All posts by Jacy Young

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.

Special Issue: Cybernetics and the Human Sciences

AHP readers will be interested in a just published special issue of History of the Human Sciences on “Cybernetics and the Human Sciences.” Full details below.

Introduction: “Cybernetics and the human sciences,” Stefanos Geroulanos, Leif Weatherby. Abstract:

Cybernetics saturates the humanities. Norbert Wiener’s movement gave vocabulary and hardware to developments all across the early digital era, and still does so today to those who seek to interpret it. Even while the Macy Conferences were still taking place in the early 1950s, talk of feedback and information and pattern had spread to popular culture – and to Europe. The new science created a shared language and culture for surpassing political and intellectual ideas that could be relegated to a pre-computing tradition, and it refracted or channelled currents developing in fields from manufacturing to human physiology. It produced conceptions of the political world, as well as new forms of historical consciousness. It offered frameworks for structuralist thought, but also for policies regarding manufacturing and technology, international relations, and governmental decision-making. But the rising sense of the breadth, importance, and even shock of cybernetics long remained understudied, even as its intellectual assemblages continued to, well, relay. In devices and the so-called ‘digital humanities’, a refracted legacy of cybernetics is also visible. From mainframes to category-frameworks, cybernetics is everywhere in our material and intellectual worlds, even as the name and its meaning have faded. To the extent that cybernetics permeates the human sciences and our culture at large, it remains opaque – an only partially visible legacy often deemed too complex to form a simple object of historical narrative. This special issue on cybernetics in the human sciences outlines the history and stakes of cybernetics, as well as the possibilities of returning to it today.

“How disunity matters to the history of cybernetics in the human sciences in the United States, 1940–80,” Ronald Kline. Abstract:

Rather than assume a unitary cybernetics, I ask how its disunity mattered to the history of the human sciences in the United States from about 1940 to 1980. I compare the work of four prominent social scientists – Herbert Simon, George Miller, Karl Deutsch, and Talcott Parsons – who created cybernetic models in psychology, economics, political science, and sociology with the work of anthropologist Gregory Bateson, and relate their interpretations of cybernetics to those of such well-known cyberneticians as Norbert Wiener, Warren McCulloch, W. Ross Ashby, and Heinz von Foerster. I argue that viewing cybernetics through the lens of disunity – asking what was at stake in choosing a specific cybernetic model – shows the complexity of the relationship between first-order cybernetics and the postwar human sciences, and helps us rethink the history of second-order cybernetics.

“Cybernetics for the command economy: Foregrounding entropy in late Soviet planning,” Diana Kurkovsky West. Abstract:

The Soviet Union had a long and complex relationship with cybernetics, especially in the domain of planning. This article looks at Soviet postwar efforts to draw up plans for the rapidly developing, industrializing, and urbanizing Siberia, where cybernetic models were used to develop a vision of cybernetic socialism. Removed from Moscow bureaucracy and politics, the various planning institutes of the Siberian Academy of Sciences became a key frontier for exploring the potential of cybernetic thinking to offer a necessary corrective to Soviet planning. Researchers there put forth a vision of a dynamic Soviet economy managed through partially automated subsystems, which, while decentralized, would grant the central planning apparatus flexibility, a capacity for emergence, and overall solvency in the face of increasingly complex factors that required consideration.

“Textocracy, or, the cybernetic logic of French theory,” Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan. Abstract:

This article situates the emergence of cybernetic concepts in postwar French thought within a longer history of struggles surrounding the technocratic reform of French universities, including Marcel Mauss’s failed efforts to establish a large-scale centre for social-scientific research with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the intellectual and administrative endeavours of Claude Lévi-Strauss during the 1940s and 1950s, and the rise of communications research in connection with the Centre d’Études des Communications de Masse (CECMAS). Although semioticians and poststructuralists used cybernetic discourse critically and ironically, I argue that their embrace of a ‘textocratic’ perspective – that is, a theory of power and epistemology as tied to technical inscription – sustained elements of the technocratic reasoning dating back to these 1920s efforts to reform French universities.

