Category Archives: General

Common Phantoms: An American History of Psychic Science

AHP readers will be interested in the newly published Common Phantoms: An American History of Psychic Science by Alicia Puglionesi. The book is described as follows,

Séances, clairvoyance, and telepathy captivated public imagination in the United States from the 1850s well into the twentieth century. Though skeptics dismissed these experiences as delusions, a new kind of investigator emerged to seek the science behind such phenomena. With new technologies like the telegraph collapsing the boundaries of time and space, an explanation seemed within reach. As Americans took up psychical experiments in their homes, the boundaries of the mind began to waver. Common Phantoms brings these experiments back to life while modeling a new approach to the history of psychology and the mind sciences.

Drawing on previously untapped archives of participant-reported data, Alicia Puglionesi recounts how an eclectic group of investigators tried to capture the most elusive dimensions of human consciousness. A vast though flawed experiment in democratic science, psychical research gave participants valuable tools with which to study their experiences on their own terms. Academic psychology would ultimately disown this effort as both a scientific failure and a remnant of magical thinking, but its challenge to the limits of science, the mind, and the soul still reverberates today.

New JHBS: The Business of the TAT, Psychological Warfare, and More

The Summer 2020 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Science is now online. Full details below.

“From achievement to power: David C. McClelland, McBer & Company, and the business of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), 1962–1985,” Matthew J. Hoffarth. Abstract:

During the 1960s, Harvard psychologist David McClelland focused his research and business endeavors on increasing the need for achievement in small businesspeople, with the goal of fostering economic success in the developing world. However, by the early 1970s, McClelland would focus almost entirely on developing executives’ need for power in the United States. In this paper, I argue that underlying this shift was McClelland’s dedication to the project of behavioral engineering and a newfound belief that training individuals in the responsible exercise of leadership and managerial power had become the most effective path to achieving his liberal political aims.

“A tale of four countries: How Bowlby used his trip through Europe to write the WHO report and spread his ideas,” Frank C. P. van der Horst Karin Zetterqvist Nelson Lenny van Rosmalen René van der Veer. Abstract:

Attachment theory, developed by child psychiatrist John Bowlby, is considered a major theory in developmental psychology. Attachment theory can be seen as resulting from Bowlby’s personal experiences, his psychoanalytic education, his subsequent study of ethology, and societal developments during the 1930s and 1940s. One of those developments was the outbreak of World War II and its effects on children’s psychological wellbeing. In 1950, Bowlby was appointed WHO consultant to study the needs of children who were orphaned or separated from their families for other reasons and needed care in foster homes or institutions. The resulting report is generally considered a landmark publication in psychology, although it subsequently met with methodological criticism. In this paper, by reconstructing Bowlby’s visit to several European countries, on the basis of notebooks and letters, the authors shed light on the background of this report and the way Bowlby used or neglected the findings he gathered.

“Uncovering the metaphysics of psychological warfare: The social science behind the Psychological Strategy Board’s operations planning, 1951–1953,” Gabrielle Kemmis. Abstract:

In April 1951 president Harry S. Truman established the Psychological Strategy Board to enhance and streamline America’s sprawling psychological warfare campaign against the USSR. As soon as the Board’s staff began work on improving US psychological operations, they wondered how social science might help them achieve their task. Board Director, Gordon Gray, asked physicist turned research administrator Henry Loomis to do a full review of America’s social science research program in support of psychological operations. Loomis willingly accepted the task. This paper documents Loomis’s investigation into America’s social science research program. It uncovers the critical role that government departments had in the creation of research in the early 1950s and thus highlights that the government official is an important actor in the history of social science and the application of social science to psychological operations at the beginning of the Cold War.

“At the borders of the average man: Adolphe Quêtelet on mental, moral, and criminal monstrosities,” Filippo Maria Sposini. Abstract:

This study examines Adolphe Quêtelet’s conception of deviance. It investigates how he identified social marginalities and what actions he recommended governments to undertake. To get a close understanding of his views, this paper examines three cases of “monstrosities,” namely mental alienation, drunkenness, and criminality. My main thesis is that Quêtelet provided scientific authority to a conception of deviance as sickness, immorality, and cost thus encouraging legislators to use statistics for containing social marginalities. The case of alienation shows that Quêtelet viewed insanity as a pathology of civilization to be understood through phrenology. The case of drunkenness demonstrates how Quêtelet conflated the notion of statistical mean with moral decency. The case of criminality illustrates Quêtelet’s major concern with the cost of criminals for the state. While advocating for the perfectibility of mankind, Quêtelet urged governments to take actions against what he considered the monstrosities of society.

