Special Issue of HHS: Normality: A collection of essays

A just-released special issue of History of the Human Sciences, “Normality: A collection of essays,” will interest AHP readers. Full details below.

“Normality: A collection of essays,” by Peter Cryle, Elizabeth Stephens. Abstract:

This article introduces a collection of articles written in response to a recently published intellectual and cultural history of normality by Peter Cryle and Elizabeth Stephens. It points to the fact that this special issue considerably extends and enriches the topical range of the book. The articles that follow discuss, in order, schooling in France at the time of the Revolution, phrenology in Europe and the US from 1840 to 1940, relations between commercial practice and scientific craniometry in 19th-century Britain and France, psychology in late 19th-century France, case studies in sexology and psychoanalysis in Central Europe, and biotypology in Southern Europe and Latin America.

“‘The Revolution is to the human mind what the African sun is to vegetation’: Revolution, heat, and the normal school project,” by Caroline Warman. Abstract:

This article focuses on a slightly earlier period in its investigation of the meanings of and associations with the term normal than Cryle and Stephens have done in their recent book. It looks at the establishment and rapid demise of the Ecole normale (normal school) in Paris in 1794–5, founded on the same model as a school for the manufacture of arms that had operated in spring 1794, and suggests that this model was not only responsible for some of the problems the Ecole normale experienced, setting up unachievable expectations of rapid efficacy, but also had an impact on what its name was assumed to mean. Moving between, on the one hand, an analysis of explicit (and opposing) definitions of what the term normal meant, and, on the other, an account of how the Ecole normale was set up and what it was set up to do, this paper agrees with Cryle and Stephens that the term was ‘formed in controversy’, and fills in the intellectual and philosophical context from which the notion of the statistical norm would emerge.

“Phrenology and the average person, 1840–1940,” by Fenneke Sysling. Abstract:

The popular science of phrenology is known for its preoccupation with geniuses and criminals, but this article shows that phrenologists also introduced ideas about the ‘average’ person. Popular phrenologists in the US and the UK examined the heads of their clients to give an indication of their character. Based on the publications of phrenologists and on a large collection of standardized charts with clients’ scores, this article analyses their definition of what they considered to be the ‘average’. It can be concluded that phrenologists were some of the first to teach individuals to see their identity in relation to an imagined statistical community.

Hat sizes and craniometry: Professional know-how and scientific knowledge,” by Peter Cryle. Abstract:

This article examines the relation between commercial activity and knowledge-making, looking at hatmakers in order to open up a more general question about the overlap between the knowledge practices of 19th-century science and those of everyday commercial culture of the time. Phrenology also claims attention here, since it can be said to have occupied an intermediate position between science and commerce. From time to time during the first half of the century, phrenologists attended to hatmakers in the hope of gleaning knowledge from their commercial experience, but after about 1860, scientific craniometers took a very different view. Physical anthropologists like Paul Broca believed that the skull was the key source of data on which to build a scientific anthropology of race or ethnicity. Observers drew the attention of Broca and his colleagues to the existence of a commercial device called the conformateur des chapeliers, used by hatters to determine head shape. But Broca was far less inclined to welcome hatmakers into the domain of craniology than the phrenologists had been. Whereas phrenologists had found validation in common sense, any widely available understanding of racial types was considered by Broca to be a distraction from the work of science and a potential distortion of its data. Far from the welcoming curiosity shown by London-based phrenologists, the anthropological enterprise led by Broca defined itself as scientific in part by the strictness with which it considered and dismissed such approximate and informal ways of knowing.

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

“Normal enough? Krafft-Ebing, Freud, and homosexuality,” Birgit Lang. Abstract:

This article analyses the slippery notions of the normal and normality in select works of Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902) and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and argues that homosexuality became a ‘boundary object’ between the normal and the abnormal in their works. Constructing homosexuality as ‘normal enough’ provided these two key thinkers of the fin de siècle with an opportunity to challenge societal and medical norms: Krafft-Ebing did this through mapping perversions; Freud, by challenging perceived norms about sexual development more broadly. The article submits that the scientific logic presented in Krafft-Ebing’s seminal case study compilation Psychopathia Sexualis and Freud’s early theoretical writings and cases, including Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), was itself haunted by notions of norms and the normal that were not always easy to resolve, and sometimes involved a certain amount of inspired conjecture on the part of both thinkers in order to develop and validate their differing tripartite models of normality. Krafft-Ebing imagined homosexuality as a variation of the normal by generalizing a gay male experience. He also recorded the obstreperous cases of homosexual women based largely inside the clinic but by and large ignored this evidence. Freud inextricably bound homosexuality to normality (and vice versa) by redefining homosexuals as a group to include individuals with unconscious same-sex desire. Doing so allowed him to conceptualize the fear of homosexuality as crucial in the formation of neurosis and psychosis, and at the same time put him at odds with relevant early identity politics.

“Types, norms, and normalisation: Hormone research and treatments in Italy, Argentina, and Brazil, c. 1900–50,” by Chiara Beccalossi. Abstract:

Displacing the physiological model that had held sway in 19th-century medical thinking, early 20th-century hormone research promoted an understanding of the body and sexual desires in which variations in sex characteristics and non-reproductive sexual behaviours such as homosexuality were attributed to anomalies in the internal secretions produced by the testes or the ovaries. Biotypology, a new brand of medical science conceived and led by the Italian endocrinologist Nicola Pende, employed hormone research to study human types and hormone treatments to normalise individuals who did not conform to accepted medical norms. Latin American medical doctors, eugenicists, and sexologists took up biotypology with enthusiasm. This article considers the case studies of Italy, Argentina, and Brazil, and analyses the work of medical doctors who adopted a biotypological mode of reasoning and employed to various extents hormone therapies in their practice. By focusing on hormone therapies that aimed to normalise secondary sexual characteristics and the sexual instinct, the article suggests that while the existence of normality was contested to the point that a number of medical scientists argued that no such thing existed, the pursuit of normality was carried out in very practical terms through the new medical technologies hormone research had introduced.

“After the normal, by Elizabeth Stephens. No Abstract.

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.