Category Archives: General

“Act thin, stay thin”: Commercialization, behavior modification, and group weight control

A new article in press at Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers.

““Act thin, stay thin”: Commercialization, behavior modification, and group weight control,” by Jessica Parr. Abstract:

In 1968, Weight Watchers International introduced behavior modification practices to their established commercial program. At the time, the addition of behavioral psychology gave Weight Watchers a distinct advantage over the many competing weight control groups in postwar America. The process of combining group therapy with a controlled diet plan, behavior techniques and later, exercise, has significantly influenced American popular culture. This article considers how the commercialization of group weight control impacted the development and dissemination of a new multidimensional approach for weight management and how this has shaped popular ideas associated with dieting and wider understandings of healthy living.

The Republic of Color: Science, Perception, and the Making of Modern America

AHP readers will be interested in a new book on the history of colour in America: The Republic of Color: Science, Perception, and the Making of Modern America by Michael Rossi. The book is described as follows:

The Republic of Color delves deep into the history of color science in the United States to unearth its origins and examine the scope of its influence on the industrial transformation of turn-of-the-century America.

For a nation in the grip of profound economic, cultural, and demographic crises, the standardization of color became a means of social reform—a way of sculpting the American population into one more amenable to the needs of the emerging industrial order. Delineating color was also a way to characterize the vagaries of human nature, and to create ideal structures through which those humans would act in a newly modern American republic. Michael Rossi’s compelling history goes far beyond the culture of the visual to show readers how the control and regulation of color shaped the social contours of modern America—and redefined the way we see the world.

Table of Contents

Introduction / Cloven Tongues of Fire

Chapter One / Modern Chromatics: Ogden Rood and the Wrong-Workings of the Eye

Chapter Two / From Chemistry to Phanerochemistry: Charles Sanders Peirce and the Semiotic of Color

Chapter Three / Pathologies of Perception: Benjamin Joy Jeffries and the Invention of Color Blindness

Chapter Four / Colors and Cultures: Evolution, Biology, and Society

Chapter Five / The Pragmatic Physiology of Color Vision: Christine Ladd-Franklin and the “Evolutionary Theory” of Color

Chapter Six / Small Lies for Big Truths: Standards, Values, and Color Terms

Chapter Seven / The Logical and the Genetic: Bodies, Work, and Formal Color Notations

Conclusion / Talking about Color

Between Shell Shock and PTSD? ‘Accident Neurosis’ and Its Sequelae in Post-War Britain

The August issue of Social History of Medicine includes a piece that may interest AHP readers:

Between Shell Shock and PTSD? ‘Accident Neurosis’ and Its Sequelae in Post-War Britain,” by Ryan Ross. Abstract:

This article focuses on the concept of ‘accident neurosis’, popularised by neurologist Henry Miller in studies published in 1961. It aims to realise two goals. First, it introduces Miller’s concept of accident neurosis to the broader history of trauma—to a field, that is, more preoccupied with military traumata and clear-cut psychiatric aetiologies. Secondly, I use Miller’s studies, and the considerable legacy they created, to reflect on how historians of trauma construct historical narratives, asking whether there is sufficient appreciation of the ways in which events seem to leak into or retroactively animate one another.

New History of the Human Sciences: Child Experts in the Swedish Press, Historiography of Brain and Mind Sciences

The July 2019 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. A number of articles in this issue may interest AHP readers, particularly Peter Skagius’s piece on the presence of child psychology and psychiatry experts in Swedish newspapers and Alfred Freeborn’s review article on the recent historiography on the brain and mind sciences. Full issue contents are detailed below.

“Social types and sociological analysis,” by Charles Turner. Abstract:

Social types, or types of persons, occupy a curious place in the history of sociology. There has never been any agreement on how they should be used, or what their import is. Yet the problems surrounding their use are instructive, symptomatic of key ambivalences at the heart of the sociological enterprise. These include a tension between theories of social order that privilege the division of labour and those that focus on large-scale cultural complexes; a tension between the analysis of society in terms of social groups and an acknowledgement of modern individualism; sociology’s location somewhere between literature and science; and sociology’s awkward response to the claim – made by both Catholic conservatives and Marxists – that modern industrial and post-industrial society cannot be a society of estates. These ambivalences may help to explain why the attempts to use social types for the purpose of cultural diagnosis – from the interesting portrait of arbitrarily selected positions in the division of labour to more ambitious guesswork about modern culture’s dominant ‘characters’ – have been unconvincing.

