Tag Archives: self-harm

June Talks – BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series

The British Psychological Society’History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next two talks as part of the BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On Monday June  16th Graham Richards will be speaking on Some Psychological Facets of Creationism. Two weeks later Sarah Chaney (right) will be speaking on ‘A Perversion of Self-feeling’: The Emergence of Self-harm in Victorian Asylum Psychiatry. Full details, including abstracts, follow below.

The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines

Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Time: 6pm-7.30pm

Monday 16 June: Dr Graham Richards (UCL), Some Psychological Facets of Creationism. The abstract reads,

This presentation explores the psychological aspects of the debates around Creationism. It explores the psychological character of the ‘Argument from Design’ and how this has changed over time from Ray, via Paley to current Intelligent Design theorists, the underlying motivations of Creationists, and the relevance to these debates of Paul Tillich’s discussion of ‘types of anxiety,’ and the history of ‘literal’ biblical fundamentalism. It signposts how psychology has the potential to illuminate the Creationism/Intelligent Design issue in ways which might break what is currently a log-jam of ritualised argument and counter-argument.

Monday 30 June: Dr Sarah Chaney (UCL), ‘A Perversion of Self-feeling’: The Emergence of Self-harm in Victorian Asylum Psychiatry. The abstract reads,

This paper explores the emergence of self-harm as a specific category of abnormal individual behaviour in the second half of the 19th century, when ‘self-mutilation’ was defined within asylum psychiatry. I will briefly explain the background of the asylum system and psychiatric profession in Western Europe and the USA in this period, and describe how ‘self- mutilation’ emerged from the interest clinicians had in classifying and defining ‘insane’ behaviour. In particular, this was associated with the widespread publicity given to the increasing decision to regard suicidal acts as evidence of mental illness. While it is often assumed today that Victorian writers made no distinction between suicidal and non-suicidal self-injury, I argue that this was not the case. Psychiatrists in the 19th century frequently claimed that self-mutilation was not carried out for suicidal reasons, although they differed in their method of applying alternative meaning to such acts.

Finally, I will explore why it was that this distinction was made in this particular period, and what led psychiatrists to draw parallels between different kinds of self-inflicted injury to create a universal category. The concept of self-harm today is often used to refer to an act of injury; this application, I argue, emerged from late 19th-century asylum psychiatry. While people had certainly harmed themselves in a variety of ways prior to this period, the late 19th century was the first time these diverse acts – from skin-picking to amputation – became regarded as equivalent behaviours. Combining them under the umbrella term ‘self-mutilation’ prompted the idea that some form of universal meaning might also be discoverable. Self-harm became viewed as an act that had meaning beyond the physical nature of any wounds inflicted or the immediate sensations caused; an act that revealed something of the character of an individual; and, in addition, an act that might help to explain the relationship between individual and society.

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New Issue: History of Psychiatry

Image created by Vincent Hevern

The June 2013 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are articles on diagnostic categories in the DSM, erogtism in Norway, and relationship between Japanese and German psychiatry before World War II. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Ergotism in Norway. Part 2: The symptoms and their interpretation from the eighteenth century onwards,” by Torbjørn Alm and Brita Elvevåg. The abstract reads,

Ergotism, the disease caused by consuming Claviceps purpurea, a highly poisonous, grain-infecting fungus, occurred at various places scattered throughout Norway during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By focusing on these cases we chart the changing interpretations of the peculiar disease, frequently understood within a religious context or considered as a supernatural (e.g. ghostly) experience. However, there was a growing awareness of the disease ergotism, and from the late eighteenth century onwards it was often correctly interpreted as being due to a fungus consumed via bread or porridge. Also, nineteenth-century fairy-tales and regional legends reveal that people were increasingly aware and fearful of the effects of consuming infected grain.

“From psychiatric symptom to diagnostic category: Self-harm from the Victorians to DSM-5,” by Sander L. Gilman. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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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, Continue reading

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