Category Archives: General

From Asylum to Prison: Deinstitutionalization and the Rise of Mass Incarceration after 1945

From Asylum to Prison: Deinstitutionalization and the Rise of Mass Incarceration after 1945
by Anne E. Parsons is now available from the University of North Carolina Press. The book is described as follows:

To many, asylums are a relic of a bygone era. State governments took steps between 1950 and 1990 to minimize the involuntary confinement of people in psychiatric hospitals, and many mental health facilities closed down. Yet, as Anne Parsons reveals, the asylum did not die during deinstitutionalization. Instead, it returned in the modern prison industrial complex as the government shifted to a more punitive, institutional approach to social deviance. Focusing on Pennsylvania, the state that ran one of the largest mental health systems in the country, Parsons tracks how the lack of community-based services, a fear-based politics around mental illness, and the economics of institutions meant that closing mental hospitals fed a cycle of incarceration that became an epidemic.

This groundbreaking book recasts the political narrative of the late twentieth century, as Parsons charts how the politics of mass incarceration shaped the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals and mental health policy making. In doing so, she offers critical insight into how the prison took the place of the asylum in crucial ways, shaping the rise of the prison industrial complex.

Psychiatric Jim Crow: Desegregation at the Crownsville State Hospital, 1948–1970

Psychiatric Jim Crow: Desegregation at the Crownsville State Hospital, 1948–1970,” by Ayah Nuriddin. Abstract:

The Crownsville State Hospital, located in Maryland just outside of Annapolis, provides a thought-provoking example of the impact of desegregation in the space of the mental hospital. Using institutional reports, patient records, and oral histories, this article reconstructs the three phases of desegregation at Crownsville. First, as a result of its poor conditions, lack of qualified staff, and its egregious mistreatment of patients, African American community leaders and organizations such as the NAACP called for the desegregation of the care staff of Crownsville in the late 1940s. Second, the introduction of a skilled African American staff created unprecedented and morally complex issues about access to psychiatric therapeutics. Last, in 1963, Health Commissioner Dr. Isadore Tuerk officially desegregated patients in all Maryland state hospitals. Though desegregation brought much needed improvements to Crownsville, these gains were ultimately swamped by deinstitutionalization and the shift towards outpatient psychiatric care. By the 1970s, Crownsville had returned to the poor conditions that existed during segregation.

The ineffable: A framework for the study of methods through the case of mid-century mind-brain sciences

Now available in Social Studies of Science: “The ineffable: A framework for the study of methods through the case of mid-century mind-brain sciences,” by Laura Stark, Nancy D. Campbell. Abstract:

Conventionally, the story of modern research methods has been told as the gradual ascendancy of practices that scientists designed to extract evidence out of minds and bodies. These methods, which we call ‘methods of extraction’, have not been the exclusive ways in which experts have generated evidence. In a variety of case studies, scholars in Science and Technology Studies have persuasively documented scientists’ efforts to know the extra-linguistic, internal experiences of other beings – prior to or aside from their efforts to represent those experiences in words and images. We propose a new framework to resolve a seeming contradiction in STS, which stems from the fact that the language of ‘subjectivity’ has been used to refer to two analytically distinct features of scientists’ methods: the epistemological premises of a method, on the one hand, and the evaluation of the method in the moral economy of science, on the other hand. Building on Shapin’s provocation to study the ‘sciences of subjectivity’, we analyze three sites in the epistemic niche of 1950s US Federal mind-brain scientists and find that ‘methods of extraction’ neither replaced nor invariably trumped additional methods that researchers designed to provide evidence of people’s interior experiences. We call these additional approaches ‘methods of ingression’ because researchers purported to generate authoritative evidence by climbing inside the experience of another being, rather than pulling the evidence out. Methods of ingression and methods of extraction coexisted and developed iteratively in dynamic relationship with each other – not in isolation nor in competition, as is commonly assumed. Through this empirical study, we provide a new framework that departs from the binary framework of objectivity-subjectivity to allow scholars in STS to more aptly describe scientists’ epistemic worlds; to discern a greater range of methods at play; and to appreciate the warrants for knowledge used in our own field.

Techniques for nothingness: Debate over the comparability of hypnosis and Zen in early-twentieth-century Japan

Forthcoming in History of Science, and now available online, is a piece that may interest AHP readers:

Techniques for nothingness: Debate over the comparability of hypnosis and Zen in early-twentieth-century Japan,” by Yu-chuan Wu. Abstract:

This paper explores a debate that took place in Japan in the early twentieth century over the comparability of hypnosis and Zen. The debate was among the first exchanges between psychology and Buddhism in Japan, and it cast doubt on previous assumptions that a clear boundary existed between the two fields. In the debate, we find that contemporaries readily incorporated ideas from psychology and Buddhism to reconstruct the experiences and concepts of hypnosis and Buddhist nothingness. The resulting new theories and techniques of nothingness were fruits of a fairly fluid boundary between the two fields. The debate, moreover, reveals that psychology tried to address the challenges and possibilities posed by religious introspective meditation and intuitive experiences in a positive way. In the end, however, psychology no longer regarded them as viable experimental or psychotherapeutic tools but merely as particular subjective experiences to be investigated and explained.

Erika Milam’s Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America

AHP readers will be interested in Erika Milam’s newly published Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America. Available from Princeton University Press, the book is described as follows:

After World War II, the question of how to define a universal human nature took on new urgency. Creatures of Cain charts the rise and precipitous fall in Cold War America of a theory that attributed man’s evolutionary success to his unique capacity for murder.

Drawing on a wealth of archival materials and in-depth interviews, Erika Lorraine Milam reveals how the scientists who advanced this “killer ape” theory capitalized on an expanding postwar market in intellectual paperbacks and widespread faith in the power of science to solve humanity’s problems, even to answer the most fundamental questions of human identity. The killer ape theory spread quickly from colloquial science publications to late-night television, classrooms, political debates, and Hollywood films. Behind the scenes, however, scientists were sharply divided, their disagreements centering squarely on questions of race and gender. Then, in the 1970s, the theory unraveled altogether when primatologists discovered that chimpanzees also kill members of their own species. While the discovery brought an end to definitions of human exceptionalism delineated by violence, Milam shows how some evolutionists began to argue for a shared chimpanzee-human history of aggression even as other scientists discredited such theories as sloppy popularizations.

A wide-ranging account of a compelling episode in American science, Creatures of Cain argues that the legacy of the killer ape persists today in the conviction that science can resolve the essential dilemmas of human nature.