Category Archives: Interview

NBN Interview with Susanna Blumenthal on Law and the Modern Mind

New Books Network (NBN) has released an interview with legal historian Susanna L. Blumenthal on her recent book, Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Legal Culture. As  NBN describes,

Blumenthal offers a historical examination of the jurisprudence of insanity, legal capacity, and accountability from post-revolutionary America through the nineteenth century. Americans struggling to set the boundaries of ordered liberty turned to Common Sense philosophy that held to divinely given rational faculties of intellect, volition, and moral sense. Republican citizenship assumed that a reasonable man, as a legal person, would act accordingly. The market economy of self-made men, the new field of medical psychology, will and contract challenges over wealth and property, tort law and increased liability claims exposed the inadequacy of social and political norms in defining human fallibility, and the limits of responsibility. Litigants, lawyers, judges, and medical experts struggled to find a reliable way to settle issues of mental competency and define the bounds of freedom. The incapacity of married women, children, and slaves provided a means of comparison for the male citizen involving metaphysical, political, social, and economic ideas wrapped up in the concept of self-government. Blumenthal has produced a remarkable piece of intellectual and legal history situated in the rapidly changing market environment of a young republic.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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New NBN Podcast: Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet Clinic

The New Books Network (NBN) has just released an interview with anthropologist Eugene Raikhel on his recently released monograph Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet ClinicAs NBN describes,

Alcoholism is a strange thing. That it exists, no one seriously doubts. But it’s not entirely clear (diagnostically speaking) what it is, who has it, how they get it, or how to treat it. The answers to these questions depend, apparently, on where you are, which is to say what culture you were born and raise in. Alcoholism and treatments for it in Country A might be very different from alcoholism and treatments for it in countries B, C, and D. Alcoholism is, well, relative.

This is one of the many thing I learned from reading Eugene Raikhel‘s fascinating book Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet Clinic (Cornell University Press, 2016). An anthropologist, Raikhel tells us the tale of how the Soviet discipline of “narcology”–the diagnosis and treatment of addiction– evolved during Soviet times and how it adapted after the USSR fell. I won’t spoil the story for you, but suffice it to say that Russians treated and continue to treat alcoholism quite differently that we do in the U.S., though that’s changing (AA has arrived in Russia, something we also discuss).

Listen to the full interview here.

Cornell University Press describes Raikhel’s book on its site follows: Continue reading New NBN Podcast: Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet Clinic

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NBN Interview with Damion Searls on The Inkblots

The New Books Network (NBN) has just released an audio interview with Damion Searls on his newly published book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing. As NBN describes,

In his new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and The Power of Seeing (Crown, 2017), Damion Searls presents the first biography of Hermann Rorschach and the history of the Rorschach Test. A story that is largely untold, Searls starts with the childhood of Rorschach and brings readers through his growth as a psychiatrist as he created an experiment to probe the mind using a set of ten inkblots. As a visual artist, Rorschach incorporated his ability to think about visuals and his belief that what is seen is more important than what we say. After his early death, Rorschach’s Test found its way to America being used by the military, to test job applicants, to evaluate defendants and parents in custody battles and people suffering from mental illness. In addition, it has been used throughout advertising and incorporated in Hollywood and popular culture. A tragic figure, and one of the most influential psychiatrists in the twentieth century, The Inkblots allows readers to better understand how Rorschach and his test impacted psychiatry and psychological testing. Searls’ work is eloquently written and detailed, pulling in unpublished letters, diaries and interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Searls’ well researched text presents insight into the ways that art and science have impacted modern psychology and popular culture.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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New Book: The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

A new book length account of the life and work of Hermann Rorschach,The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls, has just been released. As described on the publisher’s website,

In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic movements of the day, from Futurism to Dadaism. A visual artist himself, Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.

After Rorschach’s early death, his test quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliché in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, and people suffering from mental illness or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.

In this first-ever biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues to tell the unlikely story of the test’s creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance—and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots shines a light on the twentieth century’s most visionary synthesis of art and science.

A short interview with author Damion Searls on NPR can be heard here.

