This is the first of a special series of posts on the digital history of psychology from members of the PsyBorgs Lab at York University, in Toronto, Canada. The full series of posts can be found here.
In our current moment, the network has become one of the most prominent metaphors for the social. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is one tool used to evaluate the perceptual and behavioral consequences of interpersonal associations. The language of networks has been important to the history of science, in no small part due to the influence of Bruno Latour and Actor-Network Theory (ANT). In this post, I will outline one digital history method that brings together the insights from both fields.
Social Network Analysis offers powerful techniques for measuring and visualizing relations. Actor-Network Theory is important when considering what counts as an actor as it encourages us to take seriously the agency of the nonhuman. I am particularly interested in what SNA measures might mean in a history of science context where the relations that exist between humans and things are often as constitutive of the resulting knowledge as interpersonal interactions. Bringing together these two approaches allows for what one might call (somewhat tongue-in) Multispecies Network Analysis. This is a form of network analysis that speaks to history of science concerns about the materiality of scientific practice, the role of instruments, and the agency of experimental subjects.
This approach was inspired by an ongoing project on the moral authority of animal models in the history of sexuality. How did the experiments of animal behaviorists shape how sexologists, psychotherapists, and policy-makers understood sexuality during the twentieth century? How did the very observation of animal behaviour change over the long sexual revolution?
Inspired by a post by Miriam Posner (a very helpful guide for getting started with network analysis), I began to assemble the scientists and organisms that interested me into a network. I coded for scientist, organism, and the year the scientist first published a study on that organism. The focus was on the United States from 1910 to 1960. This graph is undirected as it are intended to be read in a reciprocal fashion. It is an image of both different scientists favoring certain organisms in their research and of different species captivating the interest of certain humans. By design, the visualization is ambivalent on the question of who is acting on whom in these encounters.
The most visually striking finding of this analysis is also probably the least surprising. Rats have the most connectivity. Nevertheless, this is a fun graph for historians of psychology as it features many recognizable names of individuals not necessarily associated with either comparative psychology and/or sex research. For example, one can find ecological psychologist Roger Barker, psychometrician Quinn McNemar, psychoanalyst Edward Kempf, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan, and historian Julian Jaynes. Often their presence represents their experiences as graduate students. While Maslow’s apprenticeship in Harry Harlow’s laboratory is fairly well known, some of the other relations are not and may cast new light on interpreting their subsequent careers.
The conclusion to The History of Psychology as Multispecies Network will be posted on October 15th. Come back then to find out what came after this initial visualization.