Emotional Economy of Science in Isis

The most recent issue of Isis, the flagship journal of the History of Science Society, includes a special section devoted to the emotional economy of science, which touches on the more general history of emotion. In doing so, this set of articles provides the historian of psychology with an impetus for the examination of the history of emotion at multiple levels.

Paul White, in his introduction to this section, states that, “One of the aims of this Focus section is to present ways in which the emotions might be studied as objects and as agents integral to scientific practice: the practices of observation, experiment, and theory and, reciprocally, the practices of the self”. The abstract to this introduction reads:

With rare exceptions, the emotions have received little attention from historians of science. Indeed, for the modern period, interest in the field has moved in the opposite direction, as it were, toward a history of objectivity. This essay addresses methodological and historical assumptions about the nature of emotions and their place in science that limit our engagement with emotions as historical objects and agents. It outlines several approaches that situate the emotions within scientific practice, including the practices of objectivity and of the scientific self.

The items that make up this special section are listed below along with their abstracts.

“Bodies, Hearts, and Minds: Why Emotions Matter to Historians of Science and Medicine” by Fay Bound Alberti. The abstract reads:

The histories of emotion address many fundamental themes of science and medicine. These include the ways the body and its workings have been historically observed and measured, the rise of the mind sciences, and the anthropological analyses by which “ways of knowing” are culturally situated. Yet such histories bring their own challenges, not least in how historians of science and medicine view the relationship between bodies, minds, and emotions. This essay explores some of the methodological challenges of emotion history, using the sudden death of the surgeon John Hunter from cardiac disease as a case study. It argues that we need to let go of many of our modern assumptions about the origin of emotions, and “brainhood,” that dominate discussions of identity, in order to explore the historical meanings of emotions as products of the body as well as the mind.

“Darwin’s Emotions: The Scientific Self and the Sentiment of Objectivity” by Paul White. The abstract reads:

Darwin’s emotional life has been a preoccupation of biographers and popularizers, while his research on emotional expression has been of keen interest to anthropologists and psychologists. Much can be gained, however, by looking at Darwin’s emotions from both sides, by examining the relationship between his emotional experience and his scientific study of emotion. Darwin developed various techniques for distancing himself from his objects of study and for extracting emotional “objects” from feeling subjects. In order to investigate emotions scientifically, his own emotional life, his feelings for others, had to give way—or did it? This question has implications well beyond the life of Darwin, moral implications about the effects of scientific discipline on those who practice it and on the animals and people subjected to it. This dual approach to Darwin’s emotions also allows us to address a conundrum of recent histories of “objectivity”—namely, the status of the scientific self as a feeling subject.

“Enduring Emotions: James L. Halliday and the Invention of the Psychosocial” by Rhodri Hayward. The abstract reads:

Emotions maintain an ambivalent position in the economy of science. In contemporary debates they are variously seen as hardwired biological responses, cultural artifacts, or uneasy mixtures of the two. At the same time, there is a tension between the approaches to emotion developed in modern psychotherapies and in the history of science. While historians see the successful ascription of affective states to individuals and populations as a social and technical achievement, the psychodynamic practitioner treats these enduring associations as pathological accidents that need to be overcome. This short essay uses the career of the Glaswegian public health investigator James L. Halliday to examine how debates over the ontological status of the emotions and their durability allow them to travel between individual identity and political economy, making possible new kinds of psychological intervention.

“‘Would I Had Him with Me Always’: Affects of Longing in Early Artificial Intelligence” by Elizabeth A. Wilson. The abstract reads:

The science of artificial intelligence (AI) is not as unemotional as it might first appear. Not only are researchers in the field now taking an interest in how to program affective capacities into artificial agents; there is also plenty of historical evidence that concerns about affect have been present in AI from the earliest years. Examination of archival materials from the 1940s and 1950s shows that affects (particularly as they circulate between men) have been a significant part of innovation in AI from the beginning. This essay looks at one fragment of that history: the currents of affective and sexual interests in and around Walter Pitts, one of the important, eccentric, and little-written-about founders of AI.

“Afterword: A Reflection on Feelings and the History of Science” by Otniel E. Dror. The abstract reads:

This reflection attends to Paul White’s call in his introduction to this Focus section for a history of science that is informed by the history of emotions. It offers a succinct historical exemplification of the possibilities of studying the history of science in terms of the history of emotions. It draws on Raymond Williams’s concept of “structure of feeling” in arguing for the emergence of an adrenaline structure of feeling during the early twentieth century. It provides a mosaic of different views of the immanence of the adrenaline structure of feeling in diverse scientific realms by broaching some of the major themes thaappear in the individual essays in this Focus section.

The special section of Isis is currently available free online through the University of Chicago Press’s website.

Among the books reviewed in this issue that may be of interest to historians of psycholgoy are:

Kurt Danziger’s Marking the Mind: A History of Memory. Reviewed by Mary Carruthers.

Kenton Kroker’s The Sleep of Others and the Transformations of Sleep Research. Reviewed by Andrea Mayer.

Warwick Anderson’s The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen. Reviewed by Roger Cooter and previously discussed on AHP here.

Paul A. Lombardo’s Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell. Reviewed by Brent Ruswick and previously discussed by AHP here.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.