“Angela’s psych squad”: Black psychology against the American carceral state in 1970s

A new piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: ““Angela’s psych squad”: Black psychology against the American carceral state in 1970s,” Michael Pettit. Abstract:

This article examines the duality of the Black psychology movement in the United States as both a distinctly American and a postcolonial approach to mental health. The Westside Community Mental Health Center in San Francisco served as the organizational hub for the Association for Black Psychologists (ABPsi) in the 1970s. The Westside clinicians understood forensic psychology as a kind of preventative care as California, more so than any other state, was seduced by the eugenic dream of human improvement through therapeutic interventions in schools and prisons intended to correct the wayward deviant. Their community’s mental wellbeing required dismantling the interlinked disciplinary apparatus which disproportionately surveyed, tracked, and confined young Black men. These psychologists mounted a legal challenge to the use of intelligence testing to sort Black children in schools, seeking to replace standardized tests with “dynamic assessments” inspired by Israeli psychologist Reuven Feuerstein’s work with refugee children. They consulted on the voir dire process in the highly politicized Angela Davis trial to minimize the presence of racially prejudiced jurors. They offered expert testimony on the psychological damage of solitary confinement on behalf of prison activists. The Westside team artfully developed and deployed the psychological concept of “bias” in their confrontations with local manifestations of the American carceral state. In their theoretical writings, these psychologists reflected upon their historical positionality, understanding themselves as products of the decolonial moment. Bay Area encounters with Third World internationalism, the Black Panther Party (BPP), the Nation of Islam, and community-led substance abuse programs shaped clinical care at Westside and inspired the Afrocentric consciousness many came to espouse. ABPsi initially had a significant impact on the historically white American Psychological Association’s training practices. However, the two organizations split over the IQ controversy at a moment when psychologists became increasingly enmeshed in the criminal justice system

I never promised you a rose garden.… When landscape architecture becomes a laboratory for the Anthropocene

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences: “I never promised you a rose garden.… When landscape architecture becomes a laboratory for the Anthropocene,” Henriette Steiner. Abstract:

In the summer of 2017, wildflower seeds were spread on a large, empty open space close to a motorway flyover just outside Copenhagen, Denmark. This was an effort to use non-mechanical methods to prepare the soil for an ‘urban forest’ to be established on the site, since the flowers’ roots would penetrate the ground and enable the planned new trees to settle. As a result, the site was transformed into a gorgeous meadow, and all summer long Copenhageners were invited to come and pick the flowers. In this article, I critically examine different aspects of this project – including the role of design, the perception of nature–culture relationships, climate change, and flower-picking as an event – in relation to my personal experience of visiting this meadow both on-site and on social media. The different temporalities that clash at the site give rise to conflicting interpretations, and I suggest that the meadow can be seen as a living plant archive of the Anthropocene, both physically and digitally. In doing so, I introduce and critique key conceptual pairs, including archive/death and bloom/decay, suggested by Lee Edelman’s queer cross-reading of Jacques Derrida’s ‘Archive Fever’ and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I thereby contrast flower motifs pertaining to the cycles of blooming, decay, and nature’s (failed) eternal return in the meadow with the expansive futurity of the digitally mediated archive.

On the persistence of race: Unique skulls and average tissue depths in the practice of forensic craniofacial depiction

AHP readers may be interested in a new open access piece in Social Studies of Science: “On the persistence of race: Unique skulls and average tissue depths in the practice of forensic craniofacial depiction,” by Lisette Jong. Abstract:

The (re-)surfacing of race in forensic practices has received plenty of attention from STS scholars, especially in connection with modern forensic genetic technologies. In this article, I describe the making of facial depictions based on the skulls of unknown deceased individuals. Based on ethnographic research in the field of craniofacial identification and forensic art, I present a material-semiotic analysis of how race comes to matter in the face-making process. The analysis sheds light on how race as a translation device enables oscillation between the individual skull and population data, and allows for slippage between categories that otherwise do not neatly map on to one another. The subsuming logic of race is ingrained – in that it sits at the bases of standard choices and tools – in methods and technologies. However, the skull does not easily let itself be reduced to a racial type. Moreover, the careful efforts of practitioners to articulate the individual characteristics of each skull provide clues for how similarities and differences can be done without the effect of producing race. Such methods value the skull itself as an object of interest, rather than treat it as a vehicle for practicing race science. I argue that efforts to undo the persistence of race in forensic anthropology should focus critical attention on the socio-material configuration of methods and technologies, including data practices and reference standards.

