New From HHS: Susan Isaacs’ Progressive Education, Information Overload, & More

Alejandro Lipschütz

The February 2017 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online and includes a number of articles that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. Articles in this issue tackle: the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Chilean physiologist Alejandro Lipschütz, information overload in postwar America, Frédéric LePlay and scientific observation, the Susan Isaacs’ interwar work on progressive education and psychanalysis, and the patient-analyst relationship in psychoanalysis and telepathy-like experiences. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Sigmund Freud and Alejandro Lipschütz: Psychoanalysis and biology between Europe and Chile,” by Silvana Vetö and Marcelo Sánchez. The abstract reads,

This article deals with the relationship between the creator of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and the Latvian-born Chilean professor of physiology – and endocrinologist and anthropologist – Alejandro (or Alexander) Lipschütz. Up till now, the historiography of psychoanalysis in Chile has ignored the existence of this relationship, that is to say, the fact that there exists an interesting exchange of correspondence as well as references to Lipschütz in some important works published by Freud and in Freud’s correspondence with the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi. There are also references to works on psychoanalysis carried out by Lipschütz in Chile. The Freud–Lipschütz relationship allows us to examine two interesting topics in contemporary historiographical approaches to psychoanalysis. First, it permits us to reflect on the connections that Freud and Ferenczi sought to establish between psychoanalysis and biology (endocrinology in particular) as a strategy to address criticism of the scientific foundations of psychoanalysis and, therefore, to help legitimize psychoanalysis in the field of science. Second, the relationship between Freud, working in a culturally influential city such as Vienna, and Lipschütz, working in a ‘peripheral’ country such as Chile, paves the way to reflect on the consequences of a history of psychoanalysis written from the perspective of the ‘margins’. This is a history that focuses not on regions where early industrialization and modernization processes, along with an important academic and scientific tradition, help explain the interest in and reception of psychoanalysis, but on regions where different sets of conditions have to be examined to explain appropriation and dissemination processes.

“The nature of the glut: Information overload in postwar America,” by Nick Levine. The abstract reads,

Today, complaints about information overload – associated with an overwhelming deluge of data – are commonplace. Early modernists have reacted to these concerns by showing that similar ones have arisen before. While this perspective is useful, it leaves out what was novel about the concept of information overload, which relied on a historically specific model of the human being. I trace the term’s history back to 1960, when the American psychologist and systems theorist James Grier Miller published his article on ‘information input overload and psychopathology’. In Grier Miller’s usage, the idea of information overload signalled as much a reconceptualization of human beings as communication channels whose capacity could be overwhelmed as it did concerns about the volume of reading material to manage. Through his work, and the broader subsequent adoption of the term in academic and journalistic venues, I show how ‘information overload’ reflected intellectual and social trends specific to its time.

“Frédéric Le Play and 19th-century vision machines,” by Harry Freemantle. The abstract reads,

An early proponent of the social sciences, Frédéric Le Play, was the occupant of senior positions within the French state in the mid- to late 19th century. He was writing at a time when science was ascending. There was for him no doubt that scientific observation, correctly applied, would allow him unmediated access to the truth. It is significant that Le Play was the organizer of a number of universal expositions because these expositions were used as vehicles to demonstrate the ascendant position of western civilization. The fabrication of linear time is a history of progress requiring a vision of history analogous to the view offered the spectator at a diorama. Le Play employed the design principles and spirit of the diorama in his formulations for the social sciences, and L’Exposition Universelle of 1867 used the technology wherever it could. Both the gaze of the spectators and the objects viewed are part and products of the same particular and unique historical formation. Ideas of perception cannot be separated out from the conditions that make them possible. Vision and its effects are inseparable from the observing subject who is both a product of a particular historical moment and the site of certain practices.

“The liberal playground: Susan Isaacs, psychoanalysis and progressive education in the interwar era,” by Shaul Bar-Haim. The abstract reads,

The Cambridge Malting House, an experimental school, serves here as a case study for investigating the tensions within 1920s liberal elites between their desire to abandon some Victorian and Edwardian sets of values in favour of more democratic ones, and at the same time their insistence on preserving themselves as an integral part of the English upper class. Susan Isaacs, the manager of the Malting House, provided the parents – some of whom were the most famous scientists and intellectuals of their age – with an opportunity to fulfil their ‘fantasy’ of bringing up children in total freedom. In retrospect, however, she deeply criticized those from their milieu for not fully understanding the real socio-cultural implications of their ideological decision to make independence and freedom the core values in their children’s education. Thus, 1920s progressive education is a paradigmatic case study of the cultural and ideological inner contradictions within liberal thought in the interwar era. The article also shows how psychoanalysis – which attracted many progressive educators – played a crucial role in providing liberals of all sorts with a new language to articulate their political visions, but, at the same time, explored the limits of the liberal discourse as a whole.

“Relational psychoanalysis and anomalous communication: Continuities and discontinuities in psychoanalysis and telepathy,” by Robin Wooffitt. The abstract reads,

There has been consistent interest in telepathy within psychoanalysis from its start. Relational psychoanalysis, which is a relatively new development in psychoanalytic theory and practice, seems more receptive to experiences between patient and analyst that suggest ostensibly anomalous communicative capacities. To establish this openness to telepathic phenomena with relational approaches, a selection of papers recently published in leading academic journals in relational psychoanalysis is examined. This demonstrates the extent to which telepathy-like experiences are openly presented and seriously considered in the relational community. The article then discusses those characteristics of the relational approach that may facilitate greater openness to telepathic experience. The argument is that relational psychoanalysis provides a coherent framework in which otherwise anomalous phenomena of patient–analyst interaction can be understood.

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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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