New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The April 2011 issue of History of the Human Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue are eight all new articles as well as three book reviews. Among the topics addressed in these articles are the history of qualitative research in the social sciences, character types and space in early statistical writings, a history of bedwetting and its regulation, a history of therapeutic work, Quakerism and the Tavistock Clinic’s development, alienation theory, the work of Hannah Arendt, and the con man origins of Erving Goffman’s (left) dramaturgical self. Full title, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Toward a social history of qualitative research,” by Gordana Jovanovic. The abstract reads,

There are plausible academic as well as social indicators that qualitative research has become an indispensable part of the methodological repertoire of the social sciences. Relying upon the tenets of the qualitative approach which require a priority of subject matter over method and a necessary socio-historical contextualization, I reconstruct some aspects of a social history that have shaped the quantitative—qualitative dichotomy and the quantitative imperative; these include modern individualism, monological rationality, manufacture operating on the grounds of common human labour, mechanics as the first science, quantification as a technology of distanced objectivity and a search for certainty realized at the expense of qualitative attributes. The so-called renaissance of the qualitative approach starting in 1960s, understood as a kind of a return of repressed qualities, is also socio-culturally contextualized. Both anthropogenetic and sociogenetic reconstructions as well as a microgenetic analysis of the research process demonstrate that choices of subject matter and of methodology are socially and culturally embedded and necessarily linked to broader interests and beliefs.

“Mapping character types onto space: the urban-rural distinction in early statistical writings,” by Zohreh Bayatrizi. The abstract reads,

This article investigates the construction of urban/rural binary distinctions in 18th – and 19th-century social scientific literature, and in particular in the writings of the statistical societies in England. The 18th-century writers were primarily concerned with the spread of luxury, vice and effeminacy among the upper social strata in large cities. Later on, statisticians began to focus on moral hazards among the urban working poor. These writings are significant in several respects: they contributed to the spatial mapping of moral character, played a role in the development of quantitative social scientific techniques, and foreshadowed later sociological debates over the nature and consequences of social evolution from simpler to more complex societies.

“Urine trouble: a social history of bedwetting and its regulation,” by Chris Hurl.

Bedwetting has confounded the presumed boundaries of the human body, existing in a fluid space, between the normal and pathological. Its treatment has demanded the application of a wide array of different technologies, each based on a distinct conception of the relationship between the body and personality, human organs and personal conduct. In tracing the social history of bedwetting and its regulation, this article examines the ontological assumptions underpinning the treatment of bedwetting and how they have changed over the past two centuries. Through the analysis of medical journals, newspaper articles and magazine advertisements, different topologies are identified which redefine the boundaries of the human body and its capacities. From 16th-century naturalism, in which the human body is subordinated to a cosmic totality, to the circumscribed space of 19th-century paediatrics and the expansive circuits of behavioural psychology and modern psychoanalysis, the body has become multiplied, differently enacted through the application of diverse technologies. It will be shown how coordinating the messy and divergent conceptions of the human body has posed an endemic problem for the human sciences, and how the enduring tension between object enactment and subject constitution is an expression of modern ‘baroque’ subjectivity.

“Crackpots and basket-cases: a history of therapeutic work and occupation,” by Jennifer Laws. The abstract reads,

Despite the long history of beliefs about the therapeutic properties of work for people with mental ill health, rarely has therapeutic work itself been a focus for historical analysis. In this article, the development of a therapeutic work ethic (1813—1979) is presented, drawing particular attention to the changing character and quality of beliefs about therapeutic work throughout time. From hospital factories to radical ‘antipsychiatric’ communities, the article reveals the myriad forms of activities that have variously been considered fit work for people with mental health problems. While popular stereotypes of basket-weaving paint a hapless portrait of institutional work, a more nuanced reading of therapeutic work and its political and philosophical commitments is advanced. The article concludes by arguing that the non-linear and inherently contested development of therapeutic work is less the effect of paradigmatic shifts within the therapeutic professions, but rather evidence of a broader human struggle with work.

