Special Double Issue of HHS: Thinking in, with, across, and beyond cases with John Forrester

A special double issue of History of the Human Sciences exploring the influence of John Forrester’s work on thinking in cases is now available. Full details below.

“Thinking in, with, across, and beyond cases with John Forrester,” Chris Millard, Felicity Callard. Abstract:

We consider the influence that John Forrester’s work has had on thinking in, with, and from cases in multiple disciplines. Forrester’s essay ‘If p, Then What? Thinking in Cases’ was published in History of the Human Sciences in 1996 and transformed understandings of what a case was, and how case-based thinking worked in numerous human sciences (including, centrally, psychoanalysis). Forrester’s collection of essays Thinking in Cases was published posthumously, after his untimely death in 2015, and is the inspiration for the special issue we introduce. This comprises new research from authors working in and across the history of science and medicine, gender and sexuality studies, philosophy of science, semiotics, film studies, literary studies and comparative literature, psychoanalytic studies, medical humanities, and sociology. This research addresses what it means to reason in cases in particular temporal, spatial, or genre-focused contexts; introduces new figures (e.g. Eugène Azam, C. S. Peirce, Michael Balint) into lineages of case-based reasoning; emphasizes the unfinished and unfinishable character of some case reading and autobiographical accounts; and shows the frequency with which certain kinds of reasoning attempted with cases fail (often in instructive ways). The special issue opens up new directions for thinking and working with cases and case-based reasoning in the humanities and human sciences.

“Confusing cases: Forrester, Stoller, Agnes, woman,” Julie Walsh. Abstract:

This article pursues the hypothesis that there is a structural affinity between the case study as a genre of writing and the question of gendered subjectivity. With John Forrester’s chapter ‘Inventing Gender Identity: The Case of Agnes’ as my starting point, I ask how the case of ‘Agnes’ continues to inform our understanding of different disciplinary approaches (sociological and psychoanalytic) to theorizing gender. I establish a conversation between distinct, psychoanalytically informed feminisms (Simone de Beauvoir, Juliet Mitchell, Judith Butler, and Denise Riley) to move from the mid-20th century to contemporary cultural debate.

“Throwing the case open: The impossible subject of Luisa Passerini’s Autobiography of a Generation,” Matt ffytche. Abstract:

For John Forrester, the ‘case’, particularly in its psychoanalytic version, makes possible a science of the particular – knowledge open to the differences of individuals and situations. This article takes up that aspect of Forrester’s account that linked the psychoanalytic case with forms of autobiography – new narrations of that particular self. After Freud, many authors – literary and psychoanalytic – have taken up the challenge of narrating subjectivity in new forms, engaging a quasi-psychoanalytic framework (H. D., Walter Benjamin, Frantz Fanon, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick are examples). Focusing on Luisa Passerini’s text Autobiography of a Generation, which deals with the Italian experience of 1968, the article examines some of the features of such hybrid texts, and argues that psychoanalysis makes a contribution not just to the forms of self-investigation they pursue, but more significantly to the search for a radically new methodology of narration. Such models end up as ‘impossible’ cases, but in so doing they explore new interdisciplinary means for understanding the historical shaping of subjectivity.

“Proving nothing and illustrating much: The case of Michael Balint,” Shaul Bar-Haim. Abstract:

John Forrester’s book Thinking in Cases does not provide one ultimate definition of what it means to ‘think in cases’, but rather several alternatives: a ‘style of reasoning’ (Hacking), ‘paradigms’ or ‘exemplars’ (Kuhn), and ‘language games’ (Wittgenstein), to mention only a few. But for Forrester, the stories behind each of the figures who suggested these different models for thinking (in cases) are as important as the models themselves. In other words, the question for Forrester is not only what ‘thinking in cases’ is, but also who might be considered a ‘thinker in cases’. Who could serve as a case study for such a thinker? The major candidates that Forrester considers in his book to be ‘thinkers in cases’ are Kuhn, Foucault, Freud, and Winnicott. In what follows, I will argue that one name is missing from this list, as well as from Forrester’s book more generally: Michael Balint. This name is missing not only because Balint was a great ‘thinker in cases’, but also because we have some reasons to believe that Forrester himself thought so and wished to add him to the list. Forrester, I will argue, found in Balint an exemplar for a thinker in cases that combined elements from Winnicott’s psychoanalytic theory and Foucault’s philosophy of the case-based sciences.

