankind, the abandonment of altruism, and the concession to subjectivity. The influence of Comte is extended to other authors, such as Audiffrend, Blondel, Morel, but it will be with Durkheim that “the problem of the sociological origins of madness (...) will be presented in new terms, in terms of social anomie17 (p. 25).

According to Durkheim, there are two meanings for anomie: lack of regulation, and lack of control, which appear, respectively, in Division of Labor in Society and Suicide, and even though he did not use it in relation to mental disorder, that would be a key idea in North-American literature about the sociogenesis of psychological disorders.

Bastide points to Marxism as the second important current in the field of sociology of mental disorders, with its perspective that the problems of man come from “technical, material or moral transformations due to overall conflicts of the capitalist society”. The author also reviews how Soviet psychiatry adopted Pavlovianism as its theoretical foundation. The third dimension includes the contributions made by psychoanalysis to psychiatry and sociology. “At first sight, it would seem does it not”, wrote Bastide 17 (p. 32), particularly due to the fact that Freud “invalidates the role of socio-economic factors, in particular the class struggle, to grant a decisive role to biologic factors, especially the sexual factors17 (p. 32). The sociologist mentions that one cannot forget that psychoanalysis made important contributions to the understanding of family factors, constellation of childhood, communication problem (patient/therapist dialogue), and other issues, channeling into the sociological discourse techniques, theoretical suggestions, and psychoanalytical vocabulary, such as: rationalization, frustration, inferiority complex, sublimation, and many others. Even acknowledging the importance of this contribution, he is careful in repositioning issues in psychoanalytical theory with issues in the dialectic chart of sociological interpretation of social factors in the understanding of mental disorder. He also recalls that socioanalysis is an extension of psychoanalysis, and it would be developed time and again post-1960s, at the time Bastide’s book was published.

The general theory and the empirical research for the study of mental disorders will be a point of reference for the understanding the field of sociology of mental disorders, especially in the United States where major focus was placed in field work and surveys. Bastide mentions the fact that a wide diversity of empirical studies could be systematized, and therefore not reduced to a disarrayed set of findings, because, in the end there was “the same gestalt idea of mental disorder: culture, the social system, personality are functional variables, interdependent and interconnected17 (p. 38).

These statements that open the discussions about the field will be followed by detailed review of the literature existing at the date of the research developed by Bastide. Before doing the review, Bastide presents a detailed chart of the research methods and their problems. He lines up the statistical method, case reports, interdisciplinary investigation and experimental method. For the author, they are important as they are based on the perspective of Gastón Bachelard, when he states that “one does not reach a precise object without a precise thought. And a precise thought is a thought that serves for the discussions on precision. If you go to the root of tendencies, there is no question that precision is an instance of I-you17 (p. 63).

For Bastide 17 (p.122), “the contribution of ecology to the sociology of mental disorders is the acknowledgement of a particular spatial distribution of organic and functional psychoses”. According to the author, regularity in distribution is not due to chance, but ecology does not apprehend the causes of such regularity, it only raises hypotheses; amongst them, the social disruption of some sectors of the habitat, and the spatialization of isolation. Bastide has some reservations about these issues, and mentions that other variables should also be studied, such as social classes, types of families, religion, etc., and dedicates an extensive chapter to discussing the instrumental source of the sociology of mental disorders: the consequences of industrialization and stratification of men in social classes. For this purpose, he reviews the psychiatry of professional categories; social classes and stratification; the psychiatry of the industrial society. In his study of the psychiatry of social groups, he separates religious and ethnic groups, which are considered not so much cultural groups, but rather minority groups.