“Cybernetic times: Norbert Wiener, John Stroud, and the ‘brain clock’ hypothesis,” Henning Schmidgen. Abstract:

In 1955, Norbert Wiener suggested a sociological model according to which all forms of culture ultimately depended on the temporal coordination of human activities, in particular their synchronization. The basis for Wiener’s model was provided by his insights into the temporal structures of cerebral processes. This article reconstructs the historical context of Wiener’s ‘brain clock’ hypothesis, largely via his dialogues with John W. Stroud and other scholars working at the intersection of neurophysiology, experimental psychology, and electrical engineering. Since the 19th century, physiologists and psychologists have been conducting experimental investigations into the relation between time and the brain. Using innovative instruments and technologies, Stroud rehearsed these experiments, in part without paying any attention at all to the experimental traditions involved. Against this background, this article argues that the novelty of Wiener’s model relies largely on his productive rephrasing of physiological and psychological findings that had been established long before the Second World War.

“The political theology of entropy: A Katechon for the cybernetic age,” David Bates. Abstract:

The digital revolution invites a reconsideration of the very essence of politics. How can we think about decision, control, and will at a time when technologies of automation are transforming every dimension of human life, from military combat to mental attention, from financial systems to the intimate lives of individuals? This article looks back to a moment in the 20th century when the concept of the political as an independent logic was developed, in a time when the boundaries and operations of the classic state were in question. At the same moment, a whole new technological era was opened up with the emergence of intelligent machines and computers in the postwar cybernetic age. Technology, and cybernetics in particular, loomed large in Carl Schmitt’s articulation of the concept of the political, while the problem of radical open decision was at the heart of influential cybernetic approaches to politics. Linking these was the idea of entropic decay. Schmitt’s invocation of the theological concept of the Katechon, who restrains chaos in the time before Christ’s return, in fact exemplifies the new understandings of order in a cybernetic age facing new challenges of technology in a globalized condition.

“Automatic Leviathan: Cybernetics and politics in Carl Schmitt’s postwar writings,” Nicolas Guilhot. Abstract:

This article questions the current vogue of Carl Schmitt among political theorists who read him as an antidote to the depoliticizing force of economics and technology in the age of neoliberalism and its algorithmic rationalities. It takes Schmitt’s sparse reflections about cybernetics and game theory as paradigmatic of the theoretical and political problems raised by any theory positing the autonomy of the political. It suggests that this ultimately misunderstands the role of cybernetic representations of political decision-making in shoring up in the 1960s and 1970s the autonomy of the political that Schmitt so vehemently defended.

“‘Ghastly marionettes’ and the political metaphysics of cognitive liberalism: Anti-behaviourism, language, and the origins of totalitarianism,” Danielle Judith Zola Carr. Abstract:

While behaviourist psychology had proven its worth to the US military during the Second World War, the 1950s saw behaviourism increasingly associated with a Cold War discourse of ‘totalitarianism’. This article considers the argument made in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism on totalitarianism as a form of behaviourist control. By connecting Arendt’s Cold War anti-behaviourism both to its discursive antecedents in a Progressive-era critique of industrial labour, and to contemporaneous attacks on behaviourism, this paper aims to answer two interlocking questions: Why was behaviourism overtaken by cognitivism as the dominant theoretical orientation of psychologists in the 1960s, and what role did the concept of language play in this shift?

“Design as aesthetic education: On the politics and aesthetics of learning environments,” Christina Vagt. Abstract:

The article, speaking from the double perspective of media history and political aesthetics, discusses the impact of behaviourism and early computer technology on the design of learning environments in the United States after the Second World War. By revisiting B. F. Skinner’s approaches to behavioural techniques and cultural engineering, and by showing how these principles were applied first at US design departments, and later to prison education, it argues that cybernetic and behavioural techniques merged in the common field of design and education. Behavioural design of the 1960s and 1970s furthered the cybernetic dream of total control over the world by addressing the learning environment rather than the individual, and operated within a space of possibility that was governed equally by technology and aesthetics. Behavioural design can therefore be understood as a political technology.