“Boundaries of reasoning in cases: The visual psychoanalysis of René Spitz,” Rachel Weitzenkorn. Abstract:

This article argues that the foundational separation between psychoanalysis and experimental psychology was challenged in important ways by psychoanalytic infant researchers. Through a close examination of American psychoanalyst René Spitz (1887–1974), it extends John Forrester’s conception of reasoning in cases outside classic psychoanalytic practices. Specifically, the article interrogates the foundations of reasoning in cases—the individual, language, and the doctor–patient relationship—to show how these are reimagined in relation to the structures of American developmental psychology. The article argues that the staunch separation of experimental psychology and psychoanalysis, reiterated by philosophers and historians of psychology, is flimsy at best—and, conversely, that the maintenance of these boundaries enabled the production of a cinematic case study. Spitz created films that used little language and took place outside the consulting room with institutionalized infants. Yet key aspects of the psychoanalytic case, as put forth by John Forrester, were depicted visually. These visual displays of transference, failure, and interpersonal emotions highlight the foundations of what Forrester means by reasoning in cases. The article concludes that Spitz failed at creating classic psychoanalytic evidence, but in so doing stretched the epistemology of the case.

“The case history in the colonies,” Erik Linstrum. Abstract:

The case history in the colonial context was a hybrid form, caught between bureaucratic pressures toward racialization, aggregation, and generalization, on the one hand, and the individualistic bias of the genre, on the other. This tension posed a problem for colonial rulers. In their drive to harvest neat, ideologically reliable knowledge about the minds of colonial subjects, officials and researchers in the 20th-century British Empire read case histories in selective ways, pared them down to simplistic fables, and ultimately bypassed them whenever they could. In other words, although they worked mightily to bend the case history to their purposes, they never fully succeeded. The authority granted to personal testimony and the capaciousness of the detail in case histories always contained a subversive potential. As a result, the politics of the colonial case history were underdetermined, overflowing the categories and resisting the generalizations that colonial rulers sought to impose.

“Periodical amnesia and dédoublement in case-reasoning: Writing psychological cases in late 19th-century France,” Kim M. Hajek. Abstract:

The psychoanalytical case history was in many ways the pivot point of John Forrester’s reflections on case-based reasoning. Yet the Freudian case is not without its own textual forebears. This article closely analyses texts from two earlier case-writing traditions in order to elucidate some of the negotiations by which the case history as a textual form came to articulate the mode of reasoning that we now call ‘thinking in cases’. It reads Eugène Azam’s 1876 observation of Félida X and her ‘double personality’—the case that brought both Azam and Félida to prominence in late 19th-century French science—against a medico-surgical case penned by the Bordeaux physician in the same decade. While the stylistics of Azam’s medical case mirror its epistemic underpinnings in the ‘vertical’ logics of positivist science, the multiple narratives interwoven in Félida’s case grant both Azam and his patient the role of knowledge-making actors in the text. This narrative transformation chimes with the way Azam reasons ‘horizontally’ from particulars to Félida’s singular condition, but sits in tension with his choice to structure the observation along a ‘vertical’ axis. Between the two, we glimpse the emergence of the psychological observation as a mode of writing and thus of thinking in cases.

“The case as a travelling genre,” Maria Böhmer. Abstract:

This contribution explores how Forrester’s work on cases has opened up an arena that might be called ‘the medical case as a travelling genre’. Although usually focused on the course of disease in an individual patient and authored mostly by one medical author, medical case histories have a social dimension: Once published, they often circulate in networks of scholars. Moreover, scholars of the history of literature have shown that numerous medical cases seem to travel easily beyond the context of medical science into the realm of popular literature and journalism. After tracing the idea of cases travelling in Forrester’s Thinking in Cases, I discuss several contributions by authors who, in the wake of interdisciplinary research on cases in the past two decades, have dealt in different ways with this idea. In the third section, I present my own research on a case of self-crucifixion that was widely discussed in 19th-century Europe. I suggest that understanding the case as a ‘traveling genre’ – an expression borrowed from literary genre theory – highlights the role of readers and publication formats as constitutive for cases, and enables us to see more clearly what cases do for scientists and writers who work with them.

