New HHS: Psych & Ethnology, Mental Tests in Russia, & More!

The October 2014 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Among the articles included in this issue are ones exploring the relationship between psychology and ethnology, the role of mental tests in Russian child science, and the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa by Wahbie Long (right). Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“On relations between ethnology and psychology in historical context,” by Gustav Jahoda. The abstract reads,

Ever since records began, accounts of other peoples and their institutions and customs have included comments about their mental characteristics. The present article traces this feature from the 18th century to roughly the First World War, with a brief sketch of more recent developments. For most of this period two contrasting positions prevailed: the dominant one attributed human differences to ‘race’, while the other one explained them in terms of psychological, environmental and historical factors. The present account focuses on the latter, among them those who asserted ‘the psychic unity of mankind’. Generally it is shown that from the early period when writings were based almost entirely on secondary sources, to the beginnings of empirical studies, ethnological theories were indissolubly linked to psychological concerns.

“The mental test as a boundary object in early-20th-century Russian child science,” by Andy Byford. The abstract reads,

This article charts the history of mental testing in the context of the rise and fall of Russian child science between the 1890s and the 1930s. Tracing the genealogy of testing in scientific experimentation, scholastic assessment, medical diagnostics and bureaucratic accounting, it follows the displacements of this technology along and across the boundaries of the child science movement. The article focuses on three domains of expertise – psychology, pedagogy and psychiatry, examining the key guises that mental testing assumed in them – namely, the experiment, the exam and the diagnosis. It then analyses the failed state-bureaucratic harnessing of mental testing in early Soviet attempts to manage mass education, discussing the peculiar dynamics of the (de)legitimation of testing, as it swung between black-boxing and instrumentalization, on the one hand, and scandal and controversy, on the other. The article argues that mental testing thrived in Russia as a strategically ambiguous and flexibly interpreted ‘boundary object’, which interconnected a highly heterogeneous field, enabling the coexistence and cooperation of diverse occupational agendas and normative regimes.

“‘Blind’ to the obvious: Wittgenstein and Köhler on the obvious and the hidden,” by Janette Dinishak. The abstract reads,

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein cites the Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Köhler almost as often as he cites William James in his posthumously published writings on the philosophy of psychology. Yet, few treatments of the Wittgenstein–Köhler relation in the philosophical literature could be called sustained discussions. Moreover, most of them treat Köhler as a mere whipping boy for Wittgenstein, one more opportunity to criticize the practice of psychologists. This article emphasizes how much the two thinkers agreed, and the extent to which some of Wittgenstein’s work not only agreed with but also has a logical structure parallel to some of Köhler’s text. Both thinkers hold that the theoretician should strive to recognize and resist the impulse to step in and purify, distill, streamline, or exclude phenomena: common, everyday experience for Köhler and common, everyday uses of words for Wittgenstein. They both aim to counteract the tendency to discount and disparage what is ordinary and common.

“Reflections on the ruins of Athens and Rome: Derrida and Simmel on temporality, life and death,” by Black Hawk Hancock & Roberta Garner. The abstract reads,

The recent publication of the translation of Jacques Derrida’s Athens, Still Remains, a small volume of photographs and commentary, affords an opportunity to probe Derrida’s reflections on death and therefore on life as well. Looking at photographs and objects of everyday life, Derrida emphasizes the deferred yet certain nature of death and the way in which this deferral opens the opportunity to devote ourselves to life. His grounding of his philosophical and deconstructionist argument in contemplation of material fragments (the photographs of ruins and scenes from the recent past of Athens) invites a comparison with the writing of sociologist Georg Simmel on ruins, time and death. Both writers attempt to discover practices of survival, the techne of affirming life in the face of death. For both of them these practices are sociological as well as philosophical, individual as well as collective, and aesthetic as well as intellectual. While their reflections thematically converge, their strategies for the affirmation of life are not identical, and we contrast Derrida’s approach, rooted in a concept of being in the world and a connection to others, to Simmel’s analysis which is focused on the role of culture and the force of the human spirit. Reconstructing a conversation between Derrida and Simmel and examining their intellectual rapprochement deepen our thinking about temporality and death as we confront the question ‘How are we to live?’

“Constructing a social subject: Autism and human sociality in the 1980s,” by Gregory Hollin. The abstract reads,

This article examines three key aetiological theories of autism (meta-representations, executive dysfunction and weak central coherence), which emerged within cognitive psychology in the latter half of the 1980s. Drawing upon Foucault’s notion of ‘forms of possible knowledge’, and in particular his concept of savoir or depth knowledge, two key claims are made. First, it is argued that a particular production of autism became available to questions of truth and falsity following a radical reconstruction of ‘the social’ in which human sociality was taken both to exclusively concern interpersonal interaction and to be continuous with non-social cognition. Second, it is suggested that this reconstruction of the social has affected the contemporary cultural experience of autism, shifting attention towards previously unacknowledged cognitive aspects of the condition. The article concludes by situating these claims in relation to other historical accounts of the emergence of autism and ongoing debates surrounding changing articulations of social action in the psy disciplines.

“The growth and the stagnation of work stress: Publication trends and scientific representations 1960–2011,” by Ari Väänänen, Michael Murray, & Anna Kuokkanen. The abstract reads,

Stress at work is a frequent subject of scientific research. In most of this, the unit of analysis has been the employee and his or her work stress. Historical, cultural and macro-contextual approaches have rarely been included in the analytical framework. In this study, we examined secular trends in scientific publications on work stress, and analysed how, over a period of 50 years, a new discursive, institutional, intellectual and subjective space has developed, in which questions related to workers’ diminished mental energy became the centre of attention. Our interpretation links the occupational health debate to the broader historical and cultural processes that took place in western countries and work organizations in the period 1960–2011. Our quantitative analysis shows how the number of work stress publications rose steeply until the early 2000s and how the growth evened out and even started to decline in some data sources in the early 2010s. It would seem that work stress research is reaching its peak and that other conceptualizations in the domain of occupational health (e.g. resource-based views) are becoming more important. This historical study provides new insights regarding the nature of work stress and its links with societal changes for all those interested in the changing nature of health at work.

“White psychologists only: The rise and fall of the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa,” by Wahbie Long. The abstract reads,

This article explores the rise and fall of an Afrikaner psychological association: the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa (PIRSA). It presents rhetorical, discursive and social analyses of presidential addresses delivered at PIRSA congresses between 1962 and 1977, identifying the emergence of a discourse of volksdiens (ethnic-national service) during the 1960s that called for the ethnic-national relevance of the discipline. With the Afrikaner nation vulnerable to the triple threat of communism, capitalism and egalitarianism, PIRSA insisted that psychological research be dedicated towards addressing these and other dangers. In the 1970s, however, such appeals became less prominent as discussions of South African issues slipped off the agenda. Curiously, at a time when the apartheid state was in decline, PIRSA’s psychologists were concerned with everything but the survival of Afrikanerdom. The unraveling of PIRSA’s quest for ethnic-national relevance mirrored the disintegration of the state’s apartheid rationality, which resulted from a concatenation of political, economic and cultural upheavals.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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