“What is the ‘cybernetic’ in the ‘history of cybernetics’? A French case, 1968 to the present,” Jacob Krell. Abstract:

This article examines the history of cybernetics in France, and the history of French cybernetics in the context of the emergent field of the history of cybernetics. Drawing upon an unfamiliar group of intellectuals and sources, I discuss the way in which French cybernetics was not primarily the hyper-philosophical strain we have come to associate with names such as Derrida and Lévi-Strauss, but an approach to thinking through political and social problems that some on the left would even deign to call pragmatic. In particular, I follow a group of intellectuals known as the Groupe des dix, who, in the aftermath of the tumult of May ‘68, formed an interdisciplinary think tank to try to work out how to bridge the gap between science and society. In order to facilitate conversations between politicians, philosophers, biologists, and sociologists (to name just a few of the represented disciplines), the Groupe reached for a language that was supposed to be truly omnidisciplinary: that of cybernetics. And they did so in a country where cybernetics was not properly represented as a laboratory science. On this last point, this paper makes an addition to the history of cybernetics by offering a portrait not of cybernetics in action, but of cybernetics in vulgarization. Not that the Groupe would not make their own stamp on politics: Several of them still hold significant power in adjudicating the role of science and technology in the public sphere in the French state.

The archival turn in classical social psychology: Some recent reports

A forthcoming article in Theory & Psychology will be of interest to AHP readers. “The archival turn in classical social psychology: Some recent reports,” by Augustine Brannigan. Abstract:

Preservation of the research records of classical experiments in university archives has opened a new avenue of investigation for students of social psychology. In many cases, the records afford the observer with access to materials to explain the actual progress of the research as it transpired originally and permit the observer to assess the fidelity as well as the inconsistencies between what was accomplished and what was subsequently published in the scientific literature. This archival turn in psychological research can provide a fresh understanding of the significance of the original research exposing both its value and its apparent weaknesses. In this essay, I explore archival reassessments of the work of Milgram, Zimbardo, and Sherif.

Forthcoming in HHS: Homosexual Aversion Therapy, Comte on Organism-Environment Relationships

Two forthcoming pieces in History of the Human Sciences may be of interest to AHP readers. Full details below.

Cold War Pavlov: Homosexual aversion therapy in the 1960s,” by Kate Davison. Abstract:

Homosexual aversion therapy enjoyed two brief but intense periods of clinical experimentation: between 1950 and 1962 in Czechoslovakia, and between 1962 and 1975 in the British Commonwealth. The specific context of its emergence was the geopolitical polarization of the Cold War and a parallel polarization within psychological medicine between Pavlovian and Freudian paradigms. In 1949, the Pavlovian paradigm became the guiding doctrine in the Communist bloc, characterized by a psychophysiological or materialist understanding of mental illness. It was taken up by therapists in Western countries who were critical of psychoanalysis and sought more ‘scientific’ diagnostic and therapeutic methods that focused on empirical evidence and treating actual symptoms. However, their attitude towards homosexuality often played a decisive role in how they used aversion therapy. Whereas Czechoslovakian researchers cautioned readers about low success rates and agitated for homosexual law reform in 1961, most of their anglophone counterparts selectively ignored or misrepresented the results of ‘the Prague experiment’, instead celebrating single-case ‘success’ stories in their effort to correct ‘abnormal’ sexual orientation. In histories of queer sexuality and its pathologization, the behaviourist paradigm remains almost entirely unmapped. This article provides the most detailed study to date of aversion therapy literature from both sides of the East/West border. In doing so, it contributes to the project not only of ‘decentring Western sexualities’, but of decentring Western sexological knowledge. Given its Pavlovian origins, the history of homosexual aversion therapy can be fully understood only in the context of Cold War transnational sexological knowledge exchange.

Organism and environment in Auguste Comte,” by Ryan McVeigh. Abstract:

This article focuses on Auguste Comte’s understanding of the organism–environment relationship. It makes three key claims therein: (a) Comte’s metaphysical position privileged materiality and relativized the intellect along two dimensions: one related to the biological organism, one related to the social environment; (b) this twofold materiality confounds attempts to reduce cognition to either nature or nurture, so Comte’s position has interesting parallels to the field of ‘epigenetics’, which sees the social environment as a causative factor in biology; and (c) although Comte ultimately diverged from the ‘postgenomic’ view in crucial ways, he remains a forerunner of the trend towards viewing the social and biological as entangled. Tending to these dimensions challenges the view that Comte is notable from a classical standpoint but ignorable from a contemporary one. It consequently invites renewed attention to his theoretical system.

