Category Archives: Books

New Books Network Podcast Interview: Rebecca Lemov’s Database of Dreams

Now available from the New Books Network of podcasts is an interview with Rebecca Lemov on her recent book, Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity. As the New Books Network describes,

Rebecca Lemov‘s beautifully written Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity (Yale University Press, 2015) is at once an exploration of mid-century social science through paths less traveled and the tale of a forgotten future. The book is anchored around the story of Harvard-trained social scientist Bert Kaplan, who embarked on, in her words, a dizzyingly ambitious 1950s-era project to capture peoples dreams in large amounts and store them in an experimental data bank. While unique in scope, Kaplan’s project can be characterized as the culmination of efforts to apply techniques of personality capture–projective testing, dream analysis, and life history–in cross-cultural research on indigenous peoples, an effort to account for the full spectrum of human life amidst the encroachment of modernity upon cultures based, for example, in oral traditions.

Richly documenting the entanglements of Kaplan and others in their attempts to render subjects as data, Lemov throws the transactional nature of anthropology into relief. A data point for an ethnographer can be many things for a research subject: cash for buying American niceties, a beer, a dream lost in the act of recounting, even a permanent mark of distrust. The book is also a history of a technology which never came to fruition: the futuristic reader for Kaplan’s Microcards was never realized, and the boxes of cards became dispersed and lost their value as a total archive of human personality. Lemov argues that we would do well to regard the fate of Kaplan’s database as a parable for our age by calling attention to the information loss upon which the technologies of documentation that saturate our present rely. What, then, will become of our compressed audio files, forgotten social media accounts, and backup hard drives stashed in the back corners of drawers?

The full interview can be heard online here.

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Cinema and Failed “Rat Utopia” Over on the H-Word

The H-Word blog over at The Guardian has just published a piece on the influence of rat experiments on the novel High Rise, the basis for a newly released film of the same name. As author Jesse Olszynko-Gryn notes in his post,

the most influential example of “pathological togetherness” lifted from the animal kingdom was not a bird. It was a rodent and, in particular, the laboratory experiments performed on rats in the 1960s by ethologist John B. Calhoun at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Calhoun built a “rat city” in which everything a rat could need was provided, except space. The result was a population explosion followed by pathological overcrowding, then extinction. Well before the rats reached the maximum possible density predicted by Calhoun, however, they began to display a range of “deviant” behaviours: mothers neglected their young; dominant males became unusually aggressive; subordinates withdrew psychologically; others became hypersexual; the living cannibalized the dead. Calhoun’s “rat utopia” became a living hell.

Calhoun published the early results of his experiments in 1962 in the now-classic Scientific American article, “Population Density and Social Pathology”. As historians Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams have shown, Calhoun’s rats circulated widely as “scientific evidence” of the dangers of urban overcrowding in human society. His concept of the “behavioural sink” chimed with despairing journalistic reports of “sink estates” and “sink schools” in 1970s Britain.

The full piece can be read online here.

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2016 Cheiron Book Prize

LambFrom the Executive Officer David K. Robinson of Cheiron (International Society for the History of Behavioural and Social Sciences):

In acknowledgment of the book’s exceptional contributions to our understanding of Adolf Meyer and the field he singularly shaped, Cheiron awards the 2016 Book Prize to Susan D. Lamb (U. Ottawa) for Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2014.

After becoming the first psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1908, Meyer devoted himself over the next five decades to the scientific acceptance of psychiatry as a methodologically sound specialty of medicine. Although historians of psychiatry have recognized Meyer as a founding father, many of his ideas were not well understood, and his highly influential impact on psychiatry has been partially shrouded in mystery. Having gained access to previously sealed patient records as well as Meyer’s personal correspondence, and having offered such a careful and thoughtful analysis of these precious archival materials, Lamb provides historians of the behavioral and social sciences with a coveted window into Meyer’s thinking and decision making.