“‘The dangers of this atmosphere’: A Quaker connection in the Tavistock Clinic’s development,” by Sebastian Kraemer. The abstract reads,

During the Second World War, through innovations in officer selection and group therapy, the army psychiatrists John Rickman and Wilfred Bion changed our understanding of leadership. They showed how soldiers under stress could develop real authority through their attentiveness to each other. From contrasting experiences 25 years earlier each had seen how people in groups are moved by elemental forces that undermine judgement and thought. This article arose from my experiences as a trainee at the Tavistock Clinic, where the method of reflective work discussion, giving individuals seated in a circle the choice to speak or to remain silent, seemed similar to a Quaker meeting. Many decades later I found that this association had a basis in fact. Among other influences on Bion — a childhood in India, distinguished service in the First World War, and a surgical apprenticeship with Wilfred Trotter — there is a little-acknowledged Quaker source, in John Rickman, for Bion’s radical work in the army that led to new methods of training and organizational consultancy in the postwar Tavistock.

“Forgetting and remembering alienation theory,” by Chris Yuill. The abstract reads,

Alienation theory has acted as the stimulus for a great deal of research and writing in the history of sociology. It has formed the basis of many sociological ‘classics’ focused on the workplace and the experiences of workers, and has also been mobilized to chart wider social malaise and individual troubles. Alienation theory usage has, however, declined significantly since its heyday of the 1960s and 1970s. Here, the reasons why alienation theory was ‘forgotten’ and what can be gained by ‘remembering’ alienation theory are explored. To realize this ambition this article proceeds by (1) briefly visiting differing definitions of alienation theory, before charting its high point, and the various debates and tensions of the time, during the 1960s and 1970s; (2) analysing the reasons why alienation theory fell from grace from the 1980s onwards; (3) elaborating how and why alienation theory is still relevant for sociology and the wider social sciences today.

“The Human Condition as social ontology: Hannah Arendt on society, action and knowledge,” by Philip Walsh. The abstract reads,

Hannah Arendt is widely regarded as a political theorist who sought to rescue politics from ‘society’, and political theory from the social sciences. This conventional view has had the effect of distracting attention from many of Arendt’s most important insights concerning the constitution of ‘society’ and the significance of the social sciences. In this article, I argue that Hannah Arendt’s distinctions between labor, work and action, as these are discussed in The Human Condition and elsewhere, are best understood as a set of claims about the fundamental structures of human societies. Understanding Arendt in this way introduces interesting parallels between Arendt’s work and both classical and contemporary sociology. From this I draw a number of conclusions concerning Arendt’s conception of ‘society’, and extend these insights into two contemporary debates within contemporary theoretical sociology: the need for a differentiated ontology of the social world, and the changing role that novel forms of knowledge play in contemporary society as major sources of social change and order.

“The con man as model organism: the methodological roots of Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical self,” by Michael Pettit. The abstract reads,

This article offers a historical analysis of the relationship between the practice of participant-observation among American sociologists and Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical model of the self. He was a social scientist who privileged ethnography in the field over the laboratory experiment, the survey questionnaire, or the mental test. His goal was a natural history of communication among humans. Rather than rely upon standardizing technologies for measurement, Goffman tried to obtain accurate recordings of human behavior through secretive observations. During the 1950s, he conducted three major studies as a participant-observer, disguised from those studied through insincere performances. As originally presented, his dramaturgical theory did not draw upon the theater as the governing metaphor, but rather the confidence game. It is suggested that Goffman’s writings exemplify what Gerd Gigerenzer calls the tools-to-theories heuristic. Goffman’s depiction of the confidence man’s behavior closely mirrored how he and his fellow sociologists described the practice of participant-observation. Both were represented as embedded and attentive yet coolly detached observers skilled at playing different roles as the situation necessitated. The similarities between his own professional behavior and the activities of the confidence man may have suggested to Goffman the latter as a model for human nature.

Book Reviews

Alexandra Rutherford, Beyond the Box: B. F. Skinner’s Technology of Behavior from Laboratory to Life, 1950—1970s. Reviewed by Claire Clark.

Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood, trans. R. Gomme. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009. Reviewed by Libby Saxton.

Aziz Al-Azmeh, The Times of History: Universal Topics in Islamic Historiography. Reviewed by B. Harun Küçük.

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.