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Though Totem and Taboo has been seen as one of the classics of anthropology, comparable to Edward Burnett Tylor's Primitive Culture (1871) and Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890), the work is now considered discredited by anthropologists. Kroeber was an early critic of Totem and Taboo, publishing a critique of the work in 1920.
Some authors have seen redeeming value in the work.
Every clan has a totem (usually an animal, sometimes a plant or force of nature) and people are not allowed to marry those with the same totem as themselves.
He credited Freud with providing a "compact survey" of the confusing state of research into totemism, but believed that it was difficult for psychoanalysts to deal with the subject because they could not base their conclusions on "first-hand experience", and that Freud attached too much importance to "the belief of totemistic acolytes that they are descendants of the totem animal." He criticized Freud's attempt to explain totemism through parallels with the "psychological life" of children, arguing that the analytical results Freud employed were of questionable accuracy and did little to provide a "solution of the problem of totemism", and that Freud failed to explain why the totem was represented as an animal.
"The Horror of Incest" concerns incest taboos adopted by societies believing in totemism.
Freud examines the system of Totemism among the Australian Aborigines.
Freud uses his concepts projection and ambivalence he developed during his work with neurotic patients in Vienna to discuss the relationship between taboo and totemism.
Like neurotics, 'primitive' people feel ambivalent about most people in their lives, but will not admit this consciously to themselves.
He also talks about the widespread practices amongst the cultures of the Pacific Islands and Africa of avoidance.