Tag Archives: Egbert Klautke

New Book: The Mind of the Nation: Völkerpsychologie in Germany, 1851-1955

Egbert Klautke, of University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, has written a book on the history of Völkerpsychologie. The Mind of the Nation: Völkerpsychologie in Germany, 1851-1955 recounts how Völkerpsychologie struggled to find a foothold in the German university system and its demise by the mid-twentieth century. As described on the publisher’s website,

Völkerpsychologie played an important role in establishing the social sciences, in Germany and abroad, via the works of such scholars as Georg Simmel, Emile Durkheim, Ernest Renan, Franz Boas, and Werner Sombart. In Germany, the intellectual history of “folk psychology” in Germany was represented by Moritz Lazarus, Heymann Steinthal, Wilhelm Wundt and Willy Hellpach. This book follows the invention of the discipline in the nineteenth century, its rise around the turn of the century, and its ultimate demise after the Second World War. In addition, it shows that despite the repudiation of “folk psychology” and its failed institutionalization, the discipline remains relevant as a precursor of contemporary studies of “national identity.”

The publisher’s website also includes an interview with Klauptke about the volume,

Berghahn Books: How would you define “Folk Psychology” and what drew you to the study of it?

Egbert Klautke: “Folk Psychology” is an awkward translation of the German term Völkerpsychologie. Originally, it referred to attempts to study the psychological make-up of nations, and as such is a forerunner of today’s social psychology. However, in today’s common understanding, Völkerpsychologie equals national prejudice: it is seen as a pseudo-science not worth considering seriously.

My first book dealt with perceptions of the U.S.A. in Germany and France, and much of these views could be described as Völkerpsychologie: clichés and stereotypes about a foreign nation, which were of a surprisingly coherent nature. Back then, my rather naïve idea was that there must be a general theory behind these perceptions, and I embarked on a study of Völkerpsychologie.

BB: Did any perceptions on the subject change from the time you started your research to the time you completed the book?

EK: When I started my research, I shared the general view of Völkerpsychologie as a flawed attempt to present national stereotypes as academic research, and was suspicious of its nationalist agenda and racist undertones. I also considered it typically German. Having completed the book, I have a much more sympathetic view of “folk psychology,” at least of the early attempts by (Moritz) Lazarus, (Heymann) Steinthal and (Wilhelm) Wundt. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, Völkerpsychologie was a serious and honorable attempt to introduce a social science to the university curriculum. As such, it influenced pioneers of the social sciences not only in Germany, but also around the world.

The full interview can be found here and The Mind of the Nation can be found on Amazon here.

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More Talks! BPS Hist. of Psych. Seminar Series

As previously discussed on AHP (here, here, and here) the British Psychological Society’s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has organized a seminar series. Two more talks in this series will be held next month. On March 6th, Egbert Klautke of University College London will be speaking on the French reception of German Völkerpsychologie before 1914. At the end of the month, Elizabeth Valentine (left) will speak of psychologists involvement with psychical research in Britain between the wars. Full seminar details, including titles, speakers, dates, and abstracts follow below.

“The French Reception of Völkerpsychologie and the Origins of the Social Sciences,” to be presented by Egbert Klautke on Tuesday 6 March, 2012. The abstract reads,

In this talk, I will focus on French readings, criticism and adaptations of German Völkerpsychologie (Lazarus/Steinthal, Wundt) before the First World War. I will show how Théodule Ribot, Emile Durkheim, Ernest Renan and Alfred Fouillée used arguments found in the writings of their German contemporaries, and present this cultural transfer as an important chapter in the making of a ‘social science’.

“Spooks and Spoofs: Relations Between Psychical Research and Academic Psychology in Britain in the Inter-war Period,” to be presented by Elizabeth Valentine on Monday 26 March, 2012 [Date updated]. The abstract reads,

The close connections between psychologists and the Society for Psychical Research in the late nineteenth century have been duly acknowledged. What is less well known is that senior academic psychologists were involved in psychical research in the early to mid-twentieth century. William McDougall and William Brown attended a number of séances arranged by Harry Price; J.C. Flugel, Cyril Burt, C. Alec Mace and Francis Aveling were members of his ‘University of London Council for Psychical Investigation’ and supported psychical research in various ways. This paper describes some of their antics and ask how reputable psychologists (and the University of London) could have collaborated with someone the Economist described as ‘a rogue, a falsifier, and a manufacturer of evidence’. Personal, metaphysical and socio-historical factors in their collaboration are discussed. It is suggested that the main reason for their mutual attraction was their common engagement in a delicate balancing act between courting popular appeal on the one hand and the assertion of scientific expertise and authority on the other. Their interaction is typical of the boundary work performed at this transitional stage in the development of psychology as a discipline.

Update: Elizabeth Valentine’s talk will now take place on Monday 26 March, 2012 (rather than the March 21st as originally scheduled).

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