New History of the Human Sciences: Patients and Paperwork, Behavioral Economics, and More

The July-October issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Title, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Documenting insanity: Paperwork and patient narratives in psychiatric history,” Liana Glew. Abstract:

Paperwork plays a key role in a how institutions accommodate, refuse, or manage disabled people. This article develops modes for reading paperwork that build on each other, beginning with (a) recognizing the institutional pressures at work in shaping bureaucratic practices, then (b) considering how a person’s relationship to disability influences how they might encounter these practices, and ultimately (c) noticing how the encounter between disabled/mad people and an institution might create something new, what the author calls archival excess. These methods for reading are in conversation with disability studies, medical humanities, and document studies, and ultimately work toward a goal adapted from the principles of Disability Justice: recognizing the wholeness of disabled subjects in institutional archives.

“The ultimate think tank: The rise of the Santa Fe Institute libertarian,” Erik Baker. Abstract:

Why do corporations and wealthy philanthropists fund the human sciences? Examining the history of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), a private research institute founded in the early 1980s, this article shows that funders can find as much value in the social worlds of the sciences they sponsor as in their ideas. SFI became increasingly dependent on funding from corporations and libertarian business leaders in the 1990s and 2000s. At the same time, its intellectual work came to focus on the underlying principles of adaptation, innovation, and decentralized coordination supposedly at work in ‘complex systems’ from biological ecosystems to markets and firms. This research cast the ideas of the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek into a new scientific idiom. SFI also became a space where figures in business, media, academia, and politics could come to learn to see the world in a particular way—to acquire the subjectivity of what I call ‘the Santa Fe Institute libertarian’. At SFI, visitors did not simply learn the principles of neo-Hayekian complex system science. They came to see themselves as agents of social evolution, providing the spark that the free-market system needed to produce new technologies and new solutions to social problems without top-down political direction. For the Institute’s corporate and libertarian financiers, SFI was not just a space where intellectuals described the world in favored ideological terms, but a space where elite actors became committed to the project of making a new political-economic order.

“On some antecedents of behavioural economics,” Kristian Bondo Hansen, Thomas Presskorn-Thygesen. Abstract:

Since its inception in the late 1970s, behavioural economics has gone from being an outlier to a widely recognized yet still contested subset of the economic sciences. One of the basic arguments in behavioural economics is that a more realistic psychology ought to inform economic theories. While the history of behavioural economics is often portrayed and articulated as spanning no more than a few decades, the practice of utilizing ideas from psychology to rethink theories of economics is over a century old. In the first three decades of the 20th century, several mostly American economists made efforts to refine fundamental economic assumptions by introducing ideas from psychology into economic thinking. In an echo of contemporary discussions in behavioural economics, the ambition of these psychology-keen economists was to strengthen the empirical accuracy of the fundamental assumptions of economic theory. In this article, we trace, examine, and discuss arguments for and against complementing economic theorizing with insights from psychology, as found in economic literature published between 1900 and 1930. The historical analysis sheds light on issues and challenges associated with the endeavour to improve one discipline’s theories by introducing ideas from another, and we argue that these are issues and challenges that behavioural economists continue to face today.

“Measuring non-Han bodies: Anthropometry, colonialism, and biopower in China’s south-western borderland in the 1930s and 1940s,” Jing Zhu. Abstract:

This article examines the biopower of non-Han bodies by considering the intersections of anthropology, racial science, and colonial regimes. During the 1930s and 1940s, when extensive anthropometric research was being undertaken on non-Han populations in the south-western borderlands of China, several anthropologists studied non-Han groups under the aegis of frontier administration. Chinese scholars sought to generate the physical characteristics of ethnic minority groups in the south-west of China through the methodology of body measurement, in order to identify forms of social and political intervention in the management of the non-Han population in wartime. This article examines the global transmission of Western social science in China, highlighting the local reception of Western racial taxonomy. Non-Han bodies were represented as a subcategory of the Mongolian/‘Yellow’ race through anthropometric research. The body measurements of non-Han people were used to demonstrate physical similarities between the Han and various ethnic minority groups in order to evoke a unified Zhonghua minzu (Chinese ethnicity) that embraced both the Han Chinese and frontier ethnic minority groups.

“Alfred Vierkandt’s notion of the social group,” Sandro Segre. Abstract:

German sociologist Alfred Vierkandt is hardly remembered today. This may seem surprising. Several prominent sociologists from the German-speaking countries contributed to the Handwörterbuch der Soziologie (1931), which Vierkandt edited and published. However, Vierkandt did not interact with any of them significantly, and this publication brought no recognition of the importance of his sociological oeuvre in Germany, the United States, or elsewhere. His key notion of the social group found no acknowledgment among other contemporary or later sociologists, even though several of them used this notion and discussed social groups in their own writings. Moreover, those who paid close attention to his writings, like Abel and Hochstim, evaluated them quite critically. Both before and after World War II, Vierkandt remained a solitary and relatively unknown author.