Pathologist of the Mind clarifies Meyerian notions of psychobiology, psychotherapy, and evolutionary theory (among others) and places this important figure, as well as the hospital and area of specialty to which he was dedicated, into historical context. In impressively detailed fashion, the book brings the man and the era to life.

Our congratulations to Dr. Lamb! Find out more about her work here.

And find the winning volume here.

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Romano-Lax’s Behave: The (Fictionalized) Story of Rosalie Rayner Watson

Way back in the Spring of 2013 we brought you news that author Andromeda Romano-Lax was working on a fictionalized account of the life of psychologist Rosalie Rayner Watson. That book, now titled Behave, has just been published by SoHo Press. A trailer for the book is featured above and a recent Kirkus review of Behave can be found here.

The book is described on the publishers website:

“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.” Behave is the story of Rosalie Rayner, Watson’s ambitious young wife and the mother of two of his children.

In 1920, when she graduated from Vassar College, Rayner was ready to make her mark on the world. Intelligent, beautiful, and unflappable, she won a coveted research position at Johns Hopkins assisting the charismatic celebrity psychologist John B. Watson. Together, Watson and Rayner conducted controversial experiments on hundreds of babies to prove behaviorist principles. They also embarked on a scandalous affair that cost them both their jobs — and recast the sparkling young Rosalie Rayner, scientist and thinker, as Mrs. John Watson, wife and conflicted, maligned mother, just another “woman behind a great man.”

With Behave, Andromeda Romano-Lax offers a provocative fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman whose work influenced generations of Americans, and whose legacy has been lost in the shadow of her husband’s. In turns moving and horrifying, Behave is a richly nuanced and disturbing novel about science, progress, love, marriage, motherhood, and what all those things cost a passionate, promising young woman.

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New Books Network Interview Round Up

The New Books Network has posted a fresh batch of interviews, quite a few of which may be interesting to our readership:

51obiAJOTML._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Historian Erik Linstrum (out of the University of Virginia) speaks on Ruling minds: Psychology in the British Empire. The interview can be found here.

 

makariPsychiatrist and historian George Makari talks about his volume Soul machine: The invention of the modern mind. Find the interview here.

 

languagePrakash Mondal (Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad) discusses the work Language, mind, and computation in this interview.

 

chaseBiologist and neuroscientist Ronald Chase (McGill emeritus) talks about the intersection of his personal and professional lives in Schizophrenia: A brother finds answers in biological science.  The interview is here.

 

 

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New Book: A History of ‘Relevance’ in Psychology

image002Another new book is available out of the Palgrave Macmillan stable: A History of Relevance in PsychologyWritten by Wahbie Long at the University of Cape Town, is described by the publishers as follows:

This book represents the first attempt to historicise and theorise appeals for ‘relevance’ in psychology. It argues that the persistence of questions about the ‘relevance’ of psychology derives from the discipline’s terminal inability to define its subject matter, its reliance on a socially disinterested science to underwrite its knowledge claims, and its consequent failure to address itself to the needs of a rapidly changing world.

The chapters go on to consider  the ‘relevance’ debate within South African psychology, by critically analysing discourse of forty-five presidential, keynote and opening addresses delivered at annual national psychology congresses between 1950 and 2011, and observes how appeals for ‘relevance’ were advanced by reactionary, progressive and radical psychologists alike.

The book presents, moreover, the provocative thesis that the revolutionary quest for ‘social relevance’ that began in the 1960s has been supplanted by an ethic of ‘market relevance’ that threatens to isolate the discipline still further from the anxieties of broader society. With powerful interest groups continuing to co-opt psychologists without relent, this is a development that only psychologists of conscience can arrest.

 

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New Book: A Critical History of Schizophrenia

A new book on the history of schizophrenia is now available from Palgrave MacMillan. Kieran McNally‘s A Critical History of Schizophrenia is described as follows,

Schizophrenia was 20th century psychiatry’s arch concept of madness. Yet for most of this period, schizophrenia was both problematic and contentious. This new history explores changes in the concept of schizophrenia across the 20th century. It provides a broad map of the concept’s mutating symptoms, fluctuating subtypes, social uses, and changing definitions.

