Category Archives: Journals

Maarten Derksen on “Putting Popper to Work”

Karl Popper

AHP readers who have been following the replication crisis in psychology, will be interested in a new piece now available online at Theory & Psychology: “Putting Popper to work” by Maarten Derksen. Abstract:

In response to what are seen as fundamental problems in Psychology, a reform movement has emerged that finds inspiration in philosophy of science, the work of Karl Popper in particular. The reformers attempt to put Popper into practice and create a discipline based on the principles of critical rationalism. In this article I describe the concrete sociotechnical practices by which the reformers attempt to realise their ideals, and I argue that they go a long way towards bridging the gap between rules and practice that sociologists of science Mulkay and Gilbert had identified in their study of the role of Popper’s philosophy in the work of scientists. Second, I note the considerable resistance that the reformers meet and the disruptive force of their work. I argue that this disruption is productive and raises fundamental questions regarding psychology and its object of study.

What is a Psychological Task? The Operational Pliability of “Task” in Psychological Laboratory Experimentation

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Engaging Science, Technology, and Society that explores the idea of a psychological “task” in experimental psychology (available open access here). Full details below.

What is a Psychological Task? The Operational Pliability of “Task” in Psychological Laboratory Experimentation,” by Hazel Morrison, Shannon McBriar, Hilary Powell, Jesse Proudfoot, Steven Stanley, Des Fitzgerald, and Felicity Callard. Abstract:

There has been no sustained sociological analysis of a near ubiquitous feature of psychological laboratory experimentation: the task. Yet the task is central in arranging the means by which phenomena are isolated and brought into the experimental scientist’s purview. As scientific objects, states such as mind wandering and daydreaming have been made visible in experiments that draw on a (sometimes) sharp distinction between what it means to be either “on task” or “off task”––which entails a long history of what it means to have a subject attend to her task, a central aspect of the psychology experiment since its foundation. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with research participants in studies of so-called “mind wandering,” it becomes clear that task is deployed and understood in multiple ways: it is often hard to distinguish when a person is on task and when they are not; when participants reflect on their own internal states the boundedness that the concept relies upon is drawn sharply into question; and the complex spatio-temporal organization of experiences of both mind wandering and task disrupts the metaphorical structures that the scientific literature has baked into these terms. The term “operational pliability” allows us to understand how the pliability of the practice and concept of task is central to how task functions. Operational pliability offers a way of understanding how particular elements in scientific investigation are easily adaptable and at the same time are able to hold some kind of shape or form.

New SSS: ‘Plasticity Talk’, Dementia Diagnosis

Several articles in the most recent issue of Social Studies of Science may be of interest to AHP readers. Full details follow below.

“Fraught claims at the intersection of biology and sociality: Managing controversy in the neuroscience of poverty and adversity,” by Kasia Tolwinski. Abstract:

In this article, I examine how a subfield of researchers studying the impact of poverty and adversity on the developing brain, cognitive abilities and mental health respond to criticism that their research is racist and eugenicist, and implies that affected children are broken on a biological level. My interviewees use a number of strategies to respond to these resurfacing criticisms. They maintain that the controversy rests upon a fundamental misunderstanding of their work. In addition, they use what I term ‘plasticity talk’, a form of anti-determinist discourse, to put forth what they believe is a hopeful conception of body and brain as fundamentally malleable. They draw attention to their explicit intentions to use scientific inquiry to mitigate inequality and further social justice – in fact, they believe their studies are powerful evidence that add to the literature on the social determinants of health. Though they may be interested in improving lives, they argue that their aims and means have little in common with programs trying to ‘improve’ the genetic stock of the population. I argue that theirs is a fraught research terrain, where any claims-making is potentially treacherous. Just as their studies of development refuse dualistic models, so too do their responses defy dichotomous categorization.

Somaticization, the making and unmaking of minded persons and the fabrication of dementia,” by Alexandra Hillman and Joanna Latimer. Abstract:

This article examines the strategies by which the different and variable signs of failing mental powers become known sufficiently for ‘dementia’ to be made into a stable bio-clinical entity, that can be tested, diagnosed and perhaps one day even treated. Drawing on data from ethnographic observations in memory clinics, together with interviews with associated scientists and clinicians, we document the challenges that clinicians face across the clinical and research domain in making dementia a stable object of their investigation. We illustrate how the pressure for early diagnoses of dementia creates tensions between the scientific representations of early dementia and its diagnosis in the clinic. Our aim is to highlight the extent to which the work of diagnosing dementia involves an intricate process of smoothing out seemingly insurmountable problems, such as the notoriously elusive connections between brain/mind and body/person. Furthermore, we show that a part of this process involves enrolling patients as minded, agentic subjects, the very subjects who are excluded from dementia science research in pursuit of biomarkers for the pre-clinical detection of dementia.

