The Psychologist: “The aftermath of the Hans Asperger exposé”

AHP readers may be interested in a piece in the September 2020 issue of the British Psychological Society’s The Psychologist magazine, “The aftermath of the Hans Asperger exposé” by Rabbi David Ariel Sher. As Sher writes,

Perhaps the most shocking discovery Czech shared on that day was a medical note from Spiegelgrund hospital concerning a two-year-old girl named Herta Schreiber. Am Spiegelgrund was founded in the summer of 1940 on the grounds of the Steinhof Hospital in Vienna. It was led by Erwin Jekelius, a former colleague of Asperger and a leading figure of the Nazi ‘euthanasia’ programme. It was here that children who did not meet the Nazi criteria of ‘racial purity’ and ‘hereditary worthiness’ were sent. Almost 800 children were killed at Spiegelgrund between 1940-1945, many by poisoning or through the administration of barbiturates over a period of time; the cause of the children’s death was listed as ‘pneumonia’ on documentation.

On 27 June 1941, Asperger assessed Herta at his clinic. In brief notes he wrote that ‘At home the child must be an unbearable burden to her mother, who has to care for five healthy children.’ Using the euphemistic language characteristic of German state documents of the period, Asperger wrote; ‘Permanent placement at Spiegelgrund seems absolutely necessary.’ A few days later, on 1 July, Herta was admitted to Spiegelgrund and on 2 September, a day after her third birthday, Herta died of ‘pneumonia’, the cause of death regularly induced at Spiegelgrund. Herta was not even afforded dignity in death; her brain was preserved and used for research alongside hundreds of organs of other Spiegelgrund victims. The hospital only released these for burial in 2002.

The full piece can be read online here.

Unraveling: Remaking Personhood in a Neurodiverse Age

AHP readers may be interested in a soon-to-be-released book, Unraveling: Remaking Personhood in a Neurodiverse Age by Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer. The book is described as follows:

Twentieth-century neuroscience fixed the brain as the basis of consciousness, the self, identity, individuality, even life itself, obscuring the fundamental relationships between bodies and the worlds that they inhabit. In Unraveling, Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer draws on narratives of family and individual experiences with neurological disorders, paired with texts by neuroscientists and psychiatrists, to decenter the brain and expose the ableist biases in the dominant thinking about personhood.

Unraveling articulates a novel cybernetic theory of subjectivity in which the nervous system is connected to the world it inhabits rather than being walled off inside the body, moving beyond neuroscientific, symbolic, and materialist approaches to the self to focus instead on such concepts as animation, modularity, and facilitation. It does so through close readings of memoirs by individuals who lost their hearing or developed trauma-induced aphasia, as well as family members of people diagnosed as autistic—texts that rethink modes of subjectivity through experiences with communication, caregiving, and the demands of everyday life.

Arguing for a radical antinormative bioethics, Unraveling shifts the discourse on neurological disorders from such value-laden concepts as “quality of life” to develop an inclusive model of personhood that honors disability experiences and reconceptualizes the category of the human in all of its social, technological, and environmental contexts.


Preface: Blind-Man-and-World

Introduction: Let’s Build a New Nervous System

  1. Neurological Subjectivity: How Neuroscience Makes and Unmakes People through Neurological Disorder
  2. Symbolic Subjectivity: How Psychoanalysis and the Communication of Meaning Disable Individuals
  3. Materialist Subjectivity: How Technology and Material Environments Make Personhood Possible
  4. Cybernetic Subjectivity: The Fusion of Body, Symbol, and Environment in the Facilitated Person
  5. Facilitated Subjectivity, Affective Bioethics, and the Nervous System
    Epilogue: Living and Dying in the Nervous System

Forthcoming in History of Human Sciences: The Psychosocial Dreamer, French Structural Anthropology

Two articles forthcoming in History of the Human Sciences, now available online, may interest AHP readers.