The highlights of this work are the three final chapters – A Pause at the End of the Way, The ‘Madman’ and Society and The World of ‘Madness’ – a fact Devereux 20 pointed out with extreme insight. Why? In our assessment, first of all because in them Bastide 17 (p. 202) takes his theoretical stand in face of madness and mental disorder – “the perturbations of the spirit express the influences of culture, organization of society, and the human milieu”; secondly, because he draws attention to the huge diversity of the investigations and the near impossibility of comparing results, in face of the diversity of diagnoses and data collection techniques. Bastide leans to a sociology of mental disorders in which madness, like crime and suicide, is essentially a ‘social thing’’. For Bastide 17 (p. 217) there are two ways to fund (sic) a sociology of mental disorders “away from the problem of etiology”: “complementary of the symbolic activities of those affected and non-affected in the framework of collective mentality”; the other, in “the complementarity of the affected and non-affected people in the framework of global society”. Thus, he repositions the “madman” at the level of society, in the penultimate chapter of the book, not discussing the doctor/patient relationship, but redefining it as the encounter of “two dangerous virtualities”, according to Parson’s expression, the patient’s, who the seeks legitimacy of his role, and the doctor’s, who seeks control. In this level of analysis, he states that “the sociology of madness should articulate it within the whole of our social system17 (p. 233-7). At the closing of the book, he accepts that the three major contributions for the construct of the sociology of mental disorders are structuralism, history and ethnology. The highlight of this chapter is the establishment of a “dialogue between society and the madman”, as in Bastide 17the dynamics of mental disorder is set in a system in which, at the same time, the deviant and society play a role” (p. 244), “as the world of madness is part of the global system” (p. 255), and “the problem of the mentally ill person in society is not only a problem of the person, but a problem of the community at large” (p. 257).

For Devereux 20 (p. 657), the major merit of the book is to “have clearly drawn the limits among the different methods of facing and studying the same series of facts” seen by the distinct fields, such as psychiatry, social psychology, social psychopathology, and others. Therefore, it allows the different sciences that investigate mental disorders to be articulated in a perspective that highlights “the social and cultural setting, but with no concern in offering a systematic and unified methodology” (p. 658).

According to François Sicot 21, the bel avenir that Bastide foresaw for the investigation of the sociogenesis of mental disorders and for social psychiatry, in his book Sociologia das Doenças Mentais, that should become an agenda for future investigations was not fulfilled, particularly when one compares Sociology outputs in French and English.

In the 1970s, Bastide makes two trips, one to Canada, with Henri Desroche, and one to Brazil, in 1973. This is his second trip to Brazil; in 1962 he had come by invitation of the University of São Paulo. In this second trip, he just stayed from July to September 22. Ravele 3 reports that Bastide’s health was quite poor, but that did not prevent him from having, until his death in 1974, a smaller, but expressive output in various themes.

In the field of our study, Bastide begins the 1970s – that I call revival – by publishing an article continuing to seek the understanding of the relations between psychoanalysis and sociology, at this time using the word “cooperation” 23; he writes the foreword of Devereux’s book Essais d’Ethnopsychiatrie 24; he writes about the sociology of the dream 25, the relations between dream and culture 26, and the epidemiology of mental disorders 27; he organizes Les Sciences de la Folie and makes the introduction of the collection 19 , 28; he addresses the social and cultural causes of mental disorder 29 and writes a seminal study about images of mental disorders 3. Despite the variety of psychical-related themes, at this point of his life one notes that Bastide revisits what he had studied more in depth in the field.

As he reports, the events of May, 1968 motivated him to rethink the issue of madness, making an analogy with European movements of the first half of the 19th century. In this direction “the two major mutations of the industrial capitalism – its formation and its current metamorphosis – correspond to the romanticism and the agitation of the 1968 students, similar phenomena; among other similarities, it led to the discovery or rediscovery of the imaginary, as well as madness as a manipulative creation of this imaginary19 (p. 9). This was the starting point for Bastide to organize, in 1969, a series of lectures in the Center of Social Psychiatry, Paris, reviewing the thoughts about madness, published as Les Sciences de la Folie 19.

Bastide hesitates between “sciences of madness” and “madness as sciences” as the title of the works; the expression “sciences of madness” has the meaning of “a scientific, objective, impartial study of the different mental disorders – the establishment of psychiatry as a discipline of the same nature as the other branches of medicine (...) or the use of medicine as a model in order to invent a new domain of sociology19 (p. 16). There is no question, Bastide explains, that these studies “make the transition of a philosophical, if you will, psychiatry and a psychiatry that is ultimately scientific”. From the confrontation of the medical (clinical) semiology to the general semiology presented by Barthes 30, to disturbance of the soul according to the interpretation of Buchez that Isambert 31 reconstructs, there is the perspective of Comte’s madness by Arbouse-Bastide 32, founded on what Bastide 19 (p. 24) calls “romantic conception of positivism”. But it is with Fourier that the “science of madness” emerges, according the text by Debout-Oleszkiewicz 33, not the madness in the “sense medicine gives it, but in the popular sense”, as Bastide 19 notes (p. 27), and in the text by Baruk 34 the social and moral factor of the neurosis of our time emerges, not to mention, as Durand 35 analyses, the dream-spirituality relations.

