This article presents a historical analysis of the origins, rise, and demise of theories of stratification (Schichtentheorien). Following their roots in the ancient metaphysical idea of the “great chain of being,” Aristotle’s scala naturae, the medieval “Jacob’s ladder,” and Leibniz’s concept of the lex continua, I argue that theories of stratification represent the modern heir to the ancient cosmological idea of a harmonious, hierarchical, and unified universe. Theories of stratification reached their heyday during the interwar period within German academia, proliferating over a vast number of disciplines and rising to special prominence within personality psychology, feeding the hope for a unitary image of the world and of human beings, their biological and mental development, their social organization and cultural creations. This article focuses on the role of visuality as a distinct mode of scientific knowledge within theories of stratification as well as the cultural context that provided the fertile ground for their flowering in the Weimar Republic. Finally, the rapid demise of theories of stratification during the 1950s is discussed, and some reasons for their downfall during the second half of the 20th century are explored.
The New York Times has just reviewed the newly released documentary The Witness. The film traces the efforts of Bill Genovese – younger brother of Kitty Genovese – to get to the bottom of the infamous death of his sister in 1964. As the Times reports within the documentary
A “Rashomon” emerges: questionable reporting, widely disseminated, based on police claims; an outlandish alternate history that Mr. Moseley, who died this March, sent Mr. Genovese from prison; a neighbor who recalls holding Ms. Genovese in her final moments.
Ultimately, the murder is eclipsed by Mr. Genovese’s own struggles — how his obsession exasperates family members, and how the perceived public apathy inspired him to fight in Vietnam, where he lost his legs. A re-creation of the night, with an actress playing the screaming victim while Mr. Genovese observes, is harrowing. You pray he has at last found peace.
As TheNew York Times reports, Winston Mosesley has died in prison at the age of 81. Mosesley infamously raped and murdered Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964. The story that 38 bystanders stood by and did nothing as Genovese pled for help during the attack inspired the development of the “bystander effect” within psychology, which describes the diffusion of responsibility that occurs when events are witnessed by multiple individuals. That 38 bystanders in Genovese’s case witnessed the attack and did not intervene, however, has been discredited. (For more on the Genovese case see here.) The full New York Times piece, which describes the Genovese case and its historical significance, can be read online here.
The New York Times reports that a film, titled ’37’, on the infamous Kitty Genovese murder is in the works. The Genovese case is often credited with providing the impetus for research into the bystander effect, whereby bystanders fail to intervene in an emergency situation as a result of a diffusion of responsibility. The notion that bystanders failed to intervene in the Genovese case – including the NYT‘s initial erroneous accounting of 37 such individuals – has been called into question (see our previous posts on this myth here). As the NYT reports,
Whether the classic account of the murder is factually true has been disputed for years. The disturbing article in The New York Times at the time (“37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”) got the probable number of witnesses wrong, among other facts. Some people did call the police; at least one neighbor comforted the victim as she died. But over the years, Kitty Genovese has become more than a true-crime statistic. She’s attained the status of a myth aswirl in urban dread.
More details about the film ’37’ can be found in the NYT piece.
For your Friday viewing pleasure, we present The Detached Americans a 1964 TV documentary on the Kitty Genovese case (see previous AHP posts on Genovese here). In 1964 Genovese was murdered and it was widely reported that numerous witnesses to the murder – as many as 38 – failed to intervene. The case is often cited as the basis for what is known as the bystander effect in social psychology, whereby individuals fail to aid in emergency situations when others are present. This failure to help people in need is often attributed to a diffusion of responsibility, as it is assumed that others present will offer assistance. Happy viewing!