How family charts became Mendelian: The changing content of pedigrees and its impact on the consolidation of genetic theory

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences: “How family charts became Mendelian: The changing content of pedigrees and its impact on the consolidation of genetic theory,” by Amir Teicher. Abstract:

This article offers a close examination of a small selection of pedigrees taken from German Mendelian and eugenic scholarship of the 1920s and 1930s. It examines the procedures that became customary for presenting data on human inherited pathologies, as well as the frequent changes in the information content of those charts. Relevant biographical and genealogical data was removed, and important indications regarding the diagnostic methods applied by the investigating scholar were lost, as soon as a pedigree was charted or reproduced. Data on healthy individuals was condensed, leading to an emphasis on the hereditary burden of pathological traits. At times, healthy individuals were entirely omitted, as were exogenous martial partners. These modifications paved the way for further theoretical amendments, including the addition of ‘carrier’ status to chosen individuals along the pedigree. With this addition, these pedigrees changed their ontological status, from empirical records of human reproduction to partially hypothetical illustrations of Mendelian theory itself. This process was complemented by the representation of theoretical genetic models in the format of a human pedigree. A comparison to practices of charting pedigrees still common today suggests that the processes hereby revealed are far from exceptional. In line with the ideas put forward by Ludwik Fleck, they are interpreted as germane to the way scientific ideas are communicated and propagated and to the scientific culture of genetics. The article also offers a refinement to Fleck’s analysis of textbook construction, which highlights the extent to which textbook examples differ from the original data on which they are based.

Spitting on my sources: Depression, DNA, and the ambivalent historian

A new perspective piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Spitting on my sources: Depression, DNA, and the ambivalent historian,” by Rachel Louise Moran. Abstract:

While writing a book on the history of postpartum depression in the United States, I became interested in an ongoing study about possible genetic markers of postpartum mental illness. I participated in the first step, an online survey. When I qualified for the next step, saliva collection, I was torn over whether or not to continue. Making this decision required reflecting on some overlapping issues: gender, medicalization, genetic research, and the political functions of DNA donation. In this perspectives essay, I explore tensions around situating myself in my historical research project.

Religion and civilization in the sociology of Norbert Elias: Fantasy–reality balances in long-term perspective

A new piece in History of the Human Sciences may interest AHP readers: “Religion and civilization in the sociology of Norbert Elias: Fantasy–reality balances in long-term perspective,” by Andrew Linklater. Abstract:

Many sociologists have drawn attention to the puzzling absence of a detailed discussion of religion in Elias’s investigation of the European civilizing process. Elias did not develop a sociology of religion, but he did not overlook the importance of beliefs in the ‘spirit world’ in the history of human societies. In his writings such convictions were described as fantasy images that could be contrasted with ‘reality-congruent’ knowledge claims. Elias placed fantasy–reality balances, whether religious or secular, at the centre of the analysis of how societies have dealt with collective fears that arise in response to largely uncontrolled conditions. He located religious orientations within a broader framework of analysis regarding fantasy–reality balances in the first human groups and in current state-organized societies. Elias stressed how balances changed in ‘civilized’ societies with the rise of the natural sciences. But his writings emphasized the continuing influence of fantasy images in technologically sophisticated societies, particularly in the context of national and international power struggles. His analysis of how fantasy images acquired considerable influence under conditions of fear is important for studies of social responses to global challenges including climate change. Connections with Weber’s sociology of religion point the way to theoretically informed empirical research on balances between fantasy and reality-congruence in a tumultuous and unpredictable era.

Sin embodied: Priest-psychiatrist Asser Stenbäck and the psychosomatic approach to human problems

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences: “Sin embodied: Priest-psychiatrist Asser Stenbäck and the psychosomatic approach to human problems,” by Eve-Riina Hyrkäs. Abstract:

Combining theological and medical perspectives is indispensable for the historical study of the interconnections between mind, body, and soul. This article explores these relations through the history of Finnish psychosomatic medicine, and uses published and archival materials to examine the intellectual biography of the Finland-Swedish theologian turned psychiatrist Asser Stenbäck (1913–2006). Stenbäck’s career, which evolved from priesthood to psychiatry and politics, reveals a great deal about the tensions between religion and medicine, the spiritual and scientific groups that impinged upon psychosomatic medicine, and ideas on how health and Christian morality were interconnected. The biographical approach is adopted to unearth the values encoded in medical concepts, and through this, to point towards another, underexplored dimension of the health–religion relationship. In addition to their emotional aspect, religious doctrines are intended to organise life and give it meaning. Stenbäck’s ideas tied these experiential and normative spheres together by defending an irrationalist substratum of the world in the secular age of medicine. His work illustrates how the inner experience of faith can become both medically and politically purposive. It is worth combining these perspectives in historical research as well in order to better understand how the theological, medical, and political worlds are in dialogue when it comes to human problems.

