Tag Archives: expertise

The Politics of Cognition: Liberalism and the Evolutionary Origins of Victorian Education

AHP readers may be interested in a forthcoming piece in The British Journal for the History of Science on the politics of cognition in Victorian Britain. Full details below.

The Politics of Cognition: Liberalism and the Evolutionary Origins of Victorian Education,” by Matthew Daniel Eddy. Abstract:

In recent years the historical relationship between scientific experts and the state has received increasing scrutiny. Such experts played important roles in the creation and regulation of environmental organizations and functioned as agents dispatched by politicians or bureaucrats to assess health-related problems and concerns raised by the public or the judiciary. But when it came to making public policy, scientists played another role that has received less attention. In addition to acting as advisers and assessors, some scientists were democratically elected members of local and national legislatures. In this essay I draw attention to this phenomenon by examining how liberal politicians and intellectuals used Darwinian cognitive science to conceptualize the education of children in Victorian Britain.

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New HHS: Brainwashing, Scientific Expertise and the Politics of Emotion, & More!

The July 2017 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore cinematic representations of brainwashing, scientific expertise and the politics of emotion, and more. Full details below.

“Brainwashing the cybernetic spectator: The Ipcress File, 1960s cinematic spectacle and the sciences of mind,” by Marcia Holmes. Abstract:

This article argues that the mid-1960s saw a dramatic shift in how ‘brainwashing’ was popularly imagined, reflecting Anglo-American developments in the sciences of mind as well as shifts in mass media culture. The 1965 British film The Ipcress File (dir. Sidney J. Furie, starr. Michael Caine) provides a rich case for exploring these interconnections between mind control, mind science and media, as it exemplifies the era’s innovations for depicting ‘brainwashing’ on screen: the film’s protagonist is subjected to flashing lights and electronic music, pulsating to the ‘rhythm of brainwaves’. This article describes the making of The Ipcress File’s brainwashing sequence and shows how its quest for cinematic spectacle drew on developments in cybernetic science, multimedia design and modernist architecture (developments that were also influencing the 1960s psychedelic counter-culture). I argue that often interposed between the disparate endeavours of 1960s mind control, psychological science and media was a vision of the human mind as a ‘cybernetic spectator’: a subject who scrutinizes how media and other demands on her sensory perception can affect consciousness, and seeks to consciously participate in this mental conditioning and guide its effects.

“Scientific expertise and the politics of emotions in the 1902 trial of Giuseppe Musolino,” by Daphne Rozenblatt. Abstract: Continue reading New HHS: Brainwashing, Scientific Expertise and the Politics of Emotion, & More!

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Review Essay: “Subject matter: Human behavior, psychological expertise, and therapeutic lives”

The February 2015 issue of Social Studies of Science includes a Review Essay of a number of recent works in the history of the human sciences. In this essay Michael Pettit (left) surveys recent monographs by Peter Hegarty (Gentlemen’s Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men), Helen E. Longino (Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality), Chloe Silverman (Understanding Autism: Parents, Doctors, and the History of a Disorder), Mathew Thomson (Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement), and Marga Vicedo (The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America), commenting on the current state and future possibilities of work in the field. Title, author, and an excerpt from the essay (in lieu of an abstract) follow below.

“Subject matter: Human behavior, psychological expertise, and therapeutic lives,” by Michael Pettit. Excerpt:

Few have greater confidence in psychology’s ability to mold subjectivity than its critics. However, there is a tension in much of the historical and sociological literature on psychology and the psychological society between a commitment to a microphysics of power (Foucault, 1977) and the kinds of sources and voices that get included in such analyses. ‘Subjectification’ (Rose, 1996) is all too often taken for granted, rather than made into a matter of inquiry involving contestation, multiplicity, and rejection. Relationships between scientists and publics are largely understood in terms of a hypodermic needle model of communication (Gitlin, 1978). On this basis, critical psychologist-historians select their favored disorder or construct, offer a largely intellectual history of it, and then assert that everyday experience has been psychologized. Such an approach speaks more to scientists’ visions and pretensions than to the social life of psychological facts (O’Connor and Joffe, 2013). Moreover, this approach bolsters and inflates, rather than critically scrutinizes, the scientist’s authority. We need greater specificity about psychology’s impact, better evidence of the circuits between expert description and self-understanding, and appreciation of the complicated lives of scientific methods and theories.
The books under review explore entanglements of psychology, sex, childhood, and development, and in so doing offer rich resources for rethinking much of the received wisdom about the public understanding of psychology, the authority of its experts, and the process of subjectification. The sex/gender distinction has long been recognized as a crucial site of traffic between nature and culture, one weighty with politics and consequences. These dynamics are amplified around children and development, where behavioral sciences and social policy meet, and each tries to anticipate and realize a better future (Adams et al., 2009). As the books here illustrate, psychology does not seek simply to craft accurate depictions of human behavior, but rather …

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