A ‘commonsense’ psychoanalysis: Listening to the psychosocial dreamer in interwar Glasgow psychiatry,” Sarah Phelan. Abstract:

This article historicises a dream analytic intervention launched in the 1930s by Scottish psychiatrist and future professor of psychological medicine at the University of Glasgow (1948–73), Thomas Ferguson Rodger (1907–78). Intimate therapeutic meetings with five male patients are preserved within the so-called ‘dream books’, six manuscript notebooks from Rodger’s earlier career. Investigating one such case history in parallel with lecture material, this article elucidates the origins of Rodger’s adapted, rapport-centred psychotherapy, offered in his post-war National Health Service, Glasgow-based department. Oriented in a reading of the revealing fourth dream book, the article unearths a history of the reception and adaptation of psychoanalysis from within a therapeutic encounter and in a non-elite context. Situating Rodger’s psychiatric development in his Glasgow environment, it then contextualises the psychosocial narrative of the fourth book in relation to contrasting therapeutic commitments: an undiluted Freudianism and a pragmatic ‘commonsense’ psychotherapy, tempered to the clinical psychiatric, and often working-class, interwar Glasgow context. An exploration of pre-recorded dreams, transcribed free associations, and ‘weekly reports’ reveals that in practice, Rodger’s Meyerian attitude worked productively with Freudian techniques to ennoble the patient’s psychosocial testimony and personal wisdom. This psychotherapeutic eclecticism underpinned and made visible the patient’s concurrent faith in and resistance to psychoanalytic interpretation. Chronicling a collaborative route to psychotherapeutic knowledge within a discrete encounter, the article situates post-war treatment values in the interwar impasse of outpatient psychiatry.

Parallel structures: André Leroi-Gourhan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and the making of French structural anthropology,” Jacob Collins. Abstract:

This article reframes our understanding of French structural anthropology by considering the work of André Leroi-Gourhan alongside that of Claude Lévi-Strauss. These two anthropologists worked at opposite poles of the discipline, Lévi-Strauss studying cultural objects, like myths and kinship relations; Leroi-Gourhan looking at material artifacts, such as stone tools, bones, arrowheads, and cave paintings. In spite of their difference in focus, these thinkers shared a similar approach to the interpretation of their sources: Each individual object was meaningful only as part of a larger whole. For Lévi-Strauss, structuralism was designed to unlock features of the human mind; for Leroi-Gourhan, to uncover the material processes that underlay human life. Again, in spite of their difference in orientation, both structuralisms produced similar theories of human society. Whether ‘primitive’ or ‘advanced’, all societies functioned the same way: Their institutions worked harmoniously, beyond the intentions of any individual actors, to preserve the stability of the group. This eliminated the basis for thinking one society was superior to another. Finally, the article argues that both Lévi-Strauss and Leroi-Gourhan believed that structural anthropology could found a ‘new humanism’, and thereby rescue modernity from moral degeneration. This ‘new humanism’ could not only produce a universal description of human nature, but also help rethink French colonialism, broker new geopolitical alliances, and prevent the erasure of world cultures. Structural anthropology thus imagined a tight relationship between its social-scientific work and its political-moral mission.

Testing Hearing: The Making of Modern Aurality

AHP readers may be interested in a new book, Testing Hearing: The Making of Modern Aurality, edited by Viktoria Tkaczyk, Mara Mills, and Alexandra Hui. The volume is described as,

Testing Hearing: The Making of Modern Aurality argues that the modern cultural practices of hearing and testing have emerged from a long interrelationship. Since the early nineteenth century, auditory test tools (whether organ pipes or electronic tone generators) and the results of hearing tests have fed back into instrument calibration, human training, architecture, and the creation of new musical sounds. Hearing tests received a further boost around 1900 as a result of injury compensation laws and state and professional demands for aptitude testing in schools, conservatories, the military, and other fields. Applied at large scale, tests of seemingly small measure-of auditory acuity, of hearing range-helped redefine the modern concept of hearing as such. During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the epistemic function of hearing expanded. Hearing took on the dual role of test object and test instrument; in the latter case, human hearing became a gauge by which to evaluate or regulate materials, nonhuman organisms, equipment, and technological systems. This book considers both the testing of hearing and testing with hearing to explore the co-creation of modern epistemic and auditory cultures. The book’s twelve contributors trace the design of ever more specific tests for the arts, education and communication, colonial and military applications, sociopolitical and industrial endeavors. Together, they demonstrate that testing as such became an enduring and wide-ranging cultural technique in the modern period, one that is situated between histories of scientific experimentation and many fields of application.