“On Kuhn’s case, and Piaget’s: A critical two-sited hauntology (or, On impact without reference),” Jeremy Trevelyan Burman. Abstract:

Picking up on John Forrester’s (1949–2015) disclosure that he felt ‘haunted’ by the suspicion that Thomas Kuhn’s (1922–96) interests had become his own, this essay complexifies our understanding of both of their legacies by presenting two sites for that haunting. The first is located by engaging Forrester’s argument that the connection between Kuhn and psychoanalysis was direct. (This was the supposed source of his historiographical method: ‘climbing into other people’s heads’.) However, recent archival discoveries suggest that that is incorrect. Instead, Kuhn’s influence in this regard was Jean Piaget (1896–1980). And it is Piaget’s thinking that was influenced directly by psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis then haunts Kuhn’s thinking through Piaget, and thus Piaget haunts Forrester through Kuhn. To better understand this second site of the haunting—which is ultimately the more important one, given the intent of this special issue—Piaget’s early psychoanalytic ideas are uncovered through their interaction with his early biology and subsequent turn to philosophy. But several layers of conflicting contemporary misunderstandings are first excavated. The method of hauntology is also developed, taking advantage of its origins as a critical response to the psychoanalytic discourse. As a result of adopting this approach, a larger than usual number of primary sources have been unearthed and presented as evidence (including new translations from French originals). Where those influences have continued to have an impact, but their sources forgotten, they have thus been returned. They can then all be considered together in deriving new perspectives of Forrester’s cases/Kuhn’s exemplars/Piaget’s stages.

“Thinking in multitudes: Questionnaires and composite cases in early American psychology,” Jacy L. Young. Abstract:

In the late 19th century, the questionnaire was one means of taking the case study into the multitudes. This article engages with Forrester’s idea of thinking in cases as a means of interrogating questionnaire-based research in early American psychology. Questionnaire research was explicitly framed by psychologists as a practice involving both natural historical and statistical forms of scientific reasoning. At the same time, questionnaire projects failed to successfully enact the latter aspiration in terms of synthesizing masses of collected data into a coherent whole. Difficulties in managing the scores of descriptive information questionnaires generated ensured the continuing presence of individuals in the results of this research, as the individual case was excerpted and discussed alongside a cast of others. As a consequence, questionnaire research embodied an amalgam of case, natural historical, and statistical thinking. Ultimately, large-scale data collection undertaken with questionnaires failed in its aim to construct composite exemplars or ‘types’ of particular kinds of individuals; to produce the singular from the multitudes.

“If p0, then 1: The impossibility of thinking out cases,” Michael J. Flexer. Abstract:

Forrester’s proposed seventh style of reasoning – thinking in cases – functions as an analogous, dyadic relationship that, whilst indebted philosophically to the logical reasoning and semiotics of Charles Peirce, is prone to creating feedback loops between induction and deduction, precluding novel abductive hypotheses from advancing medical knowledge. Reasoning with a Peircean triadic model opens up the contexts and methods of meaning-making and reasoning through medical cases, and the potent influence of their genre conventions, to intellectual critical scrutiny. Vitally, it offers a third mode – abduction – that this article argues needs to be reintroduced into Forrester’s model of reasoning with cases. This article demonstrates this by applying a Peircean triadic model of reasoning to Forrester’s own model, tracing a shared genealogy but one in which the abductive element was lost. The article goes on to illustrate the explanatory and predictive potential of Peircean abductive reasoning and the necessary re-theorising of the case this entails. This argument is supported through an analysis of early case reports of what would become HIV/Aids, drawn from the Case Records of Massachusetts General Hospital series in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“‘If p? Then What?’ Thinking within, with, and from cases,” Mary S. Morgan. Abstract:

The provocative paper by John Forrester ‘If p, Then What? Thinking in Cases’ (1996) opened up the question of case thinking as a separate mode of reasoning in the sciences. Case-based reasoning is certainly endemic across a number of sciences, but it has looked different according to where it has been found. This article investigates this mode of science – namely thinking in cases – by questioning the different interpretations of ‘If p?’ and exploring the different interpretative responses of what follows in ‘Then What?’. The aim is to characterize how ‘reasoning in, within, with, and from cases’ forms a mode of scientific investigation for single cases, for runs of cases, and for comparative cases, drawing on materials from a range of different fields in which case-based reasoning appears.

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.