Special Section on History of Emotion in Emotion Review

AHP readers may be interested in a special section on the history of emotion published in the most recent issue of Emotion Review. Section contributions are described below.

“History Looks Forward: Interdisciplinarity and Critical Emotion Research,” Rob Boddice. Abstract:

The history of emotions has become a thriving focus within the discipline of history, but it has in the process gained a critical purchase that makes it relevant for other disciplines concerned with emotion research. The history of emotions is entangled with the history of the body and brain, and with cultural and political history. It is interested in the how and why of emotion change; with the questions of power and authority behind cultural scripts of expression, conceptual usages, and emotional practices. This work has reached a level of maturity and sophistication in its theoretical and methodological orientation, and in its sheer quantity of empirical research, that it contributes to emotion knowledge within the broad framework of emotion research.

“A Collective Emotion in Medieval Italy: The Flagellant Movement of 1260,” by Piroska Nagy, Xavier Biron-Ouellet. Abstract.

The purpose of this article is to open a dialogue between research in social sciences concerning collective emotion and historical investigation concerning a religious and political movement of the Middle Ages. The main idea is to consider the Flagellant movement of 1260 as a collective emotion which, beyond the affects pertaining to it, is also a social practice that finds its efficiency in the spiritual meaning of its collective display, demonstrating the rationality of a seemingly irrational religious phenomenon.

“Emotional Pursuits and the American Revolution,” Nicole Eustace. Abstract:

A major paradox of modern happiness gained wide public exposure in 1776 when Thomas Jefferson substituted the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in place of Locke’s formulation: “life, liberty, and property.” In substituting happiness for property, Jefferson obscured the central hypocrisy of the Revolution, that—as contemporaries complained—the “loudest yelps for liberty” were made by those practicing slavery. Jefferson elided the overlap between the pursuit of happiness and the protection of human property. And he blurred the connection between the assertion of slave power and the creation of a broad emotional hegemony in the service of multifaceted projects of political-economic mastery. Today, historians of emotion face an urgent need to explore the deep roots of this feeling in systems of unfreedom

“The Odor of Disgust: Contemplating the Dark Side of 20th-Century Cancer History,” Bettina Hitzer. Abstract:

This article explores how historians of emotions and historians of the senses can collaborate to write a history of emotional experience that takes seriously the corporeality of emotions. It investigates how smell, feelings of disgust, and the moral judgments associated with these feelings were interrelated in 20th-century German cancer history. It demonstrates that this complex decisively shaped the emotional experiences of cancer patients. Uncovering this dynamic is only possible by conjoining the history of emotions with a more expanded version of the history of the senses. The combination reveals that the “odor of disgust” was not an ahistorical constant, but was, both in its parts and as a whole, subject to considerable shifts.

“The Unavoidable Intentionality of Affect: The History of Emotions and the Neurosciences of the Present Day,” William M. Reddy. Abstract:

The “problem of emotions,” that is, that many of them are both meaningful and corporeal, has yet to be resolved. Western thinkers, from Augustine to Descartes to Zajonc, have handled this problem by employing various forms of mind–body dualism. Some psychologists and neuroscientists since the 1970s have avoided it by talking about cognitive and emotional “processing,” using a terminology borrowed from computer science that nullifies the meaningful or intentional character of both thought and emotion. Outside the Western-influenced contexts, emotion and thought are not seen as distinct kinds of things. Here a solution of sorts is proposed by thinking of emotional expression as a dynamic activity that declares and stirs emotions at the same time. As such, its dynamism may help historians to understand the dramatic changes and trends they investigate.