Table of Contents

Testing Hearing: An Introduction
Alexandra Hui, Mara Mills, and Viktoria Tkaczyk

Sorting and Screening Human Hearers:
Testing the Culturally Molded Ear

Testing Hearing with Speech
Mara Mills

The Testing of a Hundred Listeners: Otto Abraham’s Studies on “Absolute Tone Consciousness”
Viktoria Tkaczyk

Murray Island versus Aberdeenshire: Contextualizing the Cross-Cultural Hearing Tests of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, 1898-1899
Sebastian Klotz

Designing Instruments, Calibrating machines

Hearing Perfection
Emily I. Dolan

Opelt’s Siren and the Technologies of Musical Hearing
Alexander Rehding

The Software Passes the Test When the User Fails It:Constructing Digital Models of Analog Signal Processors
Jonathan Sterne

Managing Sound, Assessing Space

To Hear As I Do: The Concessions of Hearing in Taiwan’s Noise Management System
Jennifer Hsieh

Testing Spatial Hearing and the Development of Kunstkopf Technology, 1957-1981
Stefan Krebs

Absorption, Transmission, Reflection: Testing Materials in the Laboratory
Roland Wittje

World as Testbed:
Testing beyond Human Auditory Perception

Of Silent Sirens and Pied Pipers: Auditory Thresholds and High-Frequency Technologies of Animal Control
Joeri Bruyninckx

Testing the Underwater Ear: Hearing, Standardizing, and Classifying Marine Sounds from World War I to the Cold War
Lino Camprubí and Alexandra Hui

This Is Not a Test: Listening with Günther Anders in the Nuclear Age
Benjamin Steege

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger and Trevor Pinch

Kira Lussier on “What the history of diversity training reveals about its future”

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in The Conversation from Kira Lussier on “What the history of diversity training reveals about its future.” As Lussier writes,

Some of the earliest forms of corporate training were mandated in response to employment discrimination lawsuits, as in a 1970s class-action lawsuit at Xerox.

Over the course of the 1960s to 1980s, corporate training broadened in scope to target employee personality traits. This time period also witnessed the ascendance of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality testing system that became widely used in management training as a way to understand how personality differences affected working relationships.

This diversity training aimed to teach managers a whole host of social and emotional skills necessary to manage others, including the ability to manage and mitigate conflict stemming from racial differences. Training was a part of the burgeoning “business case for diversity,” which had diversity experts and executives alike arguing that a diverse workforce provided a competitive advantage to corporations in a globalized economy.

Read the full piece here.

The life stories and experiences of the children admitted to the Institute for Imbecile Children from 1895 to 1913

AHP readers will be interested in a new open-access piece now available African Journal of Disability: “The life stories and experiences of the children admitted to the Institute for Imbecile Children from 1895 to 1913,” by Rory du Plessis. Abstract:

Background: South African scholarship on intellectual disability has produced a sizeable body of research, yet there are numerous areas where there is a paucity of research. One area in which there is a conspicuous paucity of research is historical studies of people with intellectual disability (PWID). The existing works devoted to the history of PWID in South Africa are primarily focused on the legal provisions and institutions for the protection and care of PWID. Missing from these works are the life stories and experiences of PWID.
Objectives: The article offers a study devoted to the life stories and experiences of the children with intellectual disability (CWID) who were admitted to the Institute for Imbecile Children from 1895 to 1913. The institute opened in April 1895 in Makhanda (formerly known as Grahamstown), South Africa. The institute was the first of its kind in the Cape Colony for CWID.
Method: The study presents a qualitative investigation of the life stories and experiences of the children that were recorded in the institute’s casebook. The entire set of 101 cases contained in the casebook was analysed by adopting a Gadamerian approach to hermeneutics.
Results: The examination of the institute’s casebook identified several broad themes relating to the children’s admittance, daily life at the institute and their routes out of the institute. The study also extols the individuality of each child’s life story to provide an awareness and richer appreciation of the humanness and personhood of the children.
Conclusion: The article contributes a positive narrative to the identity and the history of South African children with intellectual disability living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Forthcoming History of the Human Sciences: Thinking in Cases, Landscapes and Human Geography

AHP readers will be interested in several pieces forthcoming in History of the Human Sciences that are now available online. Full details below.