May HoP, including a Special Section: Who Was Little Albert? The Historical Controversy

Photographs of John Watson (left) and Rosalie Rayner (right) via Ben Harris.

The May 2020 issue of History of Psychology is now online. The issue includes a special section on “Who Was Little Albert? The Historical Controversy.” Full details follow below.

Special Section: Who Was Little Albert? The Historical Controversy
“Journals, referees, and gatekeepers in the dispute over Little Albert, 2009–2014,” Harris, Ben. Abstract:

In this article, I examine the rise and fall of recent claims about the identity of John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner’s subject “Albert B.” (Watson & Rayner, 1920). Using medical records from 1919 to 1920 and close readings of published work, I argue that articles by Beck, Fridlund, and colleagues (Beck, Levinson, & Irons, 2009; Fridlund, Beck, Goldie, & Irons, 2012) were based on questionable logic and selective reporting of data. Using unpublished correspondence, media coverage, and editorial exchanges, I offer a backstage look at the process by which claims about Albert’s identity were published and then contradicted by new research. In publicizing both sides of this controversy, textbook authors and journalists played a more constructive role than critics of popularization might expect. Rather than a simple case of truth winning out over falsehood, this seems to have been a clash of rhetorical styles and sources of authority. That clash complicated the process of peer review, which became a negotiation over conflicting criteria from different disciplines.

“The Little Albert controversy: Intuition, confirmation bias, and logic,” by Digdon, Nancy. Abstract:

This article uses the recent controversy about Little Albert’s identity as an example of a fine case study of problems that can befall psychologist-historians and historians who are unaware of their tacit assumptions. Because bias and logical errors are engrained in human habits of mind, we can all succumb to them under certain conditions unless we are vigilant in guarding against them. The search for Little Albert suggests 2 persistent issues: (a) confirmation bias and (b) that overconfidence in a belief detracts from reasoning because logical errors are intuitive and seem reasonable. This article uses cognitive psychology as a framework for understanding why these issues might have arisen in the Albert research and passed the scrutiny of peer review. In closing, the article turns to historians’ writings to gain insight into rules of thumb and heuristics that psychologist-historians and historians can use to mitigate these concerns.

“The case for Douglas Merritte: Should we bury what is alive and well?” Fridlund, Alan J.; Beck, Hall P.; Goldie, William D.; Irons, Gary. Abstract:

In 2012, we (Fridlund, Beck, Goldie, & Irons, 2012) suggested that a neurologically impaired infant, Douglas Merritte, was the likeliest candidate for John B. Watson’s “Albert B.” In advancing the case for their alternative candidate, Albert Barger, Harris (2020) and Digdon (2020) both pronounce the Merritte case moribund. Prof. Digdon attributes our differing conclusions to logical error, selective reporting, and “confirmation bias” throughout our research. Prof. Harris goes further, (a) accusing us of withholding evidence, (b) alleging that we charged Watson unjustly with malpractice and preying on a helpless victim, (c) likening our research to that of “many popular accounts” in the history of psychology “that exist beyond the reach of traditional peer review”, (d) explaining the publication of our results as failures of peer review and the editorial process, and (e) attributing interest in our findings to gullible media and a guilty readership. We present data which show that the evidential claims Profs. Digdon and Harris advance against the Merritte case are incautious and expedient, and that their criticisms of our methods and allegations of bias arise from problems with their own scholarship. Contrary to their narratives, the neurologically impaired Douglas Merritte remains the closest fit to Watson’s “extremely phlegmatic” Albert.

“Watching the detectives: The multiple lives of academic editing” Pickren, Wade E. Abstract:

There are as many approaches to academic editing as there are editors. I suspect that for those of us who make editing a large part of our professional lives, it is also a constantly evolving process of learning, adapting, and, sometimes, improvising. I have served as an editor of books and journals for the last 18 years, including a term as editor of this journal. My statements here reflect my thoughts about editing academic journals, although the principles I employ are operative in all forms of my editorial work.


