New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The December 2010 issue of History of the Human Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue are nine all new articles. Among the topics addressed in these articles are, James and Durkheim on truth, Freud and Krafft-Ebing on sexuality, and the historiography of sexuality. Additionally, Janet Martin-Nielsen (left) writes of the emergence of linguistics in the United States during the Cold War. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Durkheim, Jamesian pragmatism and the normativity of truth,” by Warren Schmaus. The abstract reads,

In his lectures on pragmatism presented in the academic year 1913—14 at the Sorbonne, Durkheim argued that James’s pragmatist theory of truth, due to its emphasis on individual satisfaction, was unable to account for the obligatory, necessary and impersonal character of truth. But for Durkheim to make this charge is only to raise the question whether he himself could account for the morally obligatory or normative character of truth. Although rejecting individualism may be necessary for explaining the existence of norms, it is not sufficient. I argue that Durkheim never succeeded in providing a full account of normativity. Of course, this is a problem that remains unresolved today. Nevertheless, Durkheim took an important step beyond James in recognizing the insufficiency of his individualist account of truth.

“Sexual science and self-narrative: epistemology and narrative technologies of the self between Krafft-Ebing and Freud,” by Paolo Savoia. The abstract reads,

The aim of this article is to understand an important passage in the history of the sciences of the psyche: starting from the psychiatric problematization — and the consequent emergence — of the concept and the object called ‘sexuality’ in the second half of the 19th century, it attempts to show a series of continuities and discontinuities between this kind of reasoning and the birth of psychoanalysis in the first years of the 20th century. The particular focus is therefore directed on two texts: Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis and Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. The argument runs along three intertwined axes: (1) an historico-epistemological analysis of the concepts and their transformations in the field of the science of sexuality; (2) an analysis of the power relationships between patients and physicians; and (3) an account of the psychiatric technologies of the self that have as an effect the emergence of new forms of ‘objective’ knowledge of the subject. The broader goal is to trace a map of the simultaneous and correlate coming into being and transformations both of new forms of objects and of new forms of subjects through the mediation of scientific concepts and techniques.

“Liberating sex, knowing desire: scientia sexualis and epistemic turning points in the history of sexuality,” by Howard H. Chiang. The abstract reads,

This study considers the role of epistemic turning points in the historiography of sexuality. Disentangling the historical complexity of scientia sexualis, I argue that the late 19th century and the mid-20th century constitute two critical epistemic junctures in the genealogy of sexual liberation, as the notion of free love slowly gave way to the idea of sexual freedom in modern western society. I also explore the value of the Foucauldian approach for the study of the history of sexuality in non-western contexts. Drawing on examples from Republican China (1912—49), I propose that the Foucauldian insight concerning the emergence of a ‘homosexual identity’ in the West can serve as a useful guide for thinking about similar issues in the history of sexuality and the historical epistemology of sexology in modern East Asia.

“The case of the disappearing dilemma: Herbert Blumer on sociological method,” by Martyn Hammersley. The abstract reads,

Herbert Blumer was a key figure in what came to be identified as the Chicago School of Sociology. He invented the term ‘symbolic interactionism’ as a label for a theoretical approach that derived primarily from the work of John Dewey, George Herbert Mead and Charles Cooley. But his most influential work was methodological in character, and he is generally viewed today as a prominent critic of positivism, and of the growing dominance of quantitative method within US sociology. While this picture is broadly accurate, it neglects an important strand in his methodological thinking. He was committed to the goal of a science of social life, while at the same time he was uncertain whether such a science is possible. In his Appraisal of Thomas and Znaniecki’s The Polish Peasant, he identified a serious dilemma facing this project: the problem of how a scientific approach can be made compatible with the distinctive nature of human social life. In the first chapter of his most influential book, Symbolic Interactionism, he advocates a naturalistic approach to case study, and seems to treat this as avoiding the dilemma. However, there is evidence to suggest that, even towards the end of his life, he regarded the problem as still unresolved. In this article, I examine both sides of Blumer’s dilemma, and whether his attitude towards it changed. However, my interest here is not only historiographical. I evaluate Blumer’s arguments and show that his intellectual struggle with this issue remains relevant today, despite the shifts that have taken place in social science methodology and the philosophy of science since his death.

“On the relationships between social theory and natural law: lessons from Karl Löwith and Leo Strauss,” by Daniel Chernilo. The abstract reads,

This article offers a combined reading of Karl Löwith’s and Leo Strauss’s critique of social theory from the point of view of the natural law tradition broadly understood. Within the context of a growing interest in revisiting social theory’s debt to natural law, the piece seeks to unfold the connections between the two traditions without searching to restore any kind of natural law. Rather, it looks at their relationships as one of Aufhebung — the suspension and carrying forward — of natural law premises within modern social theory. The works of these two writers point against conventional wisdom within social theory: Löwith’s secularization thesis calls into question the view of the irreligious nature of modernity’s historical break as well as its faith in immanent progress; Strauss’s reconstruction of natural law (right) gives due credit to the non-religious origins of modernity but at the price of withdrawing even more autonomy from any modern claim to self-assertion. Although some compatibility is recognizable in their critiques, I shall also be arguing that their substantive results point to opposite directions. A critical distance must also be maintained from their interpretations in the spirit of reinvigorating the project of modern social theory.

