Category Archives: Books

The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick

Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick may be of interest to AHP readers, particular its exploration of agency and intelligence. The book is described as follows:

Today, a scientific explanation is not meant to ascribe agency to natural phenomena: we would not say a rock falls because it seeks the center of the earth. Even for living things, in the natural sciences and often in the social sciences, the same is true. A modern botanist would not say that plants pursue sunlight. This has not always been the case, nor, perhaps, was it inevitable. Since the seventeenth century, many thinkers have made agency, in various forms, central to science.

The Restless Clock examines the history of this principle, banning agency, in the life sciences. It also tells the story of dissenters embracing the opposite idea: that agency is essential to nature. The story begins with the automata of early modern Europe, as models for the new science of living things, and traces questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, and Darwin, among many others. Mechanist science, Jessica Riskin shows, had an associated theology: the argument from design, which found evidence for a designer in the mechanisms of nature. Rejecting such appeals to a supernatural God, the dissenters sought to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to a “divine engineer.” Their model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines.

The conflict between passive- and active-mechanist approaches maintains a subterranean life in current science, shaping debates in fields such as evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. This history promises not only to inform such debates, but also our sense of the possibilities for what it means to engage in science—and even what it means to be alive.

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Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond

A new book from from University of Chicago Press may be of interest to AHP readers. As described on the publisher’s site, Cathy Gere’s Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond asks

How should we weigh the costs and benefits of scientific research on humans? Is it right that a small group of people should suffer in order that a larger number can live better, healthier lives? Or is an individual truly sovereign, unable to be plotted as part of such a calculation?

These are questions that have bedeviled scientists, doctors, and ethicists for decades, and in Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good, Cathy Gere presents the gripping story of how we have addressed them over time. Today, we are horrified at the idea that a medical experiment could be performed on someone without consent. But, as Gere shows, that represents a relatively recent shift: for more than two centuries, from the birth of utilitarianism in the eighteenth century, the doctrine of the greater good held sway. If a researcher believed his work would benefit humanity, then inflicting pain, or even death, on unwitting or captive subjects was considered ethically acceptable. It was only in the wake of World War II, and the revelations of Nazi medical atrocities, that public and medical opinion began to change, culminating in the National Research Act of 1974, which mandated informed consent. Showing that utilitarianism is based in the idea that humans are motivated only by pain and pleasure, Gere cautions that that greater good thinking is on the upswing again today and that the lesson of history is in imminent danger of being lost.

Rooted in the experiences of real people, and with major consequences for how we think about ourselves and our rights, Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good is a dazzling, ambitious history.

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Happier? The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America

Now available from Oxford University Press is a historian Daniel Horowitz‘s new book, Happier? The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America. Happier? explores the history of positive psychology and happiness research and is described on the publisher’s website as follows:

When a cultural movement that began to take shape in the mid-twentieth century erupted into mainstream American culture in the late 1990s, it brought to the fore the idea that it is as important to improve one’s own sense of pleasure as it is to manage depression and anxiety. Cultural historian Daniel Horowitz’s research reveals that this change happened in the context of key events. World War II, the Holocaust, post-war prosperity, the rise of counter-culture, the crises of the 1970s, the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the prime ministerships of Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron provided the important context for the development of the field today known as positive psychology.

Happier? provides the first history of the origins, development, and impact of the way Americans — and now many around the world — shifted from mental illness to well-being as they pondered the human condition. This change, which came about from the fusing of knowledge drawn from Eastern spiritual traditions, behavioral economics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and cognitive psychology, has been led by scholars and academic entrepreneurs, as they wrestled with the implications of political events and forces such as neoliberalism and cultural conservatism, and a public eager for self-improvement.

Linking the development of happiness studies and positive psychology with a broad series of social changes, including the emergence of new media and technologies like TED talks, blogs, web sites, and neuroscience, as well as the role of evangelical ministers, Oprah Winfrey’s enterprises, and funding from government agencies and private foundations, Horowitz highlights the transfer of specialized knowledge into popular arenas. Along the way he shows how marketing triumphed, transforming academic disciplines and spirituality into saleable products. Ultimately, Happier? illuminates how positive psychology, one of the most influential academic fields of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, infused American culture with captivating promises for a happier society.

 

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On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History

A new book from Johns Hopkins University Press may be of interest to AHP readers. On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History by Howard I. Kushner is described as follows:

Since the late Stone Age, approximately 10 percent of humans have been left-handed, yet for most of human history left-handedness has been stigmatized. In On the Other Hand, Howard I. Kushner traces the impact of left-handedness on human cognition, behavior, culture, and health.

A left-hander himself, Kushner has long been interested in the meanings associated with left-handedness, and ultimately with whether hand preference can even be defined in a significant way. As he explores the medical and cultural history of left-handedness, Kushner describes the associated taboos, rituals, and stigma from around the globe. The words “left” and “left hand” have negative connotations in all languages, and left-handers have even historically been viewed as disabled.

