Measurement, Psychical Research & More in JHBS

The Spring 2010 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences has just been released online. The issue features articles on the role of psychologist William McDougall (left) in the professionalization of psychical research, an investigation of the early twentieth century connections (or the lack thereof) between intitutionalist economics and psychology, as well as the relationship between rational decision making and measurement in the post war years. A further article explores the early critiques of sociologist Talcott Parson’s social theory. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“A nice arrangement of heterodoxies: William McDougall and the professionalization of psychical research,” by Egil Asprem. No abstract provided. Asprem provides the following overview of the article’s aims:

Seeing that there was a growing dissatisfaction with the staunch behaviorism that had swept the American psychology community since Watson’s breakthrough in the 1910s, McDougall would appear as its most vociferous opponent in America. This opposition he would link closely with psychical research. By seeking such entanglements McDougall attempted to heighten the prestige of psychical research and urge its professionalization as a part of the university system. In what follows, I will show how McDougall put these two strategies to practice. First, I will focus on his boundary-work, which was directed not only at the spiritualistic takeover in the ASPR, but also toward the established university disciplines. In trying to permeate the epistemic boundaries built around the university system, McDougall opened up fundamental questions concerning epistemology, and particularly the concept of agnosticism as a scientific guiding principle. After focusing on his polemical differentiations, we move on to consider his efforts to knit the dissimilar together in networks, making connections among psychical research, psychology, ethics, demography, biology, philosophy, politics, and religion. In the end I shall argue that these strategies together ensured the professionalization of parapsychology, between ca. 1927 and 1930. (p. 131)

“The trials of theory: Psychology and institutionalist economics, 1910-1931,” by Michael Bycroft. The abstract reads,

The rise of the institutionalist school of economics, in the 1910s and 1920s, has recently been given the historical attention it deserves. However, historical studies of the school have left two questions unanswered. First, to what extent was the institutionalist’s interest in academic psychology (frequently declared in their meta-economic writings) realized in their economic writings? Second, what evidence of a fruitful collaboration with institutional economics can be found in the work of psychologists? In this paper I consider the meta-economic statements of three key institutionalists, Wesley C. Mitchell, John M. Clark, and Walton H. Hamilton, and two key economic works by Mitchell and Clark. I contend that these works show little systematic engagement of academic psychology. A study of psychological literature of the period yields the same conclusion; in particular, industrial psychology did not come into fruitful contact with institutional economics, despite the parallel interests of the two fields and their parallel rise after World War I.

“Producing Parsons’ reputation: Early critiques of Talcott Parsons’ social theory and the making of a caricature,” by B. Robert Owens. The abstract reads,

This article examines the critical responses to Talcott Parsons’ first major work, The Structure of Social Action (1937), and his two subsequent books, Toward a General Theory of Action and The Social System (both 1951). Because Parsons’ work was the subject of such virulent debate, we cannot fully understand Parsons’ impact on the discipline of sociology without understanding the source and nature of those early criticisms. I trace the responses to Parsons, first through book reviews and private letters and then in the more substantial statements of C. Wright Mills, George Homans, and Alvin Gouldner, from the largely positive but superficial reception of Structure to the polemics that followed Parsons’ 1951 works. In the late 1930s and 1940s, Parsons’ reputation grew steadily but there remained no careful reception of Structure, fostering resentment toward Parsons in some quarters while precluding a sophisticated understanding of his work. After 1951, a few critics capitalized on that tension, writing sweeping rejections of Parsons’ work that spoke to a much broader audience of sociologists. That dynamic, coupled with Parsons’ own indifference toward his harshest critics, produced a situation in which many sociologists simply chose not to read Parsons in the 1950s and 1960s, reinforcing a caricature and distorting perceptions of Parsons’ place in mid-twentieth-century American sociology.

“Measurement and decision making at the University of Michigan in the 1950s and 1960s,” by Floris Heukelom. No abstract provided. Heukelom describes the article’s aims as follows:

A first objective of the present study is to discuss the development of mathematical psychology and behavioral decision research at the University of Michigan in the 1950s and 1960s. As such, it is the first historical study of these two influential programs in postwar American psychology. I argue that as a consequence of interpreting a measurement as a rational decision between two values, or two utilities, mathematical psychologists and behavioral decision researchers felt themselves to be closely akin to economics, although in fact they were not. A second aim is to highlight the importance of experimental work on human perception to the view of measurement as rational decision making.

Also included in this issue of JHBS are reviews of a number of books:

Benjamin Reiss. Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Reviewed by Robert H. Abzug.

George Makari. Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis. Reviewed by James William Anderson.

Kurt Danziger. Marking the Mind: A History of Memory. Reviewed by Adrian C. Brock.

Edwin R. Wallace IV and John Gach (Eds.). History of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology: With an Epilogue on Psychiatry and the Mind-Body Relation. Reviewed by Greg Eghigian.

Pierre Saint-Arnaud. African American Pioneers of Sociology. Reviewed by Daniel Geary.

Edward Shorter and David Healy. Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness. Reviewed by Laura D. Hirshbein.

John C. Burnham. Accident Prone: A History of Technology, Psychology, and Misfits of the Machine Age. Reviewed by Susan Lanzoni.

Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew (Eds.). Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered. Reviewed by Jacy L. Young.

Thomas C. Patterson. Karl Marx, Anthropologist. Reviewed by Csilla Dallos. Followed by a “Response to Csilla Dallos’s Review of Karl Marx, Anthropologist” by Thomas C. Patterson.

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.

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