New Issue History of the Human Sciences: Wilfred Trotter’s Herd Instinct, Hyperactivity, & More

The February 2014 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles exploring British neurosurgeon and psychologist Wilfred Trotter’s  work on herd instinct, as well the construction of responsibility in inattention and hyperactivity disorders. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Max Weber’s charismatic prophets,” by Christopher Adair-Toteff. The abstract reads,

Most accounts of Weber’s notion of charisma follow his own explicit comments and seek its origins in the writings of Rudolf Sohm. While I acknowledge the validity of this, I follow Weber’s suggestions and locate the charismatic forces in the political and ethical conduct and beliefs of certain Old Testament prophets, specifically Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah. Their emphasis on political justice and ethical fairness, coupled with their unwavering belief in the power of prophecy, infuse Weber’s conception of charisma and in crucial ways contribute to the formation of his notion of the modern political leader.

“Collectivity, human fulfilment and the ‘force of life’: Wilfred Trotter’s concept of the herd instinct in early 20th-century Britain,” by Gillian Swanson. The abstract reads,

The article traces the origination of the psychological concept of the ‘herd instinct’, popularized by British surgeon Wilfred Trotter, locating this in a distinctive moment of dialogue between the natural and human sciences. It challenges the incorrect association of Trotter’s model with the crowd theory of Gustave Le Bon and negative commentaries on mass culture. In contrast, it shows that Trotter’s model rests on imitation and suggestion not as the sign of a derogated culture but as the ground of associated life, with altruism as its highest expression. His argument that individuals possessed an inherent capacity for association and a disposition to act in the interests of the social group was designed to challenge the hierarchical models of Social Darwinism. Instead, he highlighted the evolutionary importance of variability and innovation and proposed a horizontal model of cooperation as the basis of adaptation. Trotter’s narrative of human potential pre-dated and informed Freud’s own collective psychology, as well as providing an influential challenge to his theory of repression. The widespread take-up of Trotter’s model of the herd instinct in the context of futures thinking, forming the basis of an egalitarian approach to governance that proposed human fulfilment and social progress as complementary aims, supports the article’s argument that psychological approaches to collectivity were well established prior to the First World War rather than formed in response to it, and that these were embedded within social thinking across the political spectrum, rather than derived for instrumentally conservative purposes.

“Heidegger’s influence on posthumanism: The destruction of metaphysics, technology and the overcoming of anthropocentrism,” by Gavin Rae. The abstract reads,

While Jacques Derrida’s influence on posthumanist theory is well established in the literature, given Martin Heidegger’s influence on Derrida, it is surprising to find that Heidegger’s relationship to posthumanist theory has been largely ignored. This article starts to fill this lacuna by showing that Heidegger’s writings not only influences but also has much to teach posthumanism, especially regarding the relationship between humanism and posthumanism. By first engaging with Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics and related critique of anthropocentrism, I show that, while rejecting Heidegger’s conclusions for being too humanist, posthumanism shares, and indeed is largely unreflectively defined by, Heidegger’s critique of the binary logic underpinning anthropocentric humanism. With this, posthumanism aims to go beyond Heidegger by overcoming all forms of humanist understanding, an attempt that brings us back to the relationship between humanism and posthumanism and Heidegger’s notion of trace. With this, I not only show that Heidegger influences posthumanism through his destruction of metaphysics, critique of anthropocentrism and notion of trace, but also point towards an understanding of posthumanism that distinguishes it from humanism and transhumanism.

“Why sociologists abandoned the sick role concept,” by John C. Burnham. The abstract reads,

The concept of the sick role entered sociology in 1951 when Talcott Parsons creatively separated the sick person out of the doctor–patient dyad. The idea became fundamental in the subdiscipline of medical sociology. By the 1990s, the concept had almost disappeared from the research literature. Beyond the generational and theoretical changes that explain how the sick role idea could become irrelevant or unnecessary to sociologists, there were two immediate factors: the negative politicization of the concept and the shift of medical sociologists to a focus on applied health behavior. In the later, fragmented discipline of sociology, final, total abandonment was still uncertain.

“Disorders of inattention and hyperactivity: The production of responsible subjects,” by Gregory Bowden. The abstract reads,

This article explores some of the normative commitments which persist in the literature on behavioural interventions for disorders of inattention and hyperactivity. These programmatic texts grapple with a contradiction: on one hand, they posit individuals who cannot be held responsible for their behaviour on the grounds that it is pathological, rather than wilful; on the other hand, these texts are written for individuals diagnosed with these disorders and for related authorities, obliged to mitigate said behaviour on the grounds that it is disvalued and impairing. Facing the practical problem of alleviating impairing and disruptive behaviours, this literature has also consistently expressed a goal of producing individuals who demonstrate self-control. Self-control, in this context, however, is not simply the manifestation of wilful autonomy over one’s body, but the capacity to be ascribed responsibility for one’s actions. In the move from bodily control to self-control, institutions responsible for treating those diagnosed with these disorders produce what Foucault has called a ‘political economy of illegality’, where the management of disvalued behaviour is not the eradication of said behaviour, but a redistribution of the right to reward and punish based on the individualization of action.

“Critique is a thing of this world: Towards a genealogy of critique,” by Tom Boland. The abstract reads,

Although Foucault was clearly a critical thinker, his approach also provides for the possibility of a genealogy of critique. Such an approach problematizes critique, and I trace the emergent problematization of critique in Foucault’s later works, and briefly in Latour and Boltanski. From this I move on to the ‘critical problematic’, that is, how critique operates as a form of power/knowledge, as a discourse that creates subjects through a critical regime of truth and critical truth-games. Specifically, I argue that critique is a discourse which transforms and unmasks other ‘truth-claims’, replacing them with a starker vision of reality, which in the end is also a specific cultural vision. To elaborate this view, I return to Foucault’s discussion of Kant, his late lectures on Cynicism and also on ordo-liberalism. The wider circulation of critical discourses is demonstrated through an analysis of ‘cool’ or critical consumerism. In conclusion, the relationship between critique, crisis and modernity is considered.

“Explanation, understanding and determinism in Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology,” by Gabriel Peters. The abstract reads,

This article locates Bourdieu’s sociology within the lasting controversy concerning the nature of causal explanation and interpretative understanding in the social sciences, with a special focus on the classical problem surrounding the alleged (in)compatibility between these procedures. First, it is argued that Bourdieu’s praxeological and relational perspective on the social universe leads him not only to join the ‘compatibility field’ of the debate, but to sustain, more radically, the identity between explanation and understanding. Second, the article defends the view that this methodological proposal is tied to a distinction often ignored among the commentators of Bourdieu’s oeuvre, namely that between objectivism, a mode of knowledge of the social which he intends to integrate and overcome in his structural praxeology, and determinism, adopted by the author as a fundamental scientific principle and, at the same time, a potentially emancipatory ethico-political tool bequeathed by his reflexive sociology. While basically sympathetic to Bourdieu’s perspective, the article concludes in a more critical vein, by defending the need to bridge the gap between the ‘pessimism of the intellect’ that marks his portrayal of the reflexive capabilities of the lay agent, on the one hand, and the ‘optimism of the will’ infused in the critical program of reflexive sociology, on the other.

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.