“Fear and anxiety: Affects, emotions and care practices in the memory clinic,” by Julia Swallow and Alexandra Hillman. Abstract:

This paper contributes to the growing recognition in Science and Technology Studies and medical sociology of the significant role of affect in scientific and clinical work. We show how feelings of fear and anxiety associated with dementia not only shape people’s experiences and responses to a diagnosis, but also shape the practices and processes through which assessments and diagnoses are accomplished. What emerges from our research, and provides a distinct contribution to this growing field of study, is the relationship between the uncertainties that pervade the diagnosis of memory problems and the various strategies and practices employed to care for, divert, restrict or manage affective relations. Furthermore, our ethnographic material illustrates the implications of this relationship: on the one hand, it provides opportunities for care work through ‘tinkering’ with diagnostic technologies and extending and opening out diagnostic categories, while on the other, it can form part of healthcare practitioners’ disposal work, restricting opportunities for alternative meanings of dementia to endure.

“A Complete Emancipation from Philosophy”: Alfred Lehmann’s Laboratory of Psychophysics at the University of Copenhagen, 1886–1924

New in the American Journal of Psychology:

““A Complete Emancipation from Philosophy”: Alfred Lehmann’s Laboratory of Psychophysics at the University of Copenhagen, 1886–1924,” by Jörgen L. Pind. Abstract:

Alfred Lehmann (1858–1921) was the pioneer of experimental psychology in Denmark. Educated as a natural scientist, he spent the winter of 1885–1886 in Wundt’s laboratory in Leipzig. Upon his return to Copenhagen he established the Laboratory of Psychophysics, one of the oldest laboratories of psychology in the world. It would soon become associated with the University of Copenhagen, where Lehmann gained a position in 1890. Lehmann was a tireless experimenter in his laboratory and an important contributor to experimental psychology in its first decades. At the outset of his scientific career, Lehmann focused mainly on the bodily correlates of mental states, emotions in particular. He was an early critic of the James–Lange theory of emotions. Lehmann was also an ardent critic of claims of the paranormal and did experimental work where he attempted to establish the “psychophysical conditions” for the widespread belief in superstition and magic at the turn of the 20th century. Near the end of his career, Lehmann embarked on work in applied psychology, simultaneously realizing his dream of establishing psychology as an independent subject at the University of Copenhagen in 1918. His new curriculum for a master’s degree in psychology emphasized experimental and applied work, free of the field’s earlier ties to philosophy. Lehmann’s turn to applied psychology was instrumental in the success of his curricular reform of psychology education.

The politics of female pain: Women’s citizenship, twilight sleep and the early birth control movement

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece now available in Medical Humanities: “The politics of female pain: Women’s citizenship, twilight sleep and the early birth control movement,” by Lauren MacIvor Thompson. Abstract:

The medical intervention of ‘twilight sleep’, or the use of a scopolamine–morphine mixture to anaesthetise labouring women, caused a furore among doctors and early 20th-century feminists. Suffragists and women’s rights advocates led the Twilight Sleep Association in a quest to encourage doctors and their female patients to widely embrace the practice. Activists felt the method revolutionised the notoriously dangerous and painful childbirth process for women, touting its benefits as the key to allowing women to control their birth experience at a time when the maternal mortality rate remained high despite medical advances in obstetrics. Yet many physicians attacked the practice as dangerous for patients and their babies and antithetical to the expectations for proper womanhood and motherly duty. Historians of women’s health have rightly cited Twilight Sleep as the beginning of the medicalisation and depersonalisation of the childbirth process in the 20th century. This article instead repositions the feminist political arguments for the method as an important precursor for the rhetoric of the early birth control movement, led by Mary Ware Dennett (a former leader in the Twilight Sleep Association) and Margaret Sanger. Both Twilight Sleep and the birth control movement represent a distinct moment in the early 20th century wherein pain was deeply connected to politics and the rhetoric of equal rights. The two reformers emphasised in their publications and appeals to the public the vast social significance of reproductive pain—both physical and psychological. They contended that women’s lack of control over both pregnancy and birth represented the greatest hindrance to women’s fulfilment of their political rights and a danger to the healthy development of larger society. In their arguments for legal contraception, Dennett and Sanger placed women’s pain front and centre as the primary reason for changing a law that hindered women’s full participation in the public order.