“‘That they will be capable of governing themselves’: Knowledge of Amerindian Difference and early modern arts of governance in the Spanish Colonial Antilles,” by Timothy Bowers Vasko. Abstract:

Contrary to conventional accounts, critical knowledge of the cultural differences of Amerindian peoples was not absent in the early Conquest of the Americas. It was indeed a constitutive element of that process. The knowledge, strategies, and institutions of early Conquest relied on, and reproduced, Amerindian difference within the Spanish Empire as an essential element of that empire’s continued claims to legitimate authority. I demonstrate this through a focus on three parallel and sometimes overlapping texts: Ramón Pané’s Indian Antiquities; Peter Martyr d’Anghierra’s First Decade; and the first systematic attempt to govern colonized populations in the Americas, the Laws of Burgos. Not only did each text furnish the necessary material upon which the claims to intellectual, and so civilizational, superiority that were central to the justification of empire could be sustained. What is more, they transformed Amerindian difference from an object of knowledge into a subject of governance.

“‘Mere chips from his workshop’: Gotthard Deutsch’s monumental card index of Jewish history,” by Jason Lustig. Abstract:

Gotthard Deutsch (1859–1921) taught at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati from 1891 until his death, where he produced a card index of 70,000 ‘facts’ of Jewish history. This article explores the biography of this artefact of research and poses the following question: Does Deutsch’s index constitute a great unwritten work of history, as some have claimed, or are the cards ultimately useless ‘chips from his workshop’? It may seem a curious relic of positivistic history, but closer examination allows us to interrogate the materiality of scholarly labor. The catalogue constitutes a total archive and highlights memory’s multiple registers, as both a prosthesis for personal recall and a symbol of a ‘human encyclopedia’. The article argues that this mostly forgotten scholar’s work had surprising repercussions: Deutsch’s student Jacob Rader Marcus (1896–1995) brought his teacher’s emphasis on facticity to the field of American Jewish history that he pioneered, catapulting a 19th-century positivism to the threshold of the 21st century. Deutsch’s index was at an inflection point of knowledge production, created as historians were shifting away from ‘facts’ but just before new technologies (also based on cards) enabled ‘big data’ on a larger scale. The article thus excavates a vision of monumentality but proposes we look past these objects as monuments to ‘heroic’ scholarship. Indeed, Deutsch’s index is massive but middling, especially when placed alongside those of Niklas Luhmann, Paul Otlet, or Gershom Scholem. It thus presents a necessary corrective to anointing such indexes as predecessors to the Internet and big data because we must keep their problematic positivism in perspective.

“Brains and psyches: Child psychological and psychiatric expertise in a Swedish newspaper, 1980–2008,” Peter Skagius. Abstract:

Most children and families have not had direct contact with child psychological and psychiatric experts. Instead they encounter developmental theories, etiological explanations and depictions of childhood disorders through indirect channels such as newspapers. Drawing on actor–network theory, this article explores two child psychological and psychiatric modes of ordering children’s mental health discernible in Sweden’s largest morning newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, during the years 1980 to 2008: a psychodynamic mode and a neuro-centered mode. In the article I show how these two relatively contemporaneous modes greatly differed in how they enacted children’s mental health. The psychodynamic mode stressed the parents’ role in structuring and affecting the child’s unconscious and saw them as the primary cause of any mental illness. In contrast, the neuro-centered mode highlighted that mental issues were related to the child’s brain and proposed different solutions depending on whether the child’s brain functioned in a ‘normal’ or ‘atypical’ manner. Each mode moreover suggested differing contexts to their discussions, with the psychodynamic mode solely discussing the parental milieu while the neuro-centered mode mainly focused on how society affected children with ‘atypical’ brains. The two modes thus had significantly diverging implications for the reader on how to understand and manage children and their psychological well-being. I further argue in the article for the relevance of actor–network theory in historical studies of psychology and psychiatry.

“The many lives of state capitalism: From classical Marxism to free-market advocacy,” by Nathan Sperber. Abstract:

State capitalism has recently come to the fore as a transversal research object in the social sciences. Renewed interest in the notion is evident across several disciplines, in scholarship addressing government interventionism in economic life in major developing countries. This emergent field of study on state capitalism, however, consistently bypasses the remarkable conceptual trajectory of the notion from the end of the 19th century to the present. This article proposes an intellectual-historical survey of state capitalism’s many lives across different ensembles of writing: early Marxist pronouncements on state capitalism at the time of the Second International; theories of state capitalism evolved in the first half of the 20th century in response to the European experience of war and fascism; dissident portrayals of the Soviet Union as state-capitalist; post-Second World War theories of state-monopoly capitalism in the Western Bloc; examinations of state capitalism as a development strategy in ‘Third World’ nations in the 1970s and 1980s; and finally, today’s scholarship on new patterns of state capitalism in emerging economies. Having contextualized each of these strands of writing, the article goes on to interrogate definitional and conceptual boundaries of state capitalism. It then maps out essential institutional features of state-capitalist configurations as construed in the literature. In sharp contrast to 20th-century theories of state capitalism, present-day scholarship on the topic tends to retreat from the integrated critique of political economy, shifting its problematics of state-market relations to meso- and micro-levels of analysis.

