The article discusses the role that conceptualisations of child ‘imperfection’ played in the rise and fall of Russian ‘child study’ between the 1900s and the 1930s. Drawing on Georges Canguilhem’s ideas on ‘the normal’ and ‘the pathological’, the article analyses practices centred on diagnosing subnormality and pathology in the Russian child population in the late tsarist and early Soviet eras. It first examines mutually competing normative regimes that framed categorisations of ‘imperfection’ among Russia’s children in the context of the empire’s accelerated, yet ambivalent modernisation during the 1900s–1910s. It then charts the expansion of this diagnostics in the first decade or so of the Soviet regime, following its shift in focus from the early-1920s’ ‘delinquent child’ to the late-1920s’ ‘mass child’. The article concludes with a discussion of the emergence, over this same period, of the Russian field of medicalised special education known as ‘defectology’. It argues that defectology’s disciplinary specificity crystallised in 1936 around a purposely restrictive concept of ‘imperfection’, understood as individualised and clinically established pathological ‘impairment’. The latter conceptualisation became fixed at the height of Stalinism as a strategic counter to the expansive flux in which the diagnostics and conceptualisation of child ‘imperfection’ had otherwise been over the first three decades of the twentieth century in the context of the remarkable rise of child study during this period.
Alcoholism is a strange thing. That it exists, no one seriously doubts. But it’s not entirely clear (diagnostically speaking) what it is, who has it, how they get it, or how to treat it. The answers to these questions depend, apparently, on where you are, which is to say what culture you were born and raise in. Alcoholism and treatments for it in Country A might be very different from alcoholism and treatments for it in countries B, C, and D. Alcoholism is, well, relative.
This is one of the many thing I learned from reading Eugene Raikhel‘s fascinating book Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet Clinic (Cornell University Press, 2016). An anthropologist, Raikhel tells us the tale of how the Soviet discipline of “narcology”–the diagnosis and treatment of addiction– evolved during Soviet times and how it adapted after the USSR fell. I won’t spoil the story for you, but suffice it to say that Russians treated and continue to treat alcoholism quite differently that we do in the U.S., though that’s changing (AA has arrived in Russia, something we also discuss).
The Spring 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the work of V. M. Bekhterev, patient experiences of “subconscious conflict” in prewar America, the history of the Rorschach test in Britain, and the mid-twentieth century relationship between the Carnegie Corporation and the Social Science Research Council. Full titles, authors and abstracts follow below.
“V. M. BEKHTEREV IN RUSSIAN CHILD SCIENCE, 1900S–1920S: “OBJECTIVE PSYCHOLOGY”/“REFLEXOLOGY” AS A SCIENTIFIC MOVEMENT,” by ANDY BYFORD. The abstract reads,
In the early 20th century the child population became a major focus of scientific, professional and public interest. This led to the crystallization of a dynamic field of child science, encompassing developmental and educational psychology, child psychiatry and special education, school hygiene and mental testing, juvenile criminology and the anthropology of childhood. This article discusses the role played in child science by the eminent Russian neurologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev. The latter’s name is associated with a distinctive program for transforming the human sciences in general and psychology in particular that he in the 1900s labelled “objective psychology” and from the 1910s renamed “reflexology.” The article examines the equivocal place that Bekhterev’s “objective psychology” and “reflexology” occupied in Russian/Soviet child science in the first three decades of the 20th century. While Bekhterev’s prominence in this field is beyond doubt, analysis shows that “objective psychology” and “reflexology” had much less success in mobilizing support within it than certain other movements in this arena (for example, “experimental pedagogy” in the pre-revolutionary era); it also found it difficult to compete with the variety of rival programs that arose within Soviet “pedology” during the 1920s. However, this article also demonstrates that the study of child development played a pivotal role in Bekhterev’s program for the transformation of the human sciences: it was especially important to his efforts to ground in empirical phenomena and in concrete research practices a new ontology of the psychological, which, the article argues, underpinned “objective psychology”/“reflexology” as a transformative scientific movement.
The March 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore psychogeriatrics in mid-twentieth century England, phenomenological explanations of delusions, the founding of the German Research Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, and more. Full titles, authors and abstract follow below.