“Darwin and the Situation of Emotion Research,” Daniel M. Gross, Stephanie D. Preston. Abstract:

This article demonstrates how researchers from both the sciences and the humanities can learn from Charles Darwin’s mixed methodology. We identify two basic challenges that face emotion research in the sciences, namely a mismatch between experiment design and the complexity of life that we aim to explain, and problematic efforts to bridge the gap, including invalid inferences from constrained study designs, and equivocal use of terms like “sympathy” and “empathy” that poorly reflect such methodological constraints. We argue that Darwin’s mixed methodology is a model for addressing these challenges even in laboratory work on emotion, because it shows how close observation of emotional phenomena makes sense only within broader historical contexts. The article concludes with 5 practical research recommendations.

“Comment: Historians in the Emotion Laboratory,” Otniel E. Dror. Abstract:

In this comment, I indicate several challenges and opportunities—out of the many—for an integrated science–humanities approach to emotions, from the perspective of a historian of the modern sciences of emotions.

Social Science for What? Battles over Public Funding for the “Other Sciences” at the National Science Foundation

AHP readers will be interested in a new book, Social Science for What? Battles over Public Funding for the “Other Sciences” at the National Science Foundation by Mark Solovey. The volume is available open access from MIT Press and includes a downloadable timeline of the NSF. The book is described as follows:

In the early Cold War years, the U.S. government established the National Science Foundation (NSF), a civilian agency that soon became widely known for its dedication to supporting first-rate science. The agency’s 1950 enabling legislation made no mention of the social sciences, although it included a vague reference to “other sciences.” Nevertheless, as Mark Solovey shows in this book, the NSF also soon became a major—albeit controversial—source of public funding for them.

Solovey’s analysis underscores the long-term impact of early developments, when the NSF embraced a “scientistic” strategy wherein the natural sciences represented the gold standard, and created a social science program limited to “hard-core” studies. Along the way, Solovey shows how the NSF’s efforts to support scholarship, advanced training, and educational programs were shaped by landmark scientific and political developments, including McCarthyism, Sputnik, reform liberalism during the 1960s, and a newly energized conservative movement during the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, he assesses the NSF’s relevance in a “post-truth” era, questions the legacy of its scientistic strategy, and calls for a separate social science agency—a National Social Science Foundation.

Solovey’s study of the battles over public funding is crucial for understanding the recent history of the social sciences as well as ongoing debates over their scientific status and social value.

On the Potentialities of Spaces of Care: Openness, Enticement, and Variability in a Psychiatric Center

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Science, Technology, and Human Values: “On the Potentialities of Spaces of Care: Openness, Enticement, and Variability in a Psychiatric Center” by Ariane d’Hoop. Abstract:

Science and technology studies (STS) scholars have turned their attention to the materiality of objects and buildings in order to examine what they make users do in practice. Taking a close look at a therapeutic community in a psychiatric day care center for teenagers, this paper joins these discussions by exploring the materiality of “spaces of care” as part of the center’s everyday practice. The analysis incorporates the concepts of scripts and dispositifs to describe the conditions of possibility in which caregivers and youths may position themselves in relation to others and to the space itself. This paper describes how spaces of care offer open, enticing, and variable conditions for fostering a dynamic of personal and relational responses as part of the care work. In this sense, the material environment entails potentialities in ways that are unpredictable but nonetheless consequential. Rather than arguing that material arrangements and things act, this paper draws attention to their impact via their potential within dispositifs of care that request participants’ attentiveness and responsiveness. Describing these potentialities brings out the subtler requirements of material environments in care practices that aim at circumventing the coercion of disciplinary spaces and their impersonal classifications.

New on Notches: Men of Superior IQ: Connecting Homosexuality to Intelligence in Cold War-Era Canada

Robert Block (left) and J. J. Belanger in a photo booth photo, Hastings Park, Vancouver, Canada, 1953. Credit: Courtesy ONE Archives at the USC Libraries. via Notches

A new post on Notches – “a peer-reviewed, collaborative and international history of sexuality blog” – will be of interest to AHP readers. In “Men of Superior IQ: Connecting Homosexuality to Intelligence in Cold War-Era Canada” Andrea Ens writes about connections drawn between male homosexuality and intelligence in Cold-War era Canada, noting that

Although connecting male homosexuality and intelligence might seem to counter negative appraisals of same-sex attraction, it may instead have increased fear of queer Canadians during the postwar period. Importantly, this construction of male homosexuals as intelligent was connected to broader cultural anxieties about same-sex attracted men in Cold War-era Canada.

The full piece can be read online here.

