Tag Archives: Bruno Latour

New HHS: Brain Sciences in the Lycée, Linguistics in Imperial Germany, & Much More

Larry McGrath

The February 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on educational reformers’ promotion of brain sciences in Third Republic France, shifting attention in linguistics to “living” language in Imperial Germany, the cultural psychology of Giambattista Vico, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Confronting the brain in the classroom: Lycée policy and pedagogy in France, 1874–1902,” by Larry McGrath. The abstract reads,

During the influx of neurological research into France from across Europe that took place rapidly in the late 19th century, the philosophy course in lycées (the French equivalent of high schools) was mobilized by education reformers as a means of promulgating the emergent brain sciences and simultaneously steering their cultural resonance. I contend that these linked prongs of philosophy’s public mission under the Third Republic reconciled contradictory pressures to advance the nation’s scientific prowess following its defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 without dropping France’s distinct tradition of 19th-century spiritualism, which extended from Maine de Biran’s philosophical psychology to Victor Cousin’s official eclectic spiritualism. Between 1874 and 1902, the French Ministry of Public Instruction transformed philosophy into a national project designed to guide the reception of experimental psychology generally and neurology in particular. This article features original archival research on philosophy textbooks and students’ course notes that illuminate the cultural and intellectual impact of these sciences in the fin de siècle from inside the classroom. I argue that the scientific turn in the psychology section of the lycée philosophy course reflected and brought about a distinct philosophical movement that I call ‘scientific spiritualism’. While historians have analysed philosophy instruction as a mechanism used by the Third Republic to secularize students, this article sheds new light on lycée philosophy professors’ campaign to promote scientific spiritualism as a means to advance incipient brain research and pare its reductionist implications.

“Avestan studies in Imperial Germany: Sciences of text and sound,” by Judith R. H. Kaplan. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HHS: Brain Sciences in the Lycée, Linguistics in Imperial Germany, & Much More

Share on Facebook

The History of Psychology as Multispecies Network, Part 1

This is the first of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.

In our current moment, the network has become one of the most prominent metaphors for the social. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is one tool used to evaluate the perceptual and behavioral consequences of interpersonal associations. The language of networks has been important to the history of science, in no small part due to the influence of Bruno Latour and Actor-Network Theory (ANT). In this post, I will outline one digital history method that brings together the insights from both fields.

Social Network Analysis offers powerful techniques for measuring and visualizing relations. Actor-Network Theory is important when considering what counts as an actor as it encourages us to take seriously the agency of the nonhuman. I am particularly interested in what SNA measures might mean in a history of science context where the relations that exist between humans and things are often as constitutive of the resulting knowledge as interpersonal interactions. Bringing together these two approaches allows for what one might call (somewhat tongue-in) Multispecies Network Analysis. This is a form of network analysis that speaks to history of science concerns about the materiality of scientific practice, the role of instruments, and the agency of experimental subjects.

This approach was inspired by an ongoing project on the moral authority of animal models in the history of sexuality. How did the experiments of animal behaviorists shape how sexologists, psychotherapists, and policy-makers understood sexuality during the twentieth century? How did the very observation of animal behaviour change over the long sexual revolution?

Inspired by a post by Miriam Posner (a very helpful guide for getting started with network analysis), I began to assemble the scientists and organisms that interested me into a network. I coded for scientist, organism, and the year the scientist first published a study on that organism. The focus was on the United States from 1910 to 1960. This graph is undirected as it are intended to be read in a reciprocal fashion. It is an image of both different scientists favoring certain organisms in their research and of different species captivating the interest of certain humans. By design, the visualization is ambivalent on the question of who is acting on whom in these encounters.

Pettit post 1a
Click to enlarge

The most visually striking finding of this analysis is also probably the least surprising. Rats have the most connectivity. Nevertheless, this is a fun graph for historians of psychology as it features many recognizable names of individuals not necessarily associated with either comparative psychology and/or sex research. For example, one can find ecological psychologist Roger Barker, psychometrician Quinn McNemar, psychoanalyst Edward Kempf, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan, and historian Julian Jaynes. Often their presence represents their experiences as graduate students. While Maslow’s apprenticeship in Harry Harlow’s laboratory is fairly well known, some of the other relations are not and may cast new light on interpreting their subsequent careers.

The conclusion to The History of Psychology as Multispecies Network will be posted on October 15th. Come back then to find out what came after this initial visualization.

Share on Facebook

New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The February 2013 issue of the History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are a number of all new articles that address topics that range from Latour, Péguy, and the history of science to the instincts of insects and boundary work in social psychology. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The materiality of things? Bruno Latour, Charles Péguy and the history of science,” by Henning Schmidgen. The abstract reads,

This article sheds new light on Bruno Latour’s sociology of science and technology by looking at his early study of the French writer, philosopher and editor Charles Péguy (1873–1914). In the early 1970s, Latour engaged in a comparative study of Péguy’s Clio and the four gospels of the New Testament. His 1973 contribution to a Péguy colloquium (published in 1977) offers rich insights into his interest in questions of time, history, tradition and translation. Inspired by Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of difference, Latour reads Clio as spelling out and illustrating the following argument: ‘Repetition is a machine to produce differences with identity’. However, in contrast to Deleuze’s work (together with Félix Guattari) on the materiality of machines, or assemblages [agencements], Latour emphasizes the semiotic aspects of the repetition/difference process. As in Péguy, the main model for this process is the Roman Catholic tradition of religious events. The article argues that it is this reading of Péguy and Latour’s early interest in biblical exegesis that inspired much of Latour’s later work. In Laboratory Life (Latour and Woolgar, 1979) and The Pasteurization of France (1988) in particular, problems of exegesis and tradition provide important stimuli for the analysis of scientific texts. In this context, Latour gradually transforms the question of tradition into the problem of reference. In a first step, he shifts the event that is transmitted and translated from the temporal dimension (i.e. the past) to the spatial (i.e. from one part of the laboratory to another). It is only in a second step that Latour resituates scientific events in time. As facts they are ‘constructed’ but nevertheless ‘irreducible’. They result, according to Latour, from the tradition of the future. As a consequence, the Latourian approach to science distances itself from the materialism of Deleuze and other innovative theoreticians.

“Oikonomia in the age of empires,” by Dotan Leshem. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

Share on Facebook