New JHBS: Ribot, German psych, & More!

The Winter 2013 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on French psychologist Théodule Ribot’s (right) founding of the Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger and the founding of the German Gesellschaft für psychologische Forschung” (“Society for Psychological Research”), which was intended to be an outlet for non-Wundtian psychologies from France and Britain. Other articles in this issue look at the history of ethnographic research and Bayesian rationality in economics. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“‘A Big Piece of News’: Théodule Ribot and the Founding of the Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Etranger,” by Serge Nicolas. The abstract reads,

This paper describes the founding of the Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger by Théodule Ribot (1839–1916) in 1876. Like the English journal Mind, which was launched the same year, this journal introduced the new scientific psychology to France. Its founding increased Ribot’s scientific credibility in psychology and led him to be regarded as the most distinguished French specialist in the field. First, we review the state of French philosophy at the time of the journal’s founding, focusing on the three main French schools of thought in philosophy and on their relations with psychology. Second, after analyzing the preface written by Ribot in the first issue of the Revue Philosophique, we examine how the journal was received in French philosophical circles. Finally, we discuss its subsequent history, highlighting its founder’s promotion of new ideas in psychology.

“Normalizing the Supernormal: The Formation of the “Gesellschaft Für Psychologische Forschung” (“Society for Psychological Research”), c. 1886–1890,” by Andreas Sommer. The abstract reads,

This paper traces the formation of the German “Gesellschaft für psychologische Forschung” (“Society for Psychological Research”), whose constitutive branches in Munich and Berlin were originally founded as inlets for alternatives to Wundtian experimental psychology from France and England, that is, experimental researches into hypnotism and alleged supernormal phenomena. By utilizing the career trajectories of Max Dessoir and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing as founding members of the “Gesellschaft,” this paper aims to open up novel perspectives regarding extra-scientific factors involved in historically determining the epistemological and methodological boundaries of nascent psychology in Germany.

“Producing Ethnographies: Workplace Ethnographies in History,” by Jennifer Platt, Charles Crothers and Mervyn Horgan. The abstract reads,

Data on a large set of workplace ethnographies published from 1940 to 2002, compiled by Randy Hodson, are analyzed to show the trends over time in the production of such ethnographic work, its shifting disciplinary base, the relevance of the personal backgrounds of its authors, the contributions made by academic amateurs, the changing roles of gender and political stances, and the nature of different routes to publication. The definition of what counts as an ethnography is important to the character of the set available and has implications for its potential uses in secondary analysis. It is found that both personal and disciplinary identities and wider social factors have played roles in the production of ethnographic work that need to be understood to account for its history, though it is to be expected that the forms these take will differ for work in different subfields.

“From Wald to Savage: Homo Economicus Becomes a Bayesian Statistician,” by Nicola Giocoli. The abstract reads,

Bayesian rationality is the paradigm of rational behavior in neoclassical economics. An economic agent is deemed rational when she maximizes her subjective expected utility and consistently revises her beliefs according to Bayes’s rule. The paper raises the question of how, when and why this characterization of rationality came to be endorsed by mainstream economists. Though no definitive answer is provided, it is argued that the question is of great historiographic importance. The story begins with Abraham Wald’s behaviorist approach to statistics and culminates with Leonard J. Savage’s elaboration of subjective expected utility theory in his 1954 classic The Foundations of Statistics. The latter’s acknowledged fiasco to achieve a reinterpretation of traditional inference techniques along subjectivist and behaviorist lines raises the puzzle of how a failed project in statistics could turn into such a big success in economics. Possible answers call into play the emphasis on consistency requirements in neoclassical theory and the impact of the postwar transformation of U.S. business schools.

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.