Crimes of Passion and Psychiatry in Early Twentieth-Century Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A new piece in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences may interest AHP readers: “Crimes of Passion and Psychiatry in Early Twentieth-Century Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” Manuella Meyer. Abstract:

This article examines how early twentieth-century crime of passion trials constructed medical insanity and criminal responsibility by litigating varied interpretations of masculine decision making. Specifically, it looks at how defense lawyers used and applied psychiatric knowledge to their clients’ benefit and how psychiatrists, in turn, (re)asserted control over that knowledge by condemning its misuse. The way that these medico-legal narratives played out in the courtroom during crime of passion trials, and in the public discourses that surrounded them, ultimately brought a smoldering competition between distinct understandings of modern masculinity into sharp focus.

Unconscious inferences in perception in early experimental psychology: From Wundt to Peirce

A new open-access article in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Unconscious inferences in perception in early experimental psychology: From Wundt to Peirce,” Claudia Cristalli. Abstract:

What are unconscious inferences in psychology? This article investigates their journey from the early philosophical psychology of Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) to the experimental psychology of the American pragmatist Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914). Peirce’s reception of Wundt’s early works situates him in an international web of 19th-century experimental psychologists and its reconstruction opens new perspectives on the relation between philosophy, psychology, and epistemology. Moreover, this reception testifies to a heretofore overlooked strand of influence of Wundt on North American experimental psychology. The notion of unconscious inferences, of which Hermann von Helmholtz is usually considered the chief exponent, becomes the backbone of Peirce’s theory of perception mostly because of the affinity between Wundt’s early philosophy of mind and Peirce’s logic-mediated approach to psychology.

Call for Papers: Psychiatry and addictions in Europe in the 20th century

Psychiatry and addictions in Europe in the 20th century
International colloquium
26-27 January 2023, Strasbourg, France.

Call for Papers

Submission and deadline information

Please send a 400-word abstract and a short CV with contact information to Anatole Le Bras and Marianna Scarfone by 12 September 2022.

Colloquium outline

“The inebriate although appearing to be in possession of his mind, will always be found on the other side of that mysterious border-line of mental health[i].” This observation by physician Thomas Crothers in 1881 is indicative of the fact that alcoholism was never integrated without controversy into the field of psychiatry[ii] – and the same holds true for other types of addiction. Historians have shown how social attitudes to the use of addictive substances have evolved over time. They have highlighted the interconnectedness of the history of substances such as opiates, tobacco or alcohol, which were at times incorporated into the same frame of reference, or at other times considered and handled separately[iii].

The goal of this international colloquium is to explore psychiatry’s contribution to the troubled and non-linear[iv] history of the medicalization of addictions in Europe throughout the 20th century. This question should be explored through the lens of medical concepts, institutions of care and cure, as well as patients’ experiences. At the same time, our aim is to explore how psychiatric archives may renew the social history of drugs. Proposals can be made along the five lines of enquiry that we present below.

1.     Psychiatry and the medicalization of alcoholism and drug consumption

Various works have charted the emergence of the “disease concept” of alcoholism or drug addiction[v]. But was this disease concept predominantly a psychiatric one? When were alcoholism or drug consumption encompassed in the domain of mental illness – and were they seen rather as a cause, a consequence or as types of mental trouble in themselves? How did psychiatry integrate the concepts of inebriety, toxicomania, etc., to conceive the interrelations between alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and how were these concepts replaced by the notion of addiction? How did psychiatrists interact with other actors involved in the care and cure of alcoholics and drug addicts, such as self-help or users’ movements, other physicians, or actors from the penal system? Finally, does the recent rise of addictology and neurobiology lead to a ‘depsychiatrization’ of addiction[vi]?

2.     Addicted patients and psychiatric institutions

Lunatic asylums have long remained the main locus of care for alcoholics. What about other types of drug users? When and how did specific institutions (public as well as private) for the care of alcoholics and drug users emerge? How did the 20th century shift to outpatient care[vii] transform the psychiatric care of addiction? Were psychiatrists able, through consultations, dispensaries, and day clinics, to reach new types of drug users?

3.     Psychiatric practices of cure and care

The tension between cure and coercion – at the heart of all psychiatric cure – tends to be exacerbated in the case of addiction, since, on the one hand, the patient’s desire to heal is seen as essential to success, whereas, on the other hand, the will to impose abstinence may encourage the use of coercion[viii]. How have psychiatrists conceived the role of coercion and constraint in the cure of their addicted patients? When and how did a psychotherapeutic perspective on drug consumption emerge, and how were psychiatric interpretations transformed by the advent of psychoanalysis? How was psychiatric care articulated with social work, and how were the addicted patient’s families integrated into the picture throughout the 19th and 20th centuries? Finally, the changing role of medication in the cure of alcoholism and drug addiction can be explored. How did psychiatry’s use of psychoactive substances contribute to the shifting of the boundaries between legal and illegal substances, between use and abuse? When and how was the problem of iatrogenic toxicomania tackled by psychiatrists?

