New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The April issue of History of the Human Sciences is now available online. Among a number of articles that will likely appeal to AHP readers, two  in particular caught my eye for their historical treatments of contemporarily “hot” topics:

  1. David Pilgrim of the University of Liverpool has jumped into the volatile DSM-5 debate. In “Historical resonances of the DSM-5 dispute: American exceptionalism or Eurocentrism?” he expands the boundaries of the oft-American focused discussion with an international scope on the history of psychiatric diagnoses.
  2. In “Deprived of touch: How maternal and sensory deprivation theory converged in shaping early debates over autism,” Mical Raz of the Yale School of Medicine delves into the intertwined histories of autism and sensory deprivation experiments. As she summarizes: “This interplay between the two theories also informed new forms of intervention, including ‘rage reduction therapy’, which served as a precursor for controversial forms of therapy today termed as the ‘attachment therapies’.”

Titles, authors, and abstracts for the full issue are listed below: 

“Principles, dialectic and the common world of friendship: Socrates and Crito in conversation” by Kieran Bonner

In the Crito, a dialogue that is highly influential for the traditions both of philosophy and of political thinking, Socrates resists the pleading of his friend Crito to escape the city that has condemned him. For Arendt, the dialogue instantiates the separation between humans as thinking beings and humans as acting beings, and so between political theory and philosophy. For others, the dialogue shows Socrates’ reasoning to be self-contradictory. Socrates’ introduction of the Athenian Laws as a world of greater moral force than the empirical Athens of Crito’s appeal aims to ground principled action. Yet, there are many competing principles (authoritarianism, obedience, patriotism, friendship, integrity) that, interpretively speaking, have been understood as validated by this dialogue. Is there any necessary or analytic principle that can be articulated and, if so, what are the grounds of such? Drawing on the theory and methods of Blum and McHugh’s analysis and Gadamer’s hermeneutics, this article seeks to demonstrate that practical (political) action needs to be understood in an analytic context to grasp fully its ethical and political implications. Along the way, reference will be made to Garfinkel’s articulation of members’ methods for discovering agreements and Arendt’s articulation of the common world that the conversation among friends sustains.

“What is armchair anthropology? Observational practices in 19th century British human sciences” by Efram Sera-Shriar

The study of human diversity in the first half of the 19th century has traditionally been categorized as a type of armchair-based natural history. If we are to take seriously this characterization of the discipline it requires further unpacking. Armchair anthropology was not a passive pursuit, with minimal analytical reflection that simply synthesized the materials of other writers. Nor was it detached from the activities of informants who were collecting and recording data in the field. Practitioners in the 19thcentury were highly attuned to the problems associated with their research techniques and continually sought to transform their methodologies. The history of British anthropological research is one of gradual change and the adoption of new observational techniques into its methodologies. This article looks at the history of 19th-century British anthropology and examines in detail the observational practices of its researchers. In doing so it aims to answer the question: What is armchair anthropology?

“Gabriel Tarde’s publics” by Ronald Niezen

The recent revival of Gabriel Tarde’s distinctive approach to the study of human interaction raises the issue of the possible reasons for his fall into oblivion, particularly given his prominence during his lifetime as an intellectual competitor of equal standing with the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim in the first years of the 20th century. This problem calls for an exploration of those central ideas and qualities of Tarde’s work that may once have compromised his legacy and that now provide some explanation of his revival. Consistent with Tarde’s ideas about human interaction, or ‘inter-subjectivity’, the reception of his legacy has been shaped by the forces of imitation and opinion, acting on a changeable, persuadable public.

