New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The April 2013 issue of the journal History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in these issue are seven all new articles on topics that include the history of psychiatric ideas about self-harm, madness and the brain, and early British and American sociology. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Religion, polygenism and the early science of human origins,” by Terence D. Keel. The abstract reads,

American polygenism was a provocative scientific movement whose controversial claim that humankind did not share a common ancestor caused a firestorm among naturalists and the lay public beginning in the 1830s. This article gives specific attention to the largely overlooked religious ideas marshaled by American polygenists in their effort to construct race as a unit of analysis. I focus specifically on the thought of the American polygenist and renowned surgeon Dr Josiah Clark Nott (1804–73) of Mobile, Alabama. Scholars have claimed that in his effort to establish a properly modern scientific view of race Nott was one of the first American naturalists to publicly denounce the notion of common human descent (monogenesis) as proclaimed in the Bible. I argue that despite his rejection of monogenesis, Nott’s racial theory remained squarely within the tradition of Christian ideas about the natural world. American polygenism provides an example of how scientific and religious ideas worked together in the minds of American antebellum thinkers in the development of novel theories about race and human origins.

“Badness, madness and the brain – the late 19th-century controversy on immoral persons and their malfunctioning brains,” by Felix Schirmann. The abstract reads,

In the second half of the 19th-century, a group of psychiatric experts discussed the relation between brain malfunction and moral misconduct. In the ensuing debates, scientific discourses on immorality merged with those on insanity and the brain. This yielded a specific definition of what it means to be immoral: immoral and insane due to a disordered brain. In this context, diverse neurobiological explanations for immoral mind and behavior existed at the time. This article elucidates these different brain-based explanations via five historical cases of immoral persons. In addition, the article analyses the associated controversies in the context of the period’s psychiatric thinking. The rendering of the immoral person as brain-disordered is scrutinized in terms of changes in moral agency. Furthermore, a present immoral person is discussed to highlight commonalities and differences in past and present reasoning.

“Lester Ward and Patrick Geddes in early American and British sociology,” by Eric Royal Lybeck. The abstract reads,

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sociology was becoming established as a discipline in the United States and Great Britain. This article looks closely at the lives and work of two prominent sociologists at this time, Patrick Geddes and Lester F. Ward. As sociology was becoming established in academic departments, neither Ward’s nor Geddes’ thought managed to survive intact. A number of factors played into this process, especially the overall broadness of their perspectives, as well as the incompatibility of several of their key concerns, including gender, religion, race and education, with the eventual trajectory of the sociology and the scholars who were involved in consolidating the discipline as such.

“Malinowski and the New Humanism,” by Oscar Fernandez. The abstract reads,

In this article Bronislaw Malinowski’s ideas on humanism are analysed with reference to unpublished texts and drafts, published texts such as A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, his personal letters to his wife Elsie Masson and articles in which his ideals were reflected. An attempt will also be made to set Malinowski’s proposal for the New Humanism in its scientific and cultural context along with the work of other great thinkers and humanists of his day. Finally, it is suggested that Malinowski’s ideas in this field, despite the passage of time, are still relevant to social anthropology and, at the very least, still inspire new thoughts.

“Non-reductive continental naturalism in the contemporary humanities: Working with Hélène Metzger’s philosophical reflections,” by Iris Van der Tuin. The abstract reads,

This article engages with the philosophical reflections of the French historian of science Hélène Metzger (1886–1944) in order to develop a vocabulary for understanding the rise of non-reductive Continental naturalism in the contemporary humanities. The bibliography of current naturalist approaches in the arts and the human sciences is still in the making, but it is altogether clear that the trend is not scientist or historicist or relativist. This epistemological diagnosis refers us to Metzger, who found herself surrounded with the logical positivism of the Wiener Kreis, on the one hand, and the historicism of her French colleagues, on the other, as well as with the infiltration of the history of science by a chronological empiricism. In this article I will take the most recent book of Vicki Kirby – Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large from 2011 – as an exemplary case of non-reductive Continental naturalist scholarship in the humanities today and by reading it through the concepts of Metzger, I will demonstrate how this type of research leads to refreshing insights in what constitutes positive humanities knowledge and what is the role of the a priori in the field.

“Human economy and social policy: On ordo-liberalism and political authority,” by Werner Bonefeld. The abstract reads,

The article expounds the ordo-liberal tradition that emerged as a distinct neo-liberal conceptualization of free economy as a political practice. According to this tradition there are things more important than GDP in as much as free economy depends on the formation of the moral and the social preconditions of market freedom. The social facilitation and moral embedding of free economy are fundamental to the ordo-liberal conception of a human economy, which entails a social policy of Vitalpolitik – a politics of life. Particularly at a time of manifest economic crisis and austerity, the social and moral veracity of economic liberty depends thus on the exercise of strong state authority.

“Making the cut: The production of ‘self-harm’ in post-1945 Anglo-Saxon psychiatry,” by Chris Millard. The abstract reads,

‘Deliberate self-harm’, ‘self-mutilation’ and ‘self-injury’ are just some of the terms used to describe one of the most prominent issues in British mental health policy in recent years. This article demonstrates that contemporary literature on ‘self-harm’ produces this phenomenon (to varying extents) around two key characteristics. First, this behaviour is predominantly performed by those identified as female. Second, this behaviour primarily involves cutting the skin. These constitutive characteristics are traced back to a corpus of literature produced in the 1960s and 1970s in North American psychiatric inpatient institutions; analysis shows how pre-1960 works were substantially different. Finally, these gendered and behavioural assertions are shown to be the result of historically specific processes of exclusion and emphasis.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a doctoral student in the History and Theory of Psychology program at York University. Her dissertation explores the early history of questionnaires in American psychology.

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