“Psychometric origins of depression,” Susan McPherson, David Armstrong. Open access. Abstract:

This article examines the historical construction of depression over about a hundred years, employing the social life of methods as an explanatory framework. Specifically, it considers how emerging methodologies in the measurement of psychological constructs contributed to changes in epistemological approaches to mental illness and created the conditions of possibility for major shifts in the construction of depression. While depression was once seen as a feature of psychotic personality, measurement technologies made it possible for it to be reconstructed as changeable and treatable. Different types of scaling techniques (Likert versus dichotomous scales) enabled the separation of depressive personality from reactive depression, paving the way for measuring the severity and intensity of emotions. Techniques to test sensitivity to change provided a means of demonstrating the efficacy of new psychoactive drug treatments. Later, more advanced techniques of precision scaling enabled the management of a new measurement problem, clinician unreliability, associated with the growing number of professionals involved in mental health care. Through statistical management of unreliability, the construct of depression has dramatically reduced over this period from hundreds of questionnaire items to potentially just two. Exploring the history of depression through this lens produces an alternative narrative to those that have emerged as a result of medicalisation and the actions of individuals and pressure groups.

“Fairbairn, Winnicott, and Guntrip on the social significance of schizoids,” Gal Gerson. Abstract:

The mid-century object relations approach saw the category of schizoids as crucial to its own formation. Rooted in a developmental phase where the perception of the mother as a whole and real person had not yet been secured, the schizoid constitution impeded relationships and forced schizoids to communicate through a compliant persona while the kernel self remained isolated. Fairbairn, Winnicott, and Guntrip thought that schizoid features underlay many other pathologies that earlier, Freudian psychoanalysis had misidentified. To correct this, a move to the attachment-oriented theory was necessary, triggering the development of the object relations perspective as a distinct and independent approach. While playing this role in the development of object relations theory, the schizoid category also attracted a note of disapproval. Fairbairn, Winnicott, and Guntrip described schizoids as harmful to society through their everyday actions and through the ideas they propagated. This judgemental nuance highlights an aspect of the alliance between object relations theory and the contemporary welfare state ideology. Culminating in the Beveridge plan, that ideology framed citizenship as comprehensive engagement with society on multiple levels. Citizenship was not just a political activity but also a personally rewarding one, as it allowed expression to each person’s wishes in ways that benefited others. Inability to engage and be rewarded in this way marked obstinate classes and produced rigid and conservative ideologies that opposed the welfare state. Object relations theory described the schizoid condition along similar lines and castigated its consequences for similar reasons.

“‘You never need an analyst with Bobby around’: The mid-20th-century human sciences in Sondheim and Furth’s musical Company,” Jeffrey Rubel. Open access. Abstract:

This article offers a case study in how historians of science can use musical theater productions to understand the cultural reception of scientific ideas. In 1970, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Company opened on Broadway. The show engaged with and reflected contemporary theories and ideas from the human sciences; Company’s portrayal of its 35-year-old bachelor protagonist, his married friends, and his girlfriends reflected present-day theories from psychoanalysis, sexology, and sociology. In 2018, when director Marianne Elliott revived the show with a female protagonist, Company once again amplified contemporary dilemmas around human sciences expertise—this time, the biological fertility clock. Through Company, Sondheim and Furth—and later Elliott—constructed arguments about modern society that paralleled those put forth by contemporary human scientists, including psychoanalytic models of the mind, the lonely crowd phenomenon, and shifting conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Because of their wide popularity and potential for readaptation, musicals such as Company offer a promising source base for analyzing the relationship between contemporary society and scientific expertise in specific historical contexts.

“Psychoanalysis and anti-racism in mid-20th-century America: An alternative angle of vision,” Tom Fielder. Abstract:

The conventional historiography of psychoanalysis in America offers few opportunities for the elaboration of anti-racist themes, and instead American ‘ego psychology’ has often been regarded as the most acute exemplar of ‘racist’ psychoanalysis. In this article, consistent with the historiographical turn Burnham first identified under the heading of ‘the New Freud Studies’, I distinguish between histories of psychoanalytic practitioners and histories of psychoanalytic ideas in order to open out an alternative angle of vision on the historiography. For psychoanalytic ideas were in fact omnipresent within American culture at mid-century, and they played a fundamental role in the psychological reworking of race that unfolded in the work of social scientists, literary artists, and cultural critics in the 1940s and early Cold War years, culminating in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954, a major landmark in the civil rights narrative. By pursuing the implications of psychoanalysis in anti-racist struggles at mid-century, and with particular attention to Richard Wright and his autobiographical novel Black Boy, I move towards unearthing an alternative historical account of the intersection between psychoanalysis and race, which offers new ways for psychoanalysis and the history of the human sciences to think about this period.