“Crime as social excess: Reconstructing Gabriel Tarde’s criminal sociology” by Sergio Tonkonoff

Gabriel Tarde, along with Durkheim and others, set the foundations for what is today a common-sense statement in social science: crime is a social phenomenon. However, the questions about what social is and what kind of social phenomenon crime is remain alive. Tarde’s writings have answers for both of these capital and interdependent problems and serve to renew our view of them. The aim of this article is to reconstruct Tarde’s definition of crime in terms of genus and specific difference, exploring his criminology as a case of his general sociology. This procedure shows that Tarde succeeded in creating a comprehensive theory of crime and criminals founded not only on his most well-known concept, imitation, but also on his equally important concepts of invention, opposition, social logic and social teleology. For Tarde, crime is a complex phenomenon related to criminal inventions, criminal propagations, the production of penal laws, the execution of controls and punishments, and the collective reactions to all these.

“Deprived of touch: How maternal and sensory deprivation theory converged in shaping early debates over authism” by Mical Raz

In 1943, a distinguished child psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, Leo Kanner, published what would become a landmark article: a description of 11 children who suffered from a distinct disorder he called ‘infantile autism’. While initially quite obscure, in the early 1950s Kanner’s report garnered much attention, as clinicians and researchers interpreted these case studies as exemplifying the ill-effects of maternal deprivation, a new theory that rapidly gained currency in the United States. Sensory deprivation experiments, performed in the mid-1950s, further complicated the picture, as experts debated whether maternal deprivation was unique or simply a form of environmental stimulation. As experts strove to make sense of this new disorder, they relied on concepts of maternal and sensory deprivation, both to promote their own theories and to critique or refute those of their colleagues. This interplay between the two theories also informed new forms of intervention, including ‘rage reduction therapy’, which served as a precursor for controversial forms of therapy today termed as the ‘attachment therapies’. This article sheds light on a little-known aspect of the history of autism, and examines the far-reaching effect popular etiological theories have in shaping debates over emerging medical concerns.

“Historical resonances of the DSM-5 dispute: American exceptionalism or Eurocentrism?” by David Pilgrim

This article begins with arguments evident at the time of writing about the 5th revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The historical lineages of those arguments are international and not limited to the USA (the current focus in the DSM-5 controversy). The concern with psychiatric diagnosis both internationally and in the USA came to the fore at the end of the Second World War with the construction of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-I) and the World Health Organization’s classification of ‘Diseases, Injuries and Causes of Death’ (ICD-6). However, the linkage between categories of morbidity, assumptions about natural biological categories and treatment specificity with ‘magic bullets’ emerged in the middle of the 19th century in physical medicine. This article explores the legitimacy of current psychiatric diagnoses in the light of that international, not national, history of medical knowledge. In conclusion it explores judgements about current cultural imperialism (at times made about US psychiatry) and an older picture of Eurocentrism, which is now being refracted in more recent globalizing knowledge-claims about mental disorder.

“The ordeal of solitude” by Alan Blum

I try to understand the ordeal of solitude by beginning with Marc Augé’s usage on transitional sites as a provocation, which leads us to rethink solitude as a condition of subjectivity and its various inflections, most conventionally as loneliness and, in sociology, as fragmentation, anonymity, alienation, privatization and the various opinions that link it to the deprivation of separation that longs for connection, or, more fundamentally in Simmel, as the ontological view of the tragedy of human limitation. Instead of restricting us to sites, Augé’s provocation suggests that if solitude is one of a family of such usages related to the experience of being alone or apart in such a space, we might then examine ways in which it is oriented to as a condition that can vary according to extremes, say, in the way Arendt and others have contrasted the pain of loneliness with the creativity of solitude. In linking solitude to transitional sites, Augé suggests that there is something about the experience of the in-between, whether of time or space, that illuminates solitude and that makes any relationship to it a potential ordeal. I test the notion by asking how the ordeal pertains to language itself and the intermediacy of a human subject in linguistic space.

Book Reviews: 

A guided science: History of psychology in the middle of its making – review by Csaba Pléh

An alternative history of hyperactivity: Food additives and the Feingold diet – review by Bonnie Evans

About Jennifer Bazar

Jennifer Bazar is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. Her research focuses on the history of psychiatric institutionalization.