“Foucault’s and Arendt’s ‘insider view’ of biopolitics: a critique of Agamben,” by Claire Blencowe. The abstract reads,

This article revisits Arendt’s and Foucault’s converging accounts of modern (bio)politics and the entry of biological life into politics. Agamben’s influential account of these ideas is rejected as a misrepresentation both because it de-historicizes biological/organic life and because it occludes the positivity of that life and thus the discursive appeal and performative force of biopolitics. Through attention to the genealogy of Arendt’s and Foucault’s own ideas we will see that the major point of convergence in their thinking is their insistence upon understanding biological thinking from the inside, in terms of its positivity. Agamben’s assessment of modern politics is closer to Arendt’s than it is to Foucault’s and this marks a fascinating point of disagreement between Arendt and Foucault. Whereas Arendt sees the normalizing force of modern society as being in total opposition to individuality, Foucault posits totalization and individuation as processes of normation, which casts a light upon the relative import they place upon politics and ethics.

“‘This war for men’s minds’: the birth of a human science in Cold War America,” by Janet Martin-Nielsen. The abstract reads,

The past decade has seen an explosion of work on the history of the human sciences during the Cold War. This work, however, does not engage with one of the leading human sciences of the period: linguistics. This article begins to rectify this knowledge gap by investigating the influence of linguistics and its concept of study, language, on American public, political and intellectual life during the postwar and early Cold War years. I show that language emerged in three frameworks in this period: language as tool, language as weapon, and language as knowledge. As America stepped onto the international stage, language and linguistics were at the forefront: the military poured millions of dollars into machine translation, American diplomats were required to master scores of foreign languages, and schoolchildren were exposed to language-learning on a scale never before seen in the United States. Together, I argue, language and linguistics formed a critical part of the rise of American leadership in the new world order — one that provided communities as dispersed as the military, the diplomatic corps, scientists and language teachers with a powerful way of tackling the problems they faced. To date, linguistics has not been integrated into the broader framework of Cold War human sciences. In this article, I aim to bring both language, as concept, and linguistics, as discipline, into this framework. In doing so, I pave the way for future work on the history of linguistics as a human science.

“From Milgram to Zimbardo: the double birth of postwar psychology/psychologization,” by Jan De Vos. The abstract reads,

Milgram’s series of obedience experiments and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment are probably the two best-known psychological studies. As such, they can be understood as central to the broad process of psychologization in the postwar era. This article will consider the extent to which this process of psychologization can be understood as a simple overflow from the discipline of psychology to wider society or whether, in fact, this process is actually inextricably connected to the science of psychology as such. In so doing, the article will argue that Milgram’s and Zimbardo’s studies are best usefully understood as twin experiments. Milgram’s paradigm of a psychology which explicitly draws its subject into the frame of its own discourse can be said to be the precondition of Zimbardo’s claim that his experiment offers a window onto the crucible of human behaviour. This will be analysed by drawing on the Lacanian concepts of acting out and passage à l’acte. The question then posed is: if both Milgram and Zimbardo claim that their work has emancipatory dimensions — a claim maintained within mainstream psychology — does a close reading of the studies not then reveal that psychology is, rather, the royal road to occurrences such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? The drama of a psychology which is fundamentally based on a process of psychologization is that it turns its subjects into homo sacer of psychological discourse.

“Schizophrenia, reification and deadened life,” by Alastair Morgan. The abstract reads,

Recent debates concerning the abolition of the schizophrenia label in psychiatry have focused upon problems with the scientific status of the concept. In this article, I argue that rather than attacking schizophrenia for its lack of scientific validity, we should focus on the conceptual history of this label. I reconstruct a specific tradition when exploring the conceptual history of schizophrenia. This is the concern with the question of the sense of life itself, conducted through the confrontation with schizophrenia as a form of life that does not live, or as Robert Jay Lifton termed it ‘lifeless life’ (1979: 222—39). I conclude by arguing that the contemporary attempt to deconstruct or abolish the schizophrenia concept involves a fundamental shift in concern. The attempt both to normalize psychotic experiences, and to conceive them purely in terms of cognitive processes that can be mapped onto brain function, results in a fundamental move away from the attempt to understand the experience of madness.

“Review Symposium: The Fremdling of Teleology, or: On Roger Smith’s Being Human: Roger Smith, Being Human: Historical Knowledge and the Creation of Human Nature,” by Angus Nicholls.

“Humanity without Vico: Roger Smith, Being Human: Historical Knowledge and the Creation of Human Nature,” by Steve Fuller.

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.