This research reveals and cites a long tradition of critical unease towards schizophrenia – by numerous mainstream psychiatrists, psychologists, and schizophrenia authorities. This critical stance is shown to have existed in addition to complaints by so-called anti-psychiatrists (also documented). The book therefore explains how and why North American Psychiatry eventually sought to stabilize its disease concept at an institutional level – through the use of operational definitions in its DSM series.

Among its many remarkable offerings, the research unearths accounts of children being experimentally kept on LSD for over one year, and demonstrates that the stigmatising idea of schizophrenia as a split personality actually stems from Swiss Psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler – the concept’s creator. But its principle aim is to serve as a useful introduction to schizophrenia that guides the reader through a complex history of rejection, negotiation, and transformation, in this most contested of 20th century concepts.

This historical contribution to our understanding of schizophrenia draws extensively on primary sources from the schizophrenia literature, and builds on the research of recent historians of psychiatry and related disciplines.

 

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New Popular Book on the History of Autism

9780307985675ABC news correspondent Jon Donvan and producer Caren Zucker culminate their decade plus of reporting on the topic with a cultural history of autism, In a Different Key. Their narrative is populated with the landmark Cases (Donald T) and renowned researchers (Kanner, Asperger), but also those of the condition’s “pre-history,” phrenologists, mentalists, institutional administrators. The authors’ scope spans the shifting landscape of its social politics, theoretical, diagnostic and management controversies, making a grounded case for neurodiversity-oriented reform.

Here are links to the authors’ various pieces on the project from around the net:

 

 

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New Books in History Podcast: Dan Bouk’s How Our Days Became Numbered


The New Books in History podcast series, part of the New Books Network, has released an episode with historian Dan Bouk about his recent book, How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual, which may be of interest to AHP readers. As New Books in History describes,

Who made life risky? In his dynamic new book, How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual(University of Chicago Press, 2015), historian Dan Bouk argues that starting in the late nineteenth century, the life-insurance industry embedded risk-making within American society and American psyches. Bouk is assistant professor of history at Colgate University, and his new book shows how insurers categorized individuals and grouped social classes in ways that assigned monetary value to race, class, lifestyles, and bodies. With lively prose, Bouk gives historical context and character to the rise of the “statistical individual” from the Guided Age to the New Deal. Bouk’s primary argument is that risks did not always already exist, nor was risk invented by the medical establishment. Instead, the threat (and reality) of economic crisis helped insurers to create risk as a commodity, and eventually to control the lives it measured. As Bouk phrases it in the interview, “Insurers improved their bottom line by improving Americans’ bottom lines.” Bouk invites readers critically to reflect upon how we have come to see ourselves through a statistical lens in our daily lives– an issue of continued relevance in the age of big data and vast analytical capabilities.

The full episode can be found here.

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New Books in STS Podcast: Erik Linstrum on Ruling Minds

The New Books in STS podcast series, part of the New Books Network, has released an episode with historian Erik Linstrum on his new book Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire. As New Books in STS describes,

Despite its critics, Linstrum shows how psychology mobilized to take part in Britain’s counter-insurgency campaigns in Kenya and Malaya. Colonial administrators borrowed tools from psychology to conduct interrogations and suppress dissent. The colonial state attempted to cast doubt on the psychological maturity of the colonized, articulating Third World nationalism itself as a kind of pathology. Britain’s representatives aimed to actively reshape thoughts and feelings in their quest to win “hearts and minds.”

Linstrum’s book challenges rigid definitions of scientists in the service of empire, complicating earlier narratives which portrayed psychologists as powerful supporters of colonial discourse. Psychology’s intended role was to aid the technocratic administration of a waning empire. While attempting to make the colonized knowable and predictable, British psychologists unintentionally exposed the dysfunctions inherent in European society, challenging the notion of an irrational, inferior “other.”

The full episode can be found here.

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