The University of Wisconsin Press

South Asia / Religion / Anthropology / Philosophy


The Cultural Dialectics of Knowledge and Desire
Charles W. Nuckolls
With a Foreword by Stephen A. Tyler

"Strikingly original and engaging."—Narayana Rao, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Why is culture a problem that can never be solved? Charles W. Nuckolls poses this question to his readers, and offers a genuinely synthetic approach to culture that is both cognitive and psychoanalytic. He develops a theory of cultural dialectics based on the concept of paradox, in which he shows how ambivalence and conflicts, and the desire to resolve them, are at the heart of all cultural knowledge systems.

Nuckolls combines and synthesizes the ideas of Max Weber and Sigmund Freud—major influences in the cognitive and psychoanalytic paradigms—and develops the concept basic to both: the dialectic. He recovers the legacy of Gregory Bateson, who provided the foundation for a theory of paradox in culture. With his integrated theory, Nuckolls explains the conflicts of knowledge and desire in a South Asian knowledge system, in particular the religious mythology and divinatory system of the Jalaris, a Telugu-speaking fishing caste on the southeastern coast of India.

This provocative book allows us to rethink the relationship between the currently competing discourses in psychological and cultural anthropology, and at the same time offers a general synthetic theory of cultural dynamics.

Charles W. Nuckolls is assistant professor of anthropology at Emory University. He is the editor of The Cultural Construction of Diagnostic Categories: The Case of American Psychiatry and Siblings in South Asia: Brothers and Sisters in Cultural Context. He is also the author of Culture: A Problem that Cannot Be Solved, published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

cover of Nuckolls book is a photo of an Indian woman holding her child

November 1996

256 pp.      6 x 9
25 b/w photos

Book icon
Paper $24.95 s
ISBN 978-
Book icon Cloth $60.00 s
ISBN 978-
  Adobe Digital Edition (PDF)
About our e-books
No restrictions on printing or copying, access on six different devices.

Shopping cart ADD TO CART
  Review cart contents
Secure checkout


Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated August 11, 2010

© 2010, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System