Félida, doubled personality, and the ‘normal state’ in late 19th-century French psychology

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences, “Félida, doubled personality, and the ‘normal state’ in late 19th-century French psychology,” by Kim M. Hajek. Abstract:

The case of Félida X and her ‘doubled personality’ served in the last quarter of the 19th century as a proving ground for a distinctively French form of psychology that bore the stamp of physiology, including the comparative term normal state. Debates around Félida’s case provided the occasion for reflection about how that term and its opposites could take their places in the emerging discursive field of psychopathology. This article centres its analysis on Eugène Azam’s 1876–77 study of Félida, and the ways his framing of the case was adopted or critiqued by subsequent researchers. Azam initially deployed the label normal state in a routine manner, in contrast to his use of condition seconde to designate Félida’s other state; this pairing served, I argue, to anchor the scientific legitimacy of Félida’s extraordinary psychological manifestations. Unpacking the conceptual associations of Azam’s use of normal state, we find it marked as qualitatively distinct, temporally fixed, and most of all individualized; this without becoming normative. It was only through responses to and criticism of Azam’s study that there emerged a more generalized sense of normality against which pathological (hysteric) subjects’ comportment could be contrasted. Félida’s case itself constitutes a highly individualized reconfiguration of the concept of a normal state, while the subsequent framing of doubled mental states provides a valuable vantage point from which to consider the articulations between the language of emerging French psychology and its evolving subjects of enquiry.

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.