In this comprehensive history of left-handedness, Kushner asks why left-handedness exists. He examines the relationship—if any—between handedness, linguistics, and learning disabilities, reveals how toleration of left-handedness serves as a barometer of wider cultural toleration and permissiveness, and wonders why the reported number of left-handers is significantly lower in Asia and Africa than in the West. Written in a lively style that mixes personal biography with scholarly research, On the Other Hand tells a comprehensive story about the science, traditions, and prejudices surrounding left-handedness.

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Managing Madness: Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada

Managing Madness: Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada, by Erika Dyck and Alex Deighton, is now available from the University of Manitoba Press. The book is described on the publisher’s website as follows:

The Saskatchewan Mental Hospital at Weyburn has played a significant role in the history of psychiatric services, mental health research, and community care in Canada. Its history provides a window to the changing nature of mental health services over the twentieth century.

Built in 1921, the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital was billed as the last asylum in North America and the largest facility of its kind in the British Commonwealth. A decade later, the Canadian Committee for Mental Hygiene cited it as one of the worst institutions in the country, largely due to extreme overcrowding. In the 1950s, the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital again attracted international attention for engaging in controversial therapeutic interventions, including treatments using LSD.

In the 1960s, sweeping health care reforms took hold in the province and mental health institutions underwent dramatic changes as they began moving patients into communities. As the patient and staff population shrank, the once palatial building fell into disrepair, the asylum’s expansive farmland fell out of cultivation, and mental health services folded into a complicated web of social and correctional services.

Managing Madness examines the Weyburn mental hospital, the people it housed, struggled to understand, help, or even tried to change, and the ever-shifting understanding of mental health.

Full details here.

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The Arabic Freud: Psychoanalysis and Islam in Modern Egypt

Omnia El Shakry has penned “the first in-depth look at how postwar thinkers in Egypt mapped the intersections between Islamic discourses and psychoanalytic thought.”

At UC Davis, El Shakry specializes in the intellectual and cultural history of the modern Middle East, is also a founding member of the Middle East/ South Asia Studies Program and is affiliated with their Critical Theory and Cultural Studies Programs.

The publisher’s blurb on the book is as follows:

In 1945, psychologist Yusuf Murad introduced an Arabic term borrowed from the medieval Sufi philosopher and mystic Ibn ‘Arabi—al-la-shu‘ur—as a translation for Sigmund Freud’s concept of the unconscious. By the late 1950s, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams had been translated into Arabic for an eager Egyptian public. In The Arabic Freud, Omnia El Shakry challenges the notion of a strict divide between psychoanalysis and Islam by tracing how postwar thinkers in Egypt blended psychoanalytic theories with concepts from classical Islamic thought in a creative encounter of ethical engagement.

Drawing on scholarly writings as well as popular literature on self-healing, El Shakry provides the first in-depth examination of psychoanalysis in Egypt and reveals how a new science of psychology—or “science of the soul,” as it came to be called—was inextricably linked to Islam and mysticism. She explores how Freudian ideas of the unconscious were crucial to the formation of modern discourses of subjectivity in areas as diverse as psychology, Islamic philosophy, and the law. Founding figures of Egyptian psychoanalysis, she shows, debated the temporality of the psyche, mystical states, the sexual drive, and the Oedipus complex, while offering startling insights into the nature of psychic life, ethics, and eros.

This provocative and insightful book invites us to rethink the relationship between psychoanalysis and religion in the modern era. Mapping the points of intersection between Islamic discourses and psychoanalytic thought, it illustrates how the Arabic Freud, like psychoanalysis itself, was elaborated across the space of human difference.

El Shakry’s previous publications include The Great Social Laboratory: Subjects of Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Egypt , and Gender and Sexuality in Islam: Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies.

Also, click here to listen to an interview with El Shakry about the volume, by Susanna Ferguson on the Ottoman History Podcast .(It is part of their series ‘History of Science, Ottoman, or Otherwise‘ which includes other episodes that may also be of interest to our readership.)

 

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A Recent History of Lesbian and Gay Psychology: From Homophobia to LGBT

Forthcoming from Routledge is a new volume exploring psychology’s history with gay and lesbian movements over the past half century. Peter Hegarty’s A Recent History of Lesbian and Gay Psychology: From Homophobia to LGBT is described as:

This ground-breaking text explores the contemporary history of how psychological research, practice, and theory has engaged with gay and lesbian movements in the United States and beyond, over the last 50 years. Peter Hegarty examines the main strands of research in lesbian and gay psychology that have emerged since the de-pathologizing of homosexuality in the 1970s that followed from the recognition of homophobia and societal prejudice.

