New HHS: Sleep Laboratories, Psychiatry in Penguin Books, & More

The October 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore participant observation in a sleep laboratory (right), publications on psychiatric topics in Penguin Books, and social scientific representations of consumer debt. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“On a not so chance encounter of neurophilosophy and science studies in a sleep laboratory,” by Nicolas Langlitz. The abstract reads,

This article was inspired by participant observation of a contemporary collaboration between empirically oriented philosophers of mind and neuroscientists. An encounter between this anthropologist of science and neurophilosophers in a Finnish sleep laboratory led to the following philosophical exploration of the intellectual space shared by neurophilosophy and science studies. Since these fields emerged in the 1970s, scholars from both sides have been visiting brain research facilities, but engaged with neuroscientists very differently and passionately fought with each other over the reduction of mind to brain. As a case in point, this article looks at the philosophical controversy over the dreaming brain. It serves as a window on the problem space opened up by the demise of positivist conceptions of science, now inhabited by both neurophilosophy and science studies. Both fields face the problem of how to bridge the gap between empirical research and conceptual work. At a time when ontological speculation has made a comeback in these areas of research, studies on how epistemic objects manifest themselves in the material culture of neuroscience could help neurophilosophers to become better materialists. In the sleep laboratory, however, the materiality of dreams continues to be elusive. In dreaming science studies and neurophilosophy encounter a phenomenon that – at least in 2015 – still invites a positivist rather than a materialist attitude.

“Debt, consumption and freedom: Social scientific representations of consumer credit in Anglo-America,” by Donncha Marron. The abstract reads,

The article explores a range of social scientific representations of credit and debt in the United States and Britain and how these have been organized around the problem of freedom. On the one hand, credit is projected as productive, embodying and securing liberal values of individual autonomy and self-determination. On the other, debt is portrayed as consumptive, ensnaring the individual, subverting her or his will and undermining the capacity for self-determination. The classic cultural injunction against consumer borrowing is captured under the rubric of the Puritan ethic which portrays indebtedness as contrary to the values of individual freedom and autonomy; however, it is shown here how the meanings attached to credit and debt have always been ambiguous in practice. Over the 20th century, and continuing today, a number of economic writers have attempted to legitimize the development of consumer credit by demonstrating how it contributes towards freedom and security. However, it is shown how these accounts shift in response to changing economic discourses as well as credit’s growing pervasiveness. In contrast, sociological writers have tended to criticize the accumulation of debt as damaging to both individual autonomy and societal welfare. Again, these accounts also manifest a notable change in emphasis over time in response to shifting constructions of the problem of social change. Finally, recent empirical work is drawn upon to demonstrate the ways in which freedom itself can be a contingent and contextual element in the production of consumer credit.

“From the native point of view: An insider/outsider perspective on folkloric archaism and modern anthropology in Albania,” by Albert Doja. The abstract reads,

In the standard native tradition of Albanian studies, descriptive and empirical research has only confirmed their own ultimate goal of constructing national specificity and a particularly antiquated view of national culture. In this article, I show how and why an articulate analysis of the main intellectual traditions and their impact can provide fresh insights into grasping the cultural particularism of Albanian studies. Methodologically, a new picture of knowledge production must arise if we consider the historical, cultural, political and ideological terrain on which certain influential ideas and practices in Albanian studies of people’s culture have emerged. The aim, then, is not to provide an exhaustive picture of a positive knowledge of culture and society, but to show the urgent need for avoiding any adoption of concepts that might be pure reconstructions of arbitrary and timeless structures and values, while rejecting any approach in terms of survivals and folklorism.

“Psychiatric Penguins: Writing on psychiatry for Penguin Books, c.1950–c.1980,” by Gavin Miller. The abstract reads,

The British mass-market publisher Penguin produced a number of texts on psychiatric topics in the period c.1950–c.1980. Investigation of editorial files relating to a sample of these volumes reveals that they were shaped as much by the commercial imperatives and changing aspirations of the publisher as by developments and debates in psychiatry itself. A number of economic imperatives influenced the publishing process, including the perennial difficulty in finding psychiatrists willing and able to enter the popular book market; the economic pressures exerted on peer-review protocols; and the identification of a niche market in popular psychiatry, latterly of a politically radical flavour. As well as offering a materialist standpoint for the study of popular psychiatric texts, this investigation allows an opportunity to adapt, apply and assess theoretical approaches to mass-market publishing by psychiatrists.

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.