There is no question, Bastide pursued the construct of a sociology of mental disorders, and to that end he sought elements that permeated his previous work – working in a sociological perspective in the interface with history, anthropology, semiotics, but, as Braga 36 rightly recalls “the gaze of Bastide turns more to problems than to disciplines, seeking, in different places, the responses for his unease towards the other”.

Certainly, such unease towards the other points to his work in which he gathered old studies about dream, trance and madness, that I consider a sort of testament of a work that extends to hundreds and hundreds of pages, on which he toiled following his early works. It is Le Rêve, la Transe et la Folie 37 in which, in the General Introduction he displays all the passion he has for the issues he addresses, and that is repeated in the introductions of the three parts of the book.

In Le Rêve, he begins by saying “We are always interested in our dreams. And we always regret that to date there is no biography of nocturnal men, as there are so many of diurnal men. (...) From the seduction of the world of dreams, that comes from the farthest memories of childhood, there is only the simple scientific interest to build a sociology of dreams37 (p. 9). He replicates a number of works written in the early 1930s, “the starting point of the investigations made for the set about the sociology of dream”; dreams of back people, part of the 1950 investigation about blacks and whites of the State of São Paulo; the lectures about sociology of dream, in 1967, and dream and culture, in 1970.

In the selection of texts about La Transe, Bastide collects a piece dated 1953, with the expressive title of Le “Chateau Intérieur” de l’Homme Noir, in which he, who foresaw the possibility of a “sociology of trance” in the anthropological readings, will find it in the Brazilian candomblé. The text that follows is about the phenomenon of possession in the interface of mystic trance, psychology and psychiatry, written in 1967 but later completed at a lecture delivered in 1968, entitled Prolégoménes a l’Etude des Cultes de Possession. Bastide closes this part of the collection with a text presented in Denmark entitled Discipline et Spontanéité dans les Transes Afro-Américaines, followed by a long afterword in which he revisits the introduction by noting that “in the course of the past few years, the cults of possession, instead of remaining restricted to some ethnicities, multiplied in a way that their analysis is, today, one of the most elaborate chapter of the new religious ethnology37 (p. 57).

The third part of the collection is presented under the title La Folie, and includes the following works: the meaning of psychosis in the evolution of man and social structures, in 1969; the interdisciplinary approach of mental disorder, in 1967; Durkheim’s sociology and the concept of mental disorder, in 1966; a new article about mental disorders in blacks of South America; an introduction to Afro-Brazilian studies, in 1948; suicide among Brazilian blacks, in 1952; the lectures about civilizations and mental disorders (1971); symmetry in morbid thought (1970); and the article that addresses psychoanalysis and the technically-focused society, in 1967.

Bastide’s legacy

Would it not be better to say that “madness is a social phenomenon” rather than “madness comes from social causes?17 (p. 212).

Laplantine 38 (p. 150) wrote that “Roger Bastide was, and probably still is – along with Lévi-Strauss – the French researcher of strongest influence in Brazil in the realm of Social Sciences”. Certainly, being close to the one who is considered one of the most important anthropologists in the history of Anthropology confers on Bastide an outstanding role in anthropological research which, according to Laplantine, “presented a fully sociological, this means, analytical approach of social relations38 (p. 141). For him, as Laplantine analyses, cultures exist within global societies.

This is a very timely idea, as it considers Bastide’s concerns in regards to madness, mental disorders, and their relations with society. In fact, his approach to the mental disorder and to a field of knowledge that provided the framework for his ideas in the 1960s, in sociological terms, is unquestionably relevant. The review he did is a detailed one, only by the end of the 1960s another review of the literature on the theme would appear. It is the study by Dufrancatel 39 that analyzes the publications between 1950 and 1967 (a total of 826 references), with focus on American works and that, as noted by Samuel Lézé 40, presents a perspective different from Bastide’s, to whom “the subject of sociology was considered as being given by psychiatry”, whereas Dufrancatel “proposed a critical introduction and a very useful annotated bibliography of the sociology of mental illness... tearing down, as the first condition, a epistemological break with what is called ‘mental disorder’ and the emphasis of its precedence over the sociological construct of the subject40 (p. 321).