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New Books Network Podcast Interview w/ Scott Selisker on Human Programming

New from the New Books Network of podcasts is an interview with Scott Selisker on his recent book Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom.  As New Books Network describes, Selicker’s book

offers readers a fascinating new history of American anxieties along the borderland between the machine and the human mind. Demonstrating the way that a variety of fields influence and coproduce one another, Human Programming follows the metaphor of the automaton through news media, fiction, psychology, cybernetics, film, law and back again. Along the way, Selisker engages academic work on labor automation, posthumanism, affect and emotion, and techno-Orientalism.

Through careful interpretation of books on American soldiers returning from the Korean War, the trial of Patty Hearst, the narrative logic of Snow Crash and Blade Runner, the central conflicts of Homeland and the Manchurian Candidate, and the baffled news reports on John Walker Lindh, Human Programming “offers a new literary and cultural context for understanding the human automaton figure” as it has appeared and reappeared over the half century, and explores how the metaphor of the automaton has “shaped American conversations about the self and other, the free and unfree, and democracy and its enemies, since World War II” (7, 8). Beginning with a prehistory in WWII propaganda, this timely study comes up to a present in which we replace our employees with touchscreens, rely on machine learning to translate our conversations, use proprietary software to plot our routes, and deny the human freedom of our fellow citizens.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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New Books Network Podcast Interview: Sabine Arnaud’s On Hysteria

Now available on the New Books Network is an interview with Sabine Arnaud on her recent book On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820. As the New Books Network describes,

Sabine Arnaud‘s new book explores a history of discursive practices that played a role in the construction of hysteria as pathology. On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820 (University of Chicago Press, 2015) considers a wide range of issues that are both specific to the particular history of hysteria, and more broadly applicable to the history medicine. Arnaud pays special attention to the role played by language in the definition of any medical category, basing her analysis on a masterful analysis of a spectrum of written medical genres (including dialogue, autobiography, correspondence, narrative, and polemic) that have largely been forgotten by the history of medicine. Arnaud asks, “What made it possible to view dozens of different diagnoses as variants of a single pathology, hysteria?” The answer can be found in a long process of rewriting and negotiation over the definition of these diagnoses enabled this retrospective assimilation, which was driven by enormously diverse political and epistemological stakes. In a series of fascinating chapters, the book interweaves the history of hysteria with studies of gender, class, literature, metaphor, narrative, and and religion. It’s an expertly-researched and compellingly-written account that will amply reward readers interested in the histories of medicine and gender.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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NBN Interview w/ Gabriel Mendes on Under the Strain of Color

The New Books Network as released a podcast interview with Gabriel Mendes (right) on his recent book Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s LaFargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry. As the Network describes,

While providing the first in-depth history of the LaFargue Clinic (1946-57), the book focuses on the figures who came together in a seemingly unlikely union to found it: Richard Wright, the prominent author; Frederic Wertham, a German-American psychiatrist now known for his advocacy for censorship of comic books; and The Reverend Shelton Hale Bishop, an important Harlem pastor. Wright’s literary prowess, work for the Communist party, and brush with Chicago School sociology met with Wertham’s socially-conscious and uncompromising brand of psychoanalysis to challenge mainstream psychiatric theory and its discriminatory practices in the Jim Crow North. Those who could afford it were charged 25 cents for sessions in the basement of St. Philip’s Episcopal church in Harlem, and 50 cents for court testimonials. A thoroughgoing grassroots effort, ignored by philanthropists and state funding, the LaFargue Clinic throws mid-20th Century mental health and race relations into relief, and is sure to stir interest in the untold stories of projects like it.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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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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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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APA Monitor: A (Nearly) Centenarian Jerome Bruner


The May issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology features an interview with psychologist Jerome Bruner in advance of his 100th birthday this fall. As the introduction to the interview describes,

Early on, Bruner explored the ways that experience affects perception. His paper “Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception” (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947) reported the finding that children were more likely to overestimate the size of coins than cardboard discs — and the greater the value of the coin, the more likely the children were to overestimate its diameter. What’s more, poor children were significantly more likely than rich children to overestimate the size of coins. In other words, both value and need influenced the way the children perceived the world around them.

Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.

Continue reading APA Monitor: A (Nearly) Centenarian Jerome Bruner

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