Tag Archives: public opinion

History of the Human Sciences Special Issue: Psychology and its Publics

It is my pleasure to direct AHP readers to a just released special issue of History of the Human Science on Psychology and its Publics, guest edited by Michael Pettit and myself. The issue includes articles tackling a diverse array of topics on psychology’s relationship with the public, including: the public psychology of sentimentalism and the guillotine during the French Revolution; the construction of an attitudinal public in concert with the development of questionnaires; the dissemination of Albert Ellis’s rational therapy via popular media forms; the public’s interaction with psychological ideas via the graphic novel Watchmen and its queer history; the function of sexual assault surveys in structuring rape’s ontology and politicizing rape as a social issue; and consideration of the ontology of the public through the lens of deliberative public opinion. Thanks to all our contributors for their wonderful and thought provoking work!

In advance of the issue’s release I was also interviewed about the rationale and aims of the special issue by History of the Human Sciences editor-in-chief Felicity Callard. Read that interview in full here.

Full titles, authors, and abstracts for the pieces in the special issue follow below.

“Psychology and its publics,” by Michael Pettit and Jacy L. Young. Abstract:

This paper introduces the special issue dedicated to ‘Psychology and its Publics’. The question of the relationship between psychologists and the wider public has been a central matter of concern to the historiography of psychology. Where critical historians tend to assume a pliant audience, eager to adopt psychological categories, psychologists themselves often complain about the public misunderstanding of them. Ironically, both accounts share a flattened understanding of the public. We turn to research on the public understanding of science (PUS), the public engagement with science (PES) and communications studies to develop a rich account of the circuitry that ties together psychological experts and their subjects.

“The unfailing machine: Mechanical arts, sentimental publics and the guillotine in revolutionary France,” by Edward Jones-Imhotep. Abstract:

This article explores how the pre-eminent public psychology of the French Revolution – sentimentalism – shaped the necessity, understanding and construction of its most iconic public machine. The guillotine provided a solution to the problem of public executions in an age of both sentiment and reason. It was designed to rationalize punishment and make it more humane; but it was also designed to guard against the psychological effects of older, more variable and unpredictable methods of public execution on a sentimental public. That public, contemporaries argued, required executions performed by an unfailing technology. Rather than focus on the role of the guillotine after 1793, the article explores how the implacable mechanical action that helped produce the Reign of Terror and multiply the cadavers of medical science was demanded by the guillotine’s origins as a sentimental machine.

“Numbering the mind: Questionnaires and the attitudinal public,” by Jacy L. Young. Abstract: Continue reading History of the Human Sciences Special Issue: Psychology and its Publics

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New JHBS: Mental Testing, Random Sampling, & More!

The Spring 2017 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in the issue explore the promotion of the scientific status of polling, Robert H. Lowie and the concept of culture, the work of Lawrence Krader, and work on mental associations prior to mental testing. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.


The scientific pollsters (Archibald Crossley, George H. Gallup, and Elmo Roper) emerged onto the American news media scene in 1935. Much of what they did in the following years (1935–1948) was to promote both the political and scientific legitimacy of their enterprise. They sought to be recognized as the sole legitimate producers of public opinion. In this essay I examine the, mostly overlooked, rhetorical work deployed by the pollsters to publicize the scientific credentials of their polling activities, and the central role the concept of sampling has had in that pursuit. First, they distanced themselves from the failed straw poll by claiming that their sampling methodology based on quotas was informed by science. Second, although in practice they did not use random sampling, they relied on it rhetorically to derive the symbolic benefits of being associated with the “laws of probability.”

“ANTHROPOLOGY AT WAR: ROBERT H. LOWIE AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE CULTURE CONCEPT, 1904 to 1954,” by STEFAN BARGHEER. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: Mental Testing, Random Sampling, & More!

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