Articles on Accident-Proneness, Ludwig Binswanger

Science in Context The first 2008 issue of the journal Science in Context contains two articles on topics in the history of psychology. The first, by Ohio State U. historian John Burnham is “Accident Proneness (Unfallneigung): A Classic Case of Simultaneous Discovery/Construction in Psychology.” Burnham, a former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, traces the independent development of the same idea in both Germany and Britain during World War I. The second article, by Naamah Akavia of UCLA, is “Writing ‘The Case of Ellen West’: Clinical Knowledge and Historical Representation.” West was one of the paradigm cases of Ludwig Binswanger’s Daseinsanalyse, an attempt to develop Martin Heidegger’s existential phenomenology into a therapeutic practice.

Abstracts of both articles are below:

“Accident Proneness (Unfallneigung): A Classic Case of Simultaneous Discovery/Construction in Psychology” by John C. Burnham.

Using a striking example from the history of applied psychology, the concept of accident proneness, this paper suggests that historians of science may still find viable the idea of simultaneous discovery or construction of a scientific idea. Accident proneness (Unfallneigung) was discovered independently in Germany and in Britain during the period of World War I. Later on, in 1926, the idea was independently formulated and named in both countries. The evidence shows not only striking simultaneity but true novelty and commensurateness of the two formulations that crystallized at the same time in parallel, but distinctly separate, settings.

“Writing ‘The Case of Ellen West: Clinical Knowledge and Historical Representation” by Naamah Akavia.

“The Case of Ellen West” was published by the Swiss psychiatrist, Ludwig Binswanger, in 1944–1945. The case-history depicts the illness and suicide of a young woman who was his patient twenty years earlier. It came to be considered one of the paradigmatic studies of the newly established discipline of Daseinsanalyse, an attempt to synthesize existential philosophy and therapeutic practice. This paper analyzes the case-study, employing newly uncovered archival material to expose important details regarding the treatment of Ellen West (a pseudonym) and the posthumous writing of her case-history. The richness of the archival sources and the various historiographical characteristics they exhibit raise methodological questions about the potentialities and limitations of historical representation. The new data will thus serve as a platform from which to explore and discuss more generally the problems involved in historical reconstruction – of both subjective experience and clinical knowledge – and the questions of authorship and intertextuality in the genre of the case-history.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.