From the point of view of general studies, few works have addressed the field before the book by Bastide 17. They include Clausen’s 41, and the first anthology that examined the different aspects of health/mental disorder, a collection of different authors edited by Rose 42 and published in the United States. Bastide’s study has, therefore, become reference for the understanding of the field as a whole, listing the significant number of empirical studies on mental disorders conducted until that time. In a way, by codifying the area, Bastide also seeks the most current information at the time, both epidemiological and sociological, around the variables and their association with mental disorder, but he does not limit himself to this explanation; he goes deeper in his book on the theoretical perspective, presenting an overview of the relations between the madman and society, and the world of madness, but that does not make the book, in the opinion of the author of this paper, in its totality, a dated text. The expression the book is very dated was used by Kathleen Jones (1922-2010) when she wrote a critical review of the English translation of Sociology of Mental Disorder, published in 1972 43. In addition to this observation, she mentions that Bastide was poorly translated, does not cite Thomas Szasz, Freud, Reid, and concludes that the book does not fulfill what is promised by its title, and may deceive the beginner.

We also stress that Bastide was the one who introduced the School of Chicago in France, and its critics to Durkheim’s “sociologism” 44, even though, as Pereira de Queiroz 1 stresses, he had broadly used the notions of anomy and social representations.

To cross-check a work written 50 years ago is not a simple task. It is necessary to place it in new scenarios. For this purpose, the observations of some authors, like Sicot 21 are opportune, and made their analysis taking into consideration the deep changes that studies on mental disorder and psychiatry underwent in France over the past five decades. Such changes relate, first, to the weight currently conferred to mental health; secondly, due to the reorganization of psychiatry in face of the success of neurosciences and pharmacology. For him, these issues are not restricted to France, but reach all western countries in different degrees. For Sicot, this new framework becomes institutionalized with the intervention of the World Health Organization (WHO), and is imposed by means of a nosographic model, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In the review it makes, it differentiates from the set of recent outputs, the major areas: the organization of symptoms, the social representations, the relations between mental health, the criminal system and crime, the obtainment of epidemiological data, the reflection about diagnoses, and the relations between mental disorder and social bonds. Sicot’s reflection is important not only because it updates French literature on the theme, but for the critical spirit that is present throughout his analysis. In opposition to the optimistic view of Bastide, from the 1960s, Sicot shows that the current Francophonic sociological output on mental disorder is very feeble, particularly when compared to the Anglo-Saxon literature. The author emphasizes the absence of the theme in French sociological journals after the 1970s, and even books like Asile (Goffman) and Histoire de la Folie (Foucault) did not generate descendants 21.

Lézé 40 strongly criticizes the field of sociology of mental disorder, addressing the different stages it went through in France. The first is characterized by the proposal of definition and identification of the field (1965-1968); the second, by the description and criticisms to the social functions of psychiatric institutions (1968-1989); and the third by the emergence of mental health in the field of sociology (1990-2006). Among the different aspects addressed by Lézé and that allow the sociology of mental health to be re-dimensioned, worthy of note are the epistemological and methodological challenges, when he asks: What are the aspects that define the field? Is it by means of statistical methods, or a qualitative approach? Another epistemological challenge concerns the nature of mental health: it is not a medical issue, but pertains to the field of sociology of health. Bastide stands out particularly in the first stage, defining and framing the field of sociology of mental disorders.

Final remarks

If the starting point was to find multi- and interdisciplinarity in the works of Bastide, this is accomplished as we revisit his investigations. This is such a strong issue in Bastide’s works that, at some moments, it was he who provided the theoretical basis of these dimensions and its codification 45 , 46.

In a 1958 work, Bastide shows that the relations between sociology and psychology were difficult, as “such closeness was understood as subordination46 (p. 105) that is restructured in a system of “integration of the psychic and cultural in overlapping planes” (p. 106). For Bastide, the idea of collaboration between psychologists and sociologists might be sought in the works of Marcel Mauss, who, in the 1920s, developed a notion of “total social phenomena”, and of Gurvitch, who, based on this idea, defined what he called “total psychic phenomena”.