““Don’t worry”: Figurations of the child in a Swedish parenting advice column” Skagius, Peter. Abstract:

Materials such as popular books, magazines, and newspapers have historically been important for the circulation of psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ expertise in the public sphere. In this article, I analyze an advice column published in the Swedish parenting magazine Vi Föräldrar [Us Parents], featuring the child psychologist Malin Alfvén. Drawing on the concept of figurations (Castañeda, 2002), denoting the process of outlining and defining an entity, I show how the expert framed the child-related problems brought up in the submitted letters as transient and a normal part of children’s development. In fact, most problems were considered beneficial for both parents and the child. Instead of interpreting children’s behavior through a medical framework, Alfvén’s explanations drew on 3 naturalizing figurations of the child: as being one of several kinds of children; as going through phases and ages; and as being a unique individual. For instance, a child could be rowdy and temperamental because he was a willful kind of child, not because, as suggested by some parents, he suffered from a neuropsychiatric disorder. I conclude by contrasting these findings to the claims made by some scholars that “psy” experts have contributed to an increasing medicalization of childhood as well as to a framing of children’s development as overwhelmingly determined by parents’ care.

“Psychologists’ psychologies of psychologists in a time of crisis” Morawski, Jill. Abstract:

Beset by detection of replication failures and questionable research practices over the last decade, psychology has been deemed by many to be in crisis. The situation is exceptional not only for the many investigative practices being scrutinized but also for the attention given to the undue influence of psychologists’ psychology on those practices. Comparative analysis of 2 crises finds that the earlier one focused on the experimenters’ activities within the laboratory, whereas the current concerns center on experimenters’ postexperimental work. Whereas the previous crisis did include deep concerns about experimenters, the currently offered psychologies of fellow psychologists are distinctive in their frequency, intensity, and considerable reliance upon established knowledge about human thought and behavior. In so utilizing scientific psychology to assess psychology, the current appraisals give richer evidence of the circuitry of psychological knowledge as it travels from the laboratory outward and back. They give considerable attention to the scientists’ moral characteristics, whereas the earlier crisis generated concerns about experimenters’ conduct in the laboratory and the politics surrounding the application of psychological knowledge. Through their direct discussions of personal and moral conduct, the assessments also resonate with uncertainties about scientists’ self-control, normative ethics, and emotions. Taken together, the psychologies and attendant uncertainties illuminate present conditions of psychology’s scientific self and invite reflection on the close connections between that self, ethos, and epistemology.

“New books on the early history of British psychoanalysis: An essay review” Shapira, Michal. Abstract:

Reviews the books, Freud in Cambridge by John Forrester and Laura Cameron and Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893-1913: Histories and Historiography by Philip Kuhn. Sigmund Freud and his invention of the discipline of psychoanalysis had an immense intellectual impact on 20th-century culture. Yet, although his writings were received with great enthusiasm—as well as with hostility—we are still lacking full accounts of all the various sites where Freud and his ideas were widely discussed and which rapidly paired his name (as early as the 1920s) with those of eminent intellectuals such as Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. Forrester and Cameron’s Freud in Cambridge is a good book to read alongside Phillip Kuhn’s Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913: Histories and Historiography, published in 2017 (for my full review, see Michal, 2019). Here, I include only what is relevant to a comparison of the two books. Freud in Cambridge opposes writing the history of psychoanalysis modeled on the “Great Man” and focusing on Sigmund Freud the individual and his decisive influence, as it rejects a historical model centered around the bureaucracy of institutions such as the International Psycho-Analytic Association. Concentrating on the British case, the book chooses instead to look beyond Ernest Jones’ efforts to spread Freud’s ideas, and beyond the workings of the British Psycho-Analytical Society (BPAS) that Jones created in 1919. Kuhn’s periodization is earlier than that of Forrester and Cameron, as he provides a meticulous examination and close textual reading of contemporary sources to look at the last years of the 19th century and the era before the outbreak of the Great War. Similarly, Kuhn’s book is a closely researched study of the early days of psychoanalysis in Britain within broad medical and social contexts.