The author details the expansion of ‘lesbian and gay psychology’ to ‘LGB’ to ‘LGBT psychology’ via its paradigm shifts, legal activism, shifts in policy makers’ and mental health professionals’ goals in regard to sexual and gender minorities. For the first time, the origins of the concepts, debates, and major research programs that have made up the field of LGBT psychology have been drawn together in a single historical narrative, making this a unique resource. A case is made that psychology has only very lately come to consider the needs and issues of transgender and intersex people, and that LGB paradigms need to be critically interrogated to understand how they can be best brokered to bring about social change for such groups.

A Recent History of Lesbian and Gay Psychology will serve as an advanced historical introduction to this field’s recent history and current concerns, and will inform both those who have been a part of this history and students who are new to the field.

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On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud

AHP readers may be interested in a new book exploring the history of the psychoanalytic couch. On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud by Nathan Kravis is now available from MIT Press. (The volume was also recently reviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books.) As the publisher describes,

The peculiar arrangement of the psychoanalyst’s office for an analytic session seems inexplicable. The analyst sits in a chair out of sight while the patient lies on a couch facing away. It has been this way since Freud, although, as Nathan Kravis points out in On the Couch, this practice is grounded more in the cultural history of reclining posture than in empirical research. Kravis, himself a practicing psychoanalyst, shows that the tradition of recumbent speech wasn’t dreamed up by Freud but can be traced back to ancient Greece, where guests reclined on couches at the symposion (a gathering for upper-class males to discuss philosophy and drink wine), and to the Roman convivium (a banquet at which men and women reclined together). From bed to bench to settee to chaise-longue to sofa: Kravis tells how the couch became an icon of self-knowledge and self-reflection as well as a site for pleasure, privacy, transgression, and healing.

Kravis draws on sources that range from ancient funerary monuments to furniture history to early photography, as well as histories of medicine, fashion, and interior decoration, and he deploys an astonishing array of images—of paintings, monuments, sculpture, photographs, illustrations, New Yorker cartoons, and advertisements.

Kravis deftly shows that, despite the ambivalence of today’s psychoanalysts—some of whom regard it as “infantilizing”—the couch continues to be the emblem of a narrative of self-discovery. Recumbent speech represents the affirmation in the presence of another of having a mind of one’s own.

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New Book! Constructing Pain: Historical, Psychological and Critical Perspectives

Now available from Routledge is Robert Kugelmann’s Constructing Pain: Historical, Psychological and Critical Perspectives. As described on the publisher’s website,

Everyone experiences pain, whether it’s emotional or physical, chronic or acute. Pain is part of what it means to be human, and so an understanding of how we relate to it as individuals – as well as cultures and societies – is fundamental to who we are.

In this important new book, the first in Routledge’s new Critical Approaches to Health series, Robert Kugelmann provides an accessible and insightful overview of how the concept of pain has been understood historically, psychologically, and anthropologically. Charting changes in how, after the development of modern painkillers, pain became a problem that could be solved, the book articulates how the possibilities for living with pain have changed over the last two hundred years.

Incorporating research conducted by the author himself, the book provides both a holistic conception of pain and an understanding of what it means to people experiencing it today. Including critical reflections in each chapter, Constructing Pain offers a comprehensive and enlightening treatment of an important issue to us all and will be fascinating reading for students and researchers within health psychology, healthcare, and nursing.

The volume was recently reviewed as part of History of the Human Sciencesbook reviews initiative.

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New Book: Homo Cinematicus: Science, Motion Pictures, and the Making of Modern Germany

Now available from University of Pennsylvania Press is Andreas Killen’s Homo Cinematicus: Science, Motion Pictures, and the Making of Modern Germany:

In the early decades of the twentieth century, two intertwined changes began to shape the direction of German society. The baptism of the German film industry took place amid post-World War I conditions of political and social breakdown, and the cultural vacuum left by collapsing institutions was partially filled by moving images. At the same time, the emerging human sciences—psychiatry, neurology, sexology, eugenics, industrial psychology, and psychoanalysis—began to play an increasingly significant role in setting the terms for the way Germany analyzed itself and the problems it had inherited from its authoritarian past, the modernizing process, and war. Moreover, in advancing their professional and social goals, these sciences became heavily reliant on motion pictures.

Situated at the intersection of film studies, the history of science and medicine, and the history of modern Germany, Homo Cinematicus connects the rise of cinema as a social institution to an inquiry into the history of knowledge production in the human sciences. Taking its title from a term coined in 1919 by commentator Wilhelm Stapel to identify a new social type that had been created by the emergence of cinema, Killen’s book explores how a new class of experts in these new disciplines converged on the figure of the “homo cinematicus” and made him central to many of that era’s major narratives and social policy initiatives.

Killen traces film’s use by the human sciences as a tool for producing, communicating, and popularizing new kinds of knowledge, as well as the ways that this alliance was challenged by popular films that interrogated the truth claims of both modern science and scientific cinema. In doing so, Homo Cinematicus endeavors to move beyond the divide between scientific and popular film, examining their historical coexistence and coevolution.

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