Ten years later, Bastide resumes this discussion and establishes the following distinctions: interdisciplinary investigation – articulation among the different sciences, the work of an individual of a working team; international or transcultural comparative investigation – based on one theme among psychiatrists of different countries; multidisciplinary investigation – the work a one team of investigators of different disciplines or, if of the same discipline, the interaction among experts of a particular aspect of the problem. He mentions that the latter can be, at the same time, interdisciplinary and transcultural, but not every investigation with these two features is necessarily multidisciplinary. The highlight of this work is the typology of multidisciplinary investigations created by Bastide 45 (p. 446-7), with four types: (1) egalitarian coexistence – based on the principle of indetermination (Heisenberg) “a single ‘event’ might have two entirely satisfactory explanations, the more we understand it psychologically the less we understand it sociologically and vice-versa”; (2) stratified coexistence – each discipline keeps its autonomy, and it is up to the team coordinator to make the integration, for instance, it is up to the psychiatrist to fill out the forms and make the diagnosis, while the sociologist makes the correlations; (3) practical multidisciplinary integration – even though the approach of each discipline is made successively, there is no domination one over the other: the sociologist conducts the sociographic studies, the psychologists applies the tests, the psychiatrists makes the diagnoses, and may count on the collaboration of social workers and statisticians; and (4) theoretical comprehensive investigation – it goes beyond the application of the methods of each discipline, forcing “the development of new methods, new types of experiences (...) moving from the dialogue around the empirical subject to the singularity of the conceptual subject”.

Next to the interdisciplinarity that crosses his entire work, the second major highlight of this final remarks and which we have developed throughout this paper is Bastide’s sociological contribution to the investigations in the field of mental disorders. We use Henri Desroche (1914-1994) and his analysis of Bastide’s Anthropologie Appliquée 47 as reference. In his analysis, he points out the different sociologies that may be found in Bastide’s works: a sociology of application (sociologie d’application), a sociology of explanation (sociologie d’explication), and a sociology of implication (sociologie d’implication), that are completed with a sociology of listening (sociologie de l’écoute), followed by a sociology of plurality (sociologie du pluralisme) 48. Even though they are included in the field of religious sociology, they may, in our opinion, be expanded to other fields of sociology, and they show the freshness of Bastide’s thoughts, and their inclusion in the most recent discussions about sociology as a theoretical, applied, practical, and public field, because, as Laplantine 37 (p. 148) writes, his thoughts “allow us to overcome a stabilized, solidified conception of the social”.

To that extent, we mention the contributions by Duarte 49 (p. 168), as they provide us with valuable elements for the understanding of Bastide’s expression “inner castle” to indicate the “mode psychological interiority is constructed”. Furthermore, Duarte unveils the subtle rambles of psychologization in our culture and the role of the social sciences in this process. For the author, Bastide is a full illustration of the analysis manifested in the mystical experience, in the ecstasy, in the trance, in psychosocial studies, presenting “essentially a methodological value49 (p. 178).

Pereira de Queiroz, who had emphasized the strong interdisciplinary features of Bastide’s works, also mentions his contribution to the social sciences – anthropology and sociology – when she points to what she calls a new interpretation of Brazil. For her, the ideas inherited particularly from Mauss (globalism and totality), and Gurvitch (dialectics of complementarity) were instrumental for him to interpret our country differently from other scholars, as, for instance, Gilberto Freyre and Euclides da Cunha. The analysis by Pereira de Queiroz 50 (p. 117) is refined and profound, and we extract an excerpt to mark out point: “the notion of integration that comes from the analysis of Roger Bastide is, thus, totally divergent from the notion of integration present in the works of Brazilian investigators of the past. For them, integration could not exist without the annulment of divergences, contradictions, heterogeneity. For Roger Bastide, heterogeneity is the foundation of integration, as this can only be attempted from the difference”.

With these observations, we complete our intent to, by revisiting the works of Bastide and comparing it with those of different authors, highlight his freshness for both methodological and theoretical issues of sociology, and their application in the field of sociology of health. In short: Bastide’s work allows visualization of a scheme in which the interconnection with the different field of knowledge – sociology, anthropology, ethnology, psychology, psychoanalysis, supports the possibilities of understanding the different themes – mystical experience, trance, possession, madness, mental disorder, rites, secularization –, and leads to the construction of interdisciplinary fields – social psychiatry, sociology of mental disorders, ethnopsychiatry, psychiatric anthropology, sociology of dreams, sociology of delusions, psychology of the people.


To CNPq for supporting the Health Sociology History Projects – Scholarship for Productivity, process 305.809/78- 4.


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Received: September 11, 2014; Revised: January 19, 2015; Accepted: February 05, 2015

Correspondence: E. D. Nunes. Universidade Estadual de Campinas. Cidade Universitária, Campinas, SP 13081-970, Brasil.

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