“Lesbian and bisexual women’s experiences of aversion therapy in England,” Helen Spandler, Sarah Carr. Open access. Abstract:

This article presents the findings of a study about the history of aversion therapy as a treatment technique in the English mental health system to convert lesbians and bisexual women into heterosexual women. We explored published psychiatric and psychological literature, as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual archives and anthologies. We identified 10 examples of young women receiving aversion therapy in England in the 1960s and 1970s. We situate our discussion within the context of post-war British and transnational medical history. As a contribution to a significantly under-researched area, this article adds to a broader transnational history of the psychological treatment of marginalised sexualities and genders. As a consequence, it also contributes to LGBTQIA+?history, the history of medicine, and psychiatric survivor history. We also reflect on the ethical implications of the research for current mental health practice.

“From class origins to individual psychopathology: Spousal murder according to state socialist Czechoslovak criminology,” Kate?ina Lišková, Lucia Moravanská. Abstract:

Over the course of 40 years of state socialism, the explanation that Czechoslovak criminologists gave for spousal murder changed significantly. Initially attributing offences to the perpetrator’s class origins, remnants of his bourgeois way of life, and the lack of positive influence from the collective in the long 1950s, criminologists then refocused their attention solely on the individual’s psychopathology during the period known as ‘Normalization’, which encompassed the last two decades of state socialism. Based on an analysis of archival sources, including scholarly journals and expert reports, and following Ian Hacking’s insight that ‘kinds of people come into being’ through the realignment of systems of knowledge, this article shows how new kinds of spousal murderer emerged as a result of shifting criminological expertise. We explain the change as the result of the psychiatrization of criminology that occurred in Czechoslovakia at a time when the regime needed to consolidate after the upheavals of the Prague Spring of 1968. The criminological framing of spousal murder as belonging squarely in the individualized realm of the private sphere reflected the contemporaneous effort of the regime to enclose the private as a sphere of relative state non-interference.

“From the margins to the NICE guidelines: British clinical psychology and the development of cognitive behaviour therapy for psychosis, 1982–2002,” David J. Harper, Sebastian Townsend. Abstract:

Although histories of cognitive behaviour therapy have begun to appear, their use with people with psychosis diagnoses has received relatively little attention. In this article, we elucidate the conditions of possibility for the emergence of cognitive behaviour therapy for psychosis (CBTp) in England between 1982 and 2002. We present an analysis of policy documents, research publications and books, participant observation, and interviews with a group of leading researchers and senior policy actors. Informed by Derksen and Beaulieu’s articulation of social technologies, we show how CBTp was developed and stabilised through the work of a variety of overlapping informal, academic, clinical, professional, and policy networks. The profession of clinical psychology played a key role in this development, successfully challenging the traditional ‘division of labour’ where psychologists focused on ‘neurosis’ and left ‘psychosis’ to psychiatry. Following Abbott’s systems approach to professions, we identify a number of historical factors that created a jurisdictional vulnerability for psychiatry while strengthening the jurisdictional legitimacy of clinical psychology in providing psychological therapies to service users with psychosis diagnoses. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence played a significant role in adjudicating jurisdictional legitimacy, and its 2002 schizophrenia guidelines, recommending the use of psychological therapies, marked a radical departure from the psychiatric consensus. Our analysis may be of wider interest in its focus on social technologies in a context of jurisdictional contestation. We discuss the implications of our study for the field of mental health and for the relationship between clinical psychology and psychiatry.

“The pragmatic use of metaphor in empirical psychology,” Rami Gabriel. Abstract:

Metaphors of mind and their elaboration into models serve a crucial explanatory role in psychology. In this article, an attempt is made to describe how biology and engineering provide the predominant metaphors for contemporary psychology. A contrast between the discursive and descriptive functions of metaphor use in theory construction serves as a platform for deliberation upon the pragmatic consequences of models derived therefrom. The conclusion contains reflections upon the possibility of an integrative interdisciplinary psychology.

“The conundrum of the psychological interface: On the problems of bridging the biological and the social,” James Rupert Fletcher, Rasmus H. Birk. Open access. Abstract:

In this article, we consider how certain types of contemporary biosocial psychiatric research conceptualise and explicate biology-social relations. We compare the historic biopsychosocial model to recent examples of social defeat research on schizophrenia and cultural neuroscience work on affective disorders. This comparison reveals how the contemporary turn towards the ‘biosocial’ within psychiatric research relies upon ideas of the psychological as an interface. This is problematic because psychological notions of ‘experience’ are used as the central mechanics of biosocial processes, but lack any meaningful engagement with considerable debates within psychology and cognitive science about what the mind, and indeed the psychological, actually is, its relationship to social life, and how we should study it. The psychological interface is therefore vital to these biosocial hypotheses but is remarkably underdeveloped in comparison to its biological and sociological components. We argue that biosocial psychiatric research could gain a great deal from engaging with contemporary theorisations of experience and being more critical of vague appeals to psychological phenomena.

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.