“Maria Montessori: A complex and multifaceted historiographical subject” Romano, Andrea. Abstract:

The main goal of this essay is to outline the historiographical profile of Maria Montessori (1870 –1952), which has been subject to substantial investigation in recent years (Babini & Lama, 2000; De Giorgi, 2013; Foschi, 2012; Giovetti, 2009; Marazzi, 2000). These latest analyses have highlighted a previously unacknowledged complexity. The historiographical literature on Maria Montessori, her pedagogical method, and her experiences in different parts of the world is composed of numerous contributions characterized by different focuses and purposes.

“John Watson: In verse.” Charles, Eric. Abstract:

This poem describes John Watson and his scientific contributions through verse.

CfP: Shaping the ‘Socialist Self’? The Role of Psy-Sciences in Communist States of the Eastern Bloc (1948–1989)


Shaping the ‘Socialist Self’?

The Role of Psy-Sciences in Communist States of the Eastern Bloc (1948–1989)

Date: 6 November 2020

Venue: Prague, Czech Republic

Deadline for applications30 June 2020

Organizing institutions:

The history of psy-sciences under communist rule in the former Eastern Bloc has been widely perceived as a mirror image of state socialist mental health policies. In the last years, however, the situation has changed: the history of psy-sciences in communist Europe has become an evolving field of research dealing with a variety of topics ranging from the transnational history of psychiatry to the history of social control and criminality. Following post-Foucauldian ideas, many historians and other scholars started to turn their attention to the relation between psy-sciences and distinctive communist art of governing. The role of psy-sciences in communist dictatorships began to be perceived within a broader framework of biopolitics and technologies of the ‘self’. Furthermore, drawing inspiration from science and technology studies, many of these works aimed to analyse knowledge and practices of psy-sciences in relation to complex networks of agents and objects.

Following these developments, this workshop aims to bring together researchers dealing with the history of psy-sciences in communist Europe. The main aim is to (1) discuss contemporary approaches, topics and themes in current research about the role of psy-sciences in the communist states of the Eastern Bloc and to (2) outline possible questions and issues relevant for future research in this field.

We are interested in all papers from various methodological backgrounds dealing with the history of psy-sciences in communist Europe. We especially welcome papers focusing on aspects and questions such as:

  • Psy-sciences between East and West: circulation of ideas and practices

How did the production of knowledge and practices of psy-experts look like in Eastern Europe? Were psy-experts involved in discussions with their colleagues from other parts of Europe or were they working in isolation? Were psy-experts in Eastern Europe influenced by their national scientific traditions or by globalising trends in the field? Was there any forum for exchanging ideas and theories? What kind of role had international conferences in shaping the knowledge of psy-experts?

  • Creating the ‘socialist self’: psy-sciences, identity and politics

How did the knowledge and practices of psy-sciences form the ‘self’ of people under the communist rule? How was the concept of ‘socialist personality’ constructed and where was it operating (e.g. in mental health institutions, at schools or in the military)? Was the discourse of psy-sciences subjugating or empowering? What kind of technologies of the ‘self’ did psy-sciences produce and to what extent did people internalize them? How did psy-sciences shape the communist art of governing?

  • Regulating the socialist society: psy-sciences, security and social control

What was perceived as ‘abnormal’ or ‘anti-social’ behaviour and how was it treated by psy-experts and the state? How did the knowledge and practices of psy-science influence socialist criminology and penology? How was the medicalisation of crime integrated into the socialist criminal justice system? To what extent did psy-sciences get involved into public health campaigns propagated by the socialist state?

We welcome all contributions in different phases of research (e.g. an outline of research, a presentation of a chapter/article or finished research). Please send us a short biography (ca. 150 words) and an abstract of your paper (up to 400 words for a 20-minute presentation) until 30 June 2020 to Jakub St?elec ( The workshop will be held in English.

Participants who are not able to secure funding for travel and accommodation will have the possibility to apply for financial assistance.


  • Jakub St?elec (Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University / PhD CEFRES Fellow)

Scientific Committee:

  • Jérôme Heurtaux (CEFRES Director)
  • Adéla Gjuri?ová (Senior Researcher, Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences)
  • Martin Schulze Wessel (Institute Director of Collegium Carolinum)

Contact Email: