December 2019 issue of History of the Human Sciences

The December 2019 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Behind the Rhodes statue: Black competency and the imperial academy,” by Robbie Shilliam. Abstract:

Recent criticisms of the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) Oxford campaign have problematized the presence of Black bodies within British higher education by reference to an ideal image of the impartial and discerning academy. In this article, I historically and intellectually contextualize the apprehension, expressed in the debates over RMF Oxford, that an intimate Black presence destabilizes the ethos of higher education. Specifically, I argue that much more than Rhodes’ statue implicates the British academy in the Empire’s southern African interests. I excavate a genealogy of academic debates regarding the effects of an increased proximity of Black presence to empire’s white spaces. These debates were initiated by social anthropologists in the interwar years primarily (albeit not solely) with regards to studies of southern Africa’s urbanizing spaces. What is more, such debates were highly influential to the study of ‘race relations’ in Britain’s postwar era of Commonwealth immigration. Critically, all these debates problematized the cognitive competency of African/Black peoples to inhabit white cultural spaces – including the academy – in ways that were not destabilizing of imperial order. Current campus campaigns such as RMF should not be evaluated against an ideal image of the academy. Rather, they form part of a continued confrontation with the afterlives of academic dispositions that were implicated in the imperial project that Rhodes was integral to.

“Voices off: Stanley Milgram’s cyranoids in historical context,” by Marcia Holmes, Daniel Pick. Abstract:

This article revisits a forgotten, late project by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram: the ‘cyranoid’ studies he conducted from 1977 to 1984. These investigations, inspired by the play Cyrano de Bergerac, explored how individuals often fail to notice when others do not speak their own thoughts, but instead relay messages from a hidden source. We situate these experiments amidst the intellectual, cultural, and political concerns of late Cold War America, and show how Milgram’s studies pulled together a variety of ideas, anxieties, and interests that were prevalent at that time and have returned in new guises since. In discussing the cyranoid project’s background and afterlife, we argue that its strikingly equivocal quality has lent itself to multiple reinterpretations by historians, psychologists, performers, artists, and others. Our purpose is neither to champion Milgram’s work nor to amplify the critiques already made of his methods. Rather, it is to consider the uncertain, allusive, and elusive aspects of the cyranoid project, and to seek to place that project in context, whilst asking where ‘context’ might end. We show how the experiments’ range of meanings, in different temporal registers, far exceeded the explanatory rubric that Milgram and his intellectual critics provided at that time, and ponder the risk for the historian of making anachronistic or teleological assumptions. In short, we argue, cyranoids invite our open-ended exploration of ‘voices offstage’ in social and psychological relations, and offer a useful tool for thinking about historical context and the nature of historical interpretations.

“Pornography addiction: The fabrication of a transient sexual disease,” by Kris Taylor. Abstract:

While pornography addiction currently circulates as a comprehensible, diagnosable, and describable way to make sense of some people’s ostensibly problematic relationship with pornography, such a comprehensive description of this relationship has only recently been made possible. The current analysis makes visible pornography addiction as situated within a varied history of concerns about pornography, masturbation, fantasy, and technology in an effort to bring to bear a conceptual critique of the modern concept of pornography addiction. Such a critique in turn works to offer an alternative to treating the study of pornography addiction as the discovery of a new disease, instead conceiving it as the propagation of old forms of knowledge under a new moniker.

“On ‘modified human agents’: John Lilly and the paranoid style in American neuroscience,” Charlie Williams. Abstract:

The personal papers of the neurophysiologist John C. Lilly at Stanford University hold a classified paper he wrote in the late 1950s on the behavioural modification and control of ‘human agents’. The paper provides an unnerving prognosis of the future application of Lilly’s research, then being carried out at the National Institute of Mental Health. Lilly claimed that the use of sensory isolation, electrostimulation of the brain, and the recording and mapping of brain activity could be used to gain ‘push-button’ control over motivation and behaviour. This research, wrote Lilly, could eventually lead to ‘master-slave controls directly of one brain over another’. The paper is an explicit example of Lilly’s preparedness to align his research towards Cold War military aims. It is not, however, the research for which Lilly is best known. During the 1960s and 1970s, Lilly developed cult status as a far-out guru of consciousness exploration, promoting the use of psychedelics and sensory isolation tanks. Lilly argued that, rather than being used as tools of brainwashing, these techniques could be employed by the individual to regain control of their own mind and retain a sense of agency over their thoughts and actions. This article examines the scientific, intellectual, and cultural relationship between the sciences of brainwashing and psychedelic mind alteration. Through an analysis of Lilly’s autobiographical writings, I also show how paranoid ideas about brainwashing and mind control provide an important lens for understanding the trajectory of Lilly’s research.