Working in cases: British psychiatric social workers and a history of psychoanalysis from the middle, c.1930–60

A further piece from the forthcoming History of the Human Sciences special issue on John Forrester’s work on thinking in cases is now available online: “Working in cases: British psychiatric social workers and a history of psychoanalysis from the middle, c.1930–60, Juliana Broad. Abstract:

Histories of psychoanalysis largely respect the boundaries drawn by the psychoanalytic profession, suggesting that the development of psychoanalytic theories and techniques has been the exclusive remit of professionally trained analysts. In this article, I offer an historical example that poses a challenge to this orthodoxy. Based on extensive archival material, I show how British psychiatric social workers, a little-studied group of specialist mental hygiene workers, advanced key organisational, observational, and theoretical insights that shaped mid-century British psychoanalysis. In their daily work compiling patient histories, conducting home visits, and interviewing the parents of ‘maladjusted’ children, psychiatric social workers were uniquely positioned to expose the importance of family relationships in the development of childhood neuroses. As this article details, their analytic attention to these dynamics not only influenced, but fundamentally constituted the innovative research on maternal-child relationships and family therapy pioneered by eminent psychoanalyst John Bowlby. In addition, psychiatric social workers produced and published independent psychoanalytic research, and fiercely debated the limitations of analytic concepts such as transference. In presenting the relationship between British psychiatric social work and psychoanalysis, this article suggests a new way of telling the history of both.

New! History of Psychology Virtual Workshop

AHP readers will be interested in a newly organized ongoing series of history of psychology virtual workshops. Full details below.

History of Psychology Virtual Workshop

The Workshop aims to create an inter- and multi-disciplinary space for pursuing theoretically-informed, critical histories of psychology. We welcome scholars at all career stages and all disciplines, including those in related fields concerned with the history, sociology and ethnography of the human sciences. The content of monthly meetings will vary session to session based on member interest. The goal is to offer a mix of a reading group of critical texts, panel presentations on a common theme, and workshop opportunities for works-in-progress.
The first meeting (1pm EST, August 12th, 2020) will revolve around a discussion of the following texts and planning future events.

Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409-428.

Mascarenhas, M. (2018). White space and dark matter: Prying open the black box of STS. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 43(2), 151-170.

If you would like to attend this workshop and/or sign up for notifications of future events throughout the year, please register at our eventbrite page. 

Kira Lussier (University of Toronto)
Michael Pettit (York University)
Dana Simmons (University of California Riverside)
Chad Valasek (University of California San Diego)
Jacy L. Young (Quest University)

Throwing the case open: The impossible subject of Luisa Passerini’s Autobiography of a Generation

A further piece from the forthcoming History of the Human Sciences special issue on John Forrester’s work on thinking in cases is now available online: “Throwing the case open: The impossible subject of Luisa Passerini’s Autobiography of a Generation,” by Matt ffytche. Abstract:

For John Forrester, the ‘case’, particularly in its psychoanalytic version, makes possible a science of the particular – knowledge open to the differences of individuals and situations. This article takes up that aspect of Forrester’s account that linked the psychoanalytic case with forms of autobiography – new narrations of that particular self. After Freud, many authors – literary and psychoanalytic – have taken up the challenge of narrating subjectivity in new forms, engaging a quasi-psychoanalytic framework (H. D., Walter Benjamin, Frantz Fanon, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick are examples). Focusing on Luisa Passerini’s text Autobiography of a Generation, which deals with the Italian experience of 1968, the article examines some of the features of such hybrid texts, and argues that psychoanalysis makes a contribution not just to the forms of self-investigation they pursue, but more significantly to the search for a radically new methodology of narration. Such models end up as ‘impossible’ cases, but in so doing they explore new interdisciplinary means for understanding the historical shaping of subjectivity.

Teachers College, Columbia University Removes E. L. Thorndike’s Name from Building

Teachers College Main Building. From The Southeast; Small Boy And Girl In Foreground (1894). Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College, Columbia University. Image Source

The Board of Trustees of Teachers College, Columbia University have voted to remove psychologist E. L. Thorndike’s name from a campus building, nearly half a century after its dedication. The unanimous decision follows a 2018 report produced by a group of students at the school, which documented Thorndike’s racism and support for eugenics and and called for the renaming of Thorndike Hall. Read the full announcement here.