“Psychogeriatrics in England in the 1950s: greater knowledge with little impact on provision of services,” by Claire Hilton. The abstract reads,
In the 1950s, the population aged over 65 years continued to increase, and older people occupied mental hospital beds disproportionately. A few psychiatrists and geriatricians demonstrated what could be done to improve the wellbeing of mentally unwell older people, who were usually labelled as having irreversible ‘senile dementia’. Martin Roth demonstrated that ‘senile dementia’ comprised five different disorders, some of which were reversible. These findings challenged established teaching and were doubted by colleagues. Despite diagnostic improvements and therapeutic successes, clinical practice changed little. Official reports highlighted the needs, but government commitment to increase and improve services did not materialize.
A new issue of Revista de Historia de la Psychología is now available online. Articles in this issue explore the work of Charles Richet (right), Gustav Ichheiser, José Ingenieros, and Rudolf Allers, as well as the history of pedology in Russia and Bulgaria. Titles, authors, and English-language abstracts follow below.
“El concepto de inteligencia inconsciente en la obra de Charles Richet (1850-1935),” by Manuel Sánchez de Miguel, Carlos Mª Alcover, and Izarne Lizaso. The abstract reads,
The phenomenon known as spiritualism reached its maximum popularity and expansion in the period from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The French physician and physiologist Charles Richet, Nobel Prize in physiology (1913) represents the attempt to consolidate a new experimental science known as metaphysics dedicated to the study of unknown phenomena as an alternative to spiritualistic theories. This multifaceted researcher advocates the rigorous study of the strange phenomena based on their knowledge of physiological psychology, a middle course of study located between the spiritualist called scientific medicine and scientific psychology. This paper analyses his biography and his work, the controversies raised by spiritualist current and orthodox medicine on the phenomenon of mediums, linking to the historical study of the genesis and evolution of the concept proposed by Richet, the unconscious intelligence, misunderstood term and relegated to historical oblivion.
The October 2014 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Among the articles included in this issue are ones exploring the relationship between psychology and ethnology, the role of mental tests in Russian child science, and the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa by Wahbie Long (right). Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“On relations between ethnology and psychology in historical context,” by Gustav Jahoda. The abstract reads,
Ever since records began, accounts of other peoples and their institutions and customs have included comments about their mental characteristics. The present article traces this feature from the 18th century to roughly the First World War, with a brief sketch of more recent developments. For most of this period two contrasting positions prevailed: the dominant one attributed human differences to ‘race’, while the other one explained them in terms of psychological, environmental and historical factors. The present account focuses on the latter, among them those who asserted ‘the psychic unity of mankind’. Generally it is shown that from the early period when writings were based almost entirely on secondary sources, to the beginnings of empirical studies, ethnological theories were indissolubly linked to psychological concerns.
Smith has managed to achieve what the reviewer took to be an almost impossible task: to write a single comprehensive volume on the history of psychology while at the same time acknowledging that (a) there are many histories of psychology, (b) there is no single coherent discipline of psychology, and (c) there were multiple developments in the formation of this discipline across the globe.
Smith’s work is described on the publisher’s website as follows:
From William James to Ivan Pavlov, John Dewey to Sigmund Freud, the Würzburg School to the Chicago School, psychology has spanned centuries and continents. Today, the word is an all-encompassing name for a bewildering range of beliefs about what psychologists know and do, and this intrinsic interest in knowing how our own and other’s minds work has a story as fascinating and complex as humankind itself. In Between Mind and Nature, Roger Smith explores the history of psychology and its relation to religion, politics, the arts, social life, the natural sciences, and technology.
Considering the big questions bound up in the history of psychology, Smith investigates what human nature is, whether psychology can provide answers to human problems, and whether the notion of being an individual depends on social and historical conditions. He also asks whether a method of rational thinking exists outside the realm of natural science. Posing important questions about the value and direction of psychology today, Between Mind and Nature is a cogently written book for those wishing to know more about the quest for knowledge of the mind.
For those interested in more hearing more of Smith’s work, an hour-long lecture on “Being Human in Russia – Free Will and Psychology Under the Tsars” can be heard online here.
Those interested in the history of Russian science and psychology will be interested in the blog, History of Science & Psychology. This blog is a moderated community blog where a number of users post about topics and issues in the history of science and psychology, focused particularly on science and psychology in Russia. The aim of the blog is to provide information on:
Problems of the history of science, specifically, psychology
Publication of archival materials
Info about new publications, upcoming conferences, and other related events, etc.
Posts to the blog are written in either Russian or English, or sometimes in both languages. Unfortunately, my Russian language skills are non-existent. While google translate can provide a first approximation of what has been posted to the blog, the images posted to the site, such as the one included here, need no such translation to be appreciated.
If you are interested in previous posts to the blog on specific topics visit the post ‘tags’ page here.