“Hannah Arendt, evil, and political resistance,” by Gavin Rae. Abstract:

While Hannah Arendt claimed to have abandoned her early conception of radical evil for a banal one, recent scholarship has questioned that conclusion. This article contributes to the debate by arguing that her conceptual alteration is best understood by engaging with the structure of norms subtending each conception. From this, I develop a compatibilist understanding that accounts for Arendt’s movement from a radical to a banal conception of evil, by claiming that it was because she came to reject the foundationalism of the former for the non-foundationalism of the latter, where norms are located from an ineffable ‘source’ diffusely spread throughout the society. While it might be thought that this means that such norms are all-encompassing to the extent that they determine individual action, I appeal to her notions of plurality, action, and natality, to argue that she defends the weaker claim that moral norms merely condition action. This demonstrates how Arendt’s conceptions of evil complement one another, highlights her understanding of the action–norms relation, and identifies that there is built into Arendt’s conception(s) of evil a resource for resisting totalitarian domination.

Review article: “The history of the brain and mind sciences,” by Alfred Freeborn. Abstract:

This review article critically surveys the following literature by placing it under the historiographical banner of ‘the history of the brain and mind sciences’: Fernando Vidal and Francisco Ortega, Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017); Katja Guenther, Localization and its Discontents: A Genealogy of Psychoanalysis & the Neuro Disciplines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Stephen Casper and Delia Gavrus (eds), The History of the Brain and Mind Sciences: Technique, Technology, Therapy (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2017); Jonna Brenninkmeijer, Neurotechnologies of the Self: Mind, Brain and Subjectivity (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). This framework highlights contemporary attempts to historicize the integrative project of neuroscience and set the correct limits to interdisciplinary collaboration. While attempts to critically engage with the ‘neuro’ rhetoric of contemporary neuroscientists can seem at odds with historians seeking to write the history of neuroscience from the margins, it is argued that together these two projects represent a positive historiographical direction for the history of the neurosciences after the decade of the brain.

How the Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness

AHP readers may be interested in a new book, How the Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness, written by neurologist Allan H. Ropper and mathematician Brian David Burrell. As the publisher describes:

How the Brain Lost Its Mind tells the rich and compelling story of two confounding ailments, syphilis and hysteria, and the extraordinary efforts to confront their effects on mental life. How does the mind work? Where does madness lie, in the brain or in the mind? How should it be treated?

Throughout the nineteenth century, syphilis–a disease of mad poets, musicians, and artists–swept through the highest and lowest rungs of European society like a plague. Known as “the Great Imitator,” it could produce almost any form of mental or physical illness, and it would bring down a host of famous and infamous characters–among them Guy de Maupassant, Vincent van Gogh, the Marquis de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Al Capone. It was the first truly psychiatric disease and it filled asylums to overflowing. At the same time, an outbreak of bizarre behaviors resembling epilepsy, but with no identifiable source in the body, strained the diagnostic skills of the great neurologists. It was referred to as hysteria.

For more than a century, neurosyphilis stood out as the archetype of a brain-based mental illness, fully understood but largely forgotten, and today far from gone. Hysteria, under many different names, remains unexplained and epidemic. These two conditions stand at opposite poles of the current debate over the role of the brain in mental illness. Hysteria led Freud to insert sex into psychology. Neurosyphilis led to the proliferation of mental institutions. The problem of managing the inmates led to the abuse of lobotomy and electroshock therapy, and ultimately the overuse of psychotropic drugs.

Today we know that syphilitic madness was a destructive disease of the brain while hysteria and, more broadly, many varieties of mental illness reside solely in the mind. Or do they? Afflictions once written off as “hysterical” continue to elude explanation. Addiction, alcoholism, autism, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, depression, and sociopathy, though regarded as brain-based, have not been proven to be so.

In these pages, the authors raise a host of philosophical and practical questions. What is the difference between a sick mind and a sick brain? If we understood everything about the brain, would we understand ourselves? By delving into an overlooked history, this book shows how neuroscience and brain scans alone cannot account for a robust mental life, or a deeply disturbed one.