Boundaries of reasoning in cases: The visual psychoanalysis of René Spitz,” Rachel Weitzenkorn. Abstract:

This article argues that the foundational separation between psychoanalysis and experimental psychology was challenged in important ways by psychoanalytic infant researchers. Through a close examination of American psychoanalyst René Spitz (1887–1974), it extends John Forrester’s conception of reasoning in cases outside classic psychoanalytic practices. Specifically, the article interrogates the foundations of reasoning in cases—the individual, language, and the doctor–patient relationship—to show how these are reimagined in relation to the structures of American developmental psychology. The article argues that the staunch separation of experimental psychology and psychoanalysis, reiterated by philosophers and historians of psychology, is flimsy at best—and, conversely, that the maintenance of these boundaries enabled the production of a cinematic case study. Spitz created films that used little language and took place outside the consulting room with institutionalized infants. Yet key aspects of the psychoanalytic case, as put forth by John Forrester, were depicted visually. These visual displays of transference, failure, and interpersonal emotions highlight the foundations of what Forrester means by reasoning in cases. The article concludes that Spitz failed at creating classic psychoanalytic evidence, but in so doing stretched the epistemology of the case.

If p0, then 1: The impossibility of thinking out cases,” Michael J. Flexer. Abstract:

Forrester’s proposed seventh style of reasoning – thinking in cases – functions as an analogous, dyadic relationship that, whilst indebted philosophically to the logical reasoning and semiotics of Charles Peirce, is prone to creating feedback loops between induction and deduction, precluding novel abductive hypotheses from advancing medical knowledge. Reasoning with a Peircean triadic model opens up the contexts and methods of meaning-making and reasoning through medical cases, and the potent influence of their genre conventions, to intellectual critical scrutiny. Vitally, it offers a third mode – abduction – that this article argues needs to be reintroduced into Forrester’s model of reasoning with cases. This article demonstrates this by applying a Peircean triadic model of reasoning to Forrester’s own model, tracing a shared genealogy but one in which the abductive element was lost. The article goes on to illustrate the explanatory and predictive potential of Peircean abductive reasoning and the necessary re-theorising of the case this entails. This argument is supported through an analysis of early case reports of what would become HIV/Aids, drawn from the Case Records of Massachusetts General Hospital series in the New England Journal of Medicine.

‘This scene is itself living’: Buildings as landscapes in transatlantic human geography, 1870–1970,” Peter Ekman. Abstract:

What do houses do to the people who live with them? In what sense are houses themselves living things? If they live and act, how to conceive of the relationship between built and natural landscapes, and between environment and life more broadly? This article considers three moments at which human geographers have attempted to answer these questions without submitting to visions of environmental causation and constraint favoured by determinists, who dominated the discipline into the early 20th century. The article begins with the work of Carl Sauer, by 1925 the major American figure refuting environmental determinism at a theoretical level and recommending the study of housing as an articulate transcript of human action. It then looks back to the American writings of Friedrich Ratzel, one of several German scholars Sauer canonized, to illuminate a more vitalistic ontology of domestic architecture, and an urbanism, untapped by Sauer when filing his dissent. It then looks ahead to mid-century studies of vernacular architecture – by those of Sauer’s students friendlier to urban life than he was, and by the critic and publisher J. B. Jackson – to assess how this inheritance informed critiques of industrial modernity in the post-war United States. The article observes certain continuities, despite manifest tensions, between ‘old’ and ‘new’ cultural geographies. It also routes a long-standing set of debates concerning the relationship of materiality to meaning – and of spatial to social form – through the case of human geography, a peculiar interstice in the broader constellation of disciplines.

Joint Meeting of Clio-Psyché and the Brazilian Congress of History of Psychology, Nov 5-6, 2020

A joint meeting of Clio-Psyché and the Brazilian Congress of History of Psychology will take place virtually November 5-6, 2020. Details below.

In 2020, the virus stopped time. Or at least the usual way we experience temporality and sociability. In these extremely paradoxical times – distant, but (hyper)connected; suspended, but in vertiginous and uncertain transformations – we discussed anguishly about whether or not to keep the XIV Clio-Psyché Meeting, and how to do it: that is, how to migrate to the electronic platforms (our most frequent habitat these days) the meetings and exchanges that (as we understand) are the DNA of Clio Meetings.

We decided that the Meeting should take place, heroically maintaining its biennial periodicity, in order to circumvent the “time paralysis” attempted by viruses (especially those that infect Brazilian political institutions). Also, we are happy to receive the IV Brazilian Congress of History of Psychology, with the Brazilian Society for the History of Psychology (SBHP) as a companion in the organization of our Meeting.

Thus, we invite all those interested in historiographic reflections on Psy knowledge and practices to attend XIV Clio. A certainly leaner encounter, but which wants to be once again a space for exchanges and connections between faces (familiar and new) behind the screens. In addition to conferences and symposia, we will have Communications Sessions, organized around the thematic axes of the Meeting.

Finally, there is a small clarification about the registration fees: much lower than usual, practically symbolic, but still necessary to guarantee our event the minimum infrastructure (in particular, certificates and annals for the works presented).

Jaipreet Virdi’s Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History

AHP readers may be interested in Jaipreet Virdi’s recently released book, Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History. Part memoir and part history of deafness, Hearing Happiness is described as follows:

At the age of four, Jaipreet Virdi’s world went silent. A severe case of meningitis left her alive but deaf, suddenly treated differently by everyone. Her deafness downplayed by society and doctors, she struggled to “pass” as hearing for most of her life. Countless cures, treatments, and technologies led to dead ends. Never quite deaf enough for the Deaf community or quite hearing enough for the “normal” majority, Virdi was stuck in aural limbo for years. It wasn’t until her thirties, exasperated by problems with new digital hearing aids, that she began to actively assert her deafness and reexamine society’s—and her own—perception of life as a deaf person in America.

Through lyrical history and personal memoir, Hearing Happiness raises pivotal questions about deafness in American society and the endless quest for a cure. Taking us from the 1860s up to the present, Virdi combs archives and museums in order to understand the long history of curious cures: ear trumpets, violet ray apparatuses, vibrating massagers, electrotherapy machines, airplane diving, bloodletting, skull hammering, and many more. Hundreds of procedures and products have promised grand miracles but always failed to deliver a universal cure—a harmful legacy that is still present in contemporary biomedicine.

Weaving Virdi’s own experiences together with her exploration into the fascinating history of deafness cures, Hearing Happiness is a powerful story that America needs to hear.

Eamon O’Sullivan: 20th-century Irish psychiatrist and occupational therapy patron

A forthcoming article in History of Psychiatry, now available online, may interest AHP readers: “Eamon O’Sullivan: 20th-century Irish psychiatrist and occupational therapy patron,” by Judith Pettigrew, Aisling Shalvey, Bríd Dunne, and Katie Robinson. Abstract:

The profession of occupational therapy was formalized in the USA in 1917. Many of its earliest proponents were psychiatrists, yet their role in the development of the profession has received limited attention. This paper addresses this gap by considering one of the earliest Irish psychiatrist patrons of occupational therapy: Dr Eamon O’Sullivan (1897–1966) of Killarney Mental Hospital, Co Kerry, who developed an occupational therapy department in 1934. A textbook written by O’Sullivan reflects core philosophies articulated by occupational therapy’s founders, and these philosophies were evident in practice at his hospital. Some inconsistencies between O’Sullivan’s writings and practice are identified. In the absence of patient testimonies, it is not possible to resolve questions about the potential exploitation of patients through work as therapy.