“Practice theory and conservative thought,” by Michael Strand. Abstract:

The concept of practice is thematically central to modern conservative thought, as evident in Edmund Burke’s writings on the aesthetic and his diatribe against the French Revolution. It is also the main organizing thread in the framework in the human sciences known as practice theory, which extends back at least to Karl Marx’s ‘Theses on Feuerbach’. This article historicizes ‘practice’ in conservative thought and practice theory, accounts for the family resemblance between the two, and takes apart that family resemblance to reveal differences. The ingredients of practice theory (historical inheritance, embodiment, cognitive limits, loose coupling between conscious thought and action) are in many cases also distinctive traits of conservative thought. But the similarity is deceptive. Practice theory and conservative thought constitute two distinct interpretations of practice, two disparate endeavours for connecting human science with political strategy, and two different formulas for opposing theory and practice. The present study will argue that this is primarily a political opposition for conservative thought, while it is a human-scientific opposition for practice theory. Conservative thought is initially political and then human-scientific; practice theory is initially human-scientific and then political. This article advocates for practice theory against conservative thought as differently amended versions of a politics that recognizes human finitude.

“‘Supposing that truth is a woman, what then?’: The lie detector, the love machine, and the logic of fantasy,” by Geoffrey C. Bunn. Abstract:

One of the consequences of the public outcry over the 1929 St Valentine’s Day massacre was the establishment of a Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory at Northwestern University. The photogenic ‘Lie Detector Man’, Leonarde Keeler, was the laboratory’s poster boy, and his instrument the jewel in the crown of forensic science. The press often depicted Keeler gazing at a female suspect attached to his ‘sweat box’, a galvanometer electrode in her hand, a sphygmomanometer cuff on her arm and a rubber pneumograph tube strapped across her breasts. Keeler’s fascination with the deceptive charms of the female body was one he shared with his fellow lie detector pioneers, all of whom met their wives – and in William Marston’s case, his mistress too – through their engagement with the instrument. Marston employed his own ‘Love Meter’, as the press dubbed it, to prove that ‘brunettes react far more violently to amatory stimuli than blondes’. In this article, I draw on the psychoanalytic concepts of fantasy and pleasure to argue that the female body played a pivotal role in establishing the lie detector’s reputation as an infallible and benign mechanical technology of truth.

“The ‘disabilitization’ of medicine: The emergence of Quality of Life as a space to interrogate the concept of the medical model,” by Arseli Dokumac?. Abstract:

This article presents an archaeological inquiry into the early histories of Quality of Life (QoL) measures, and takes this as an occasion to rethink the concept of the ‘medical model of disability’. Focusing on three instruments that set the ground for the emergence of QoL measures, namely, the Karnofsky Performance Scale (KPS, 1948), and the classification of functional capacity as a diagnostic criterion for heart diseases (Bainton, 1928) and as a supplementary aid to therapeutic criteria in rheumatoid arthritis (Steinbrocker, Traeger, and Batterman, 1949) – I discuss how medicine, throughout the emergence of QoL, began to expand its gaze beyond the confines of the body to what that body does in daily life. Building upon Armstrong et al.’s notion of ‘distal symptoms’ (2007) and Wahlberg’s idea of ‘knowledge of living’ (2018), I propose the notion of disabilitization to encapsulate this expansion of the clinical gaze, through which medicine has come to articulate diseases and their treatments in new ways, and in so doing, has inadvertently created disability as a new kind of knowledge category in itself – a category that is defined not through its reduction to mere pathology, but through its dispersal into everyday life. I present this concept not as a periodization, but as a provocative discontinuity with the totalizing history assumed within the medical model of disability, and in so doing, ask what, in fact, holds ‘the medical model’ together, and whether there might be other ways of understanding medicine’s complex relationship to disability than what the concept of the medical model allows us to envisage.

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.