4.     National paths and international circulations

Another important area of investigation concerns the diversity of national responses to drug consumption. Patricia Prestwich has described how, starting from the mid-19th century, alienists were able to achieve an almost absolute monopoly (conceptual as well as institutional) over the question of alcoholism in France[ix]. But the role of the psychiatric profession was much more limited in other countries. What explains these differences? What role did transnational circulations and international psychiatric congresses play in the evolution of conceptions regarding alcohol and drug consumption?

5.     Psychiatric archives as new sources for a social history of addictions

Psychiatric archives – and especially admission registers and patient files – usually contain very rich biographical material, which can be used to write a social history of alcohol and drug consumption, bringing new perspectives on a topic that is usually studied from the lens of legislation and public policies, or from that of cultural representations[x]. What can we know of the social background and biographical trajectories of addicted patients in psychiatric institutions? Psychiatric archives can also be very instructive on the question of the gendered uses and practices surrounding drugs. Finally, taking up the perspective of the “patient’s view”[xi], can psychiatric patient files be a way to uncover the voice of drug users?

[i] Thomas D. Crothers, “What Shall We Do with the Inebriate?”, Alienist and Neurologist, No. 2, 1881, p. 175.
[ii] Waltraud Ernst and Thomas Müller (eds.), Alcohol, psychiatry and society. Comparative and transnational perspectives, c. 1700-1990s, Manchester, Manchester University Press, to be published, October 2022.
[iii] Virginia Berridge, Demons. Our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013; David Courtwright, Forces of Habit. Drugs and the Making of the Modern World, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001; David Herzberg, “Boundaries in the History of Alcohol, Drugs, and Medicines”, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Vol. 26, 2012, pp. 117–121.
[iv] On this idea of the non-linearity of the process of medicalization, see Dominique Vuillaume, “Interdire l’alcool ou soigner l’alcoolisme ? Flux et reflux de la médicalisation de l’alcoolisme aux États-Unis (1860-1995)”, Sciences sociales et santé, Vol. 34, 2016/4, pp. 5–31.
[v] Nicolas Fortané, “La carrière des ‘addictions’. D’un concept médical à une catégorie d’action publique”, Genèses, No. 78, 2010/1, pp. 5–24; H. Levine, “The discovery of addiction. Changing conceptions of habitual drunkenness in America”, Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Vol. 39, No. 1, 1978, pp. 143–74; Terry M. Parssinen and Karen Kerner, “Development of the disease model of drug addiction in the UK, 1870-1926”, Medical History, No. 24, 1980, pp. 275-296; Roy Porter, “The Drinking Man’s Disease: The ‘Pre-History’ of Alcoholism in Georgian Britain”, British Journal of Addiction, No. 80, 1985, pp. 385–396.
[vi] Virginia Berridge, “Was addiction psychiatry an accident in history?”, The Lancet Psychiatry, Vol. 3, October 2016, pp. 927–928.
[vii] Despo Kritsotaki, Vicky Long et Matthew Smith (eds.), Deinstitutionalisation and After. Post-War Psychiatry in the Western World, London, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2016.
[viii] For an exploration of this tension between freedom and constraint in the ‘technologies of recovery’ from alcoholism, see Mariana Valverde, Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
[ix] Patricia E. Prestwich, Drink and the politics of social reform: antialcoholism in France since 1870, Palo Alto, Society for the promotion of science and scholarship, 1988, 365 p.
[x] See, for example, the use of hospital records by Katariina Parhi to document drug use in Finland: Katariina Parhi, “No Coming Back to Sick Society: The Emergence of New Drug User Segment in the Järvenpää Social Hospital in Finland, 1965–1975”, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 76, No. 4, pp. 417–439.
[xi] Alexandra Bacopolous-Viau and Aude Fauvel, “The Patient’s Turn. Roy Porter and Psychiatry’s Tales, Thirty Years on”, Medical History, Vol. 60, No. 1, 2016, pp. 1–18.

Scientific committee

Virginia Berridge (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Volker Hess (Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin)

Anatole Le Bras (Université de Strasbourg)

Benoît Majerus (University of Luxemburg)

Alexandre Marchant (ENS Paris-Saclay)

Mathilde Rossigneux-Méheust (Université Lyon-II)

Marianna Scarfone (Université de Strasbourg)