Biocultural psychopathology as a new epistemology for mental disorders

A new piece in History of Psychiatry may interest AHP readers: “Biocultural psychopathology as a new epistemology for mental disorders,” by Caio Maximino. Abstract:

Psychopathology has been criticized for decades for its reliance on a brain-centred and over-reductionist approach which views mental disorders as disease-like natural kinds. While criticisms of brain-centred psychopathologies abound, these criticisms sometimes ignore important advances in the neurosciences which view the brain as embodied, embedded, extended and enactive, and as fundamentally plastic. A new onto-epistemology for mental disorders is proposed, focusing on a biocultural model, in which human brains are understood as embodied and embedded in ecosocial niches, and with which individuals enact particular transactions characterized by circular causality. In this approach, neurobiological bases are inseparable from interpersonal and socio-cultural factors. This approach leads to methodological changes in how mental disorders are studied and dealt with.

The pincer movement of The Idea of a Social Science: Winch, Collingwood, and philosophy as a human science

AHP readers may be interested in a new open-access piece in History of the Human Sciences: “The pincer movement of The Idea of a Social Science: Winch, Collingwood, and philosophy as a human science,” by Jonas Ahlskog and Olli Lagerspetz. Abstract:

This article argues that, in order to understand Peter Winch’s view of philosophy, it is profitable to read him together with R. G. Collingwood’s philosophy of history. Collingwood was both an important source for Winch and a thinker engaged in a closely parallel philosophical pursuit. Collingwood and Winch shared the view that philosophy is an effort to understand the various ways in which human beings make reality intelligible. For both, this called for rapprochement between philosophy and the humanities. Like Collingwood, Winch wanted to reformulate philosophy as a form of human science. Both thinkers advanced a conception of logic where the validity of judgements, propositions, and thought are dependent on their function as instruments in human dialogue. In their treatments of logic, Winch and Collingwood were fleshing out their idea that questions concerning human meaningful behaviour also tie back to the question of what philosophical analysis is about. There is a deep connection between two main issues in both Collingwood’s and Winch’s writings: on the one hand, the need for ‘internal’ understanding of how human beings relate to reality, and on the other hand, their critique of the idea of logic as a self-sufficient system, external to historically embedded forms of life. At the core of their shared vision there was a comprehensive critique of metaphysical realism.

Rudolph Hermann Lotze’s philosophically informed psychology

A new open-access article in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Rudolph Hermann Lotze’s philosophically informed psychology,” Michele Vagnetti. Abstract:

This essay deals with four main topics: the notion of philosophical psychology; the idea that physical events and mental events cannot be compared to one another; psychophysical mechanism; and the theory of local signs. These are all key elements in the Medicinische Psychologie of Rudolph Hermann Lotze (1817?1881). By philosophical psychology, Lotze understands not only the collection of experimental data regarding physiological and mental states but also their philosophical processing outlining an interpretation of the real nature of the mind?body connection. Within this framework, Lotze introduces the psychophysical mechanism as based on a key philosophical idea: mind and body are incomparable, but, nevertheless, they are in reciprocal relation (Wechselwirkung). In virtue of said special relation, movements that take place in the mental sphere of reality are transferred or translated in the bodily sphere and vice versa. This rearrangement (Umgestaltung) from one sphere of reality to the other is termed by Lotze “transformation to equivalent.” Through the concept of equivalence, Lotze supports the idea that the mind and the body form an organic whole. However, psychophysical mechanisms should not be seen as not a fixed series of physical changes followed by an equally fixed series of mental changes: physical changes are “read,” organized, and then transformed by the mind into something purely mental. This, in turn, produces new mechanical force and more physical changes. Lotze’s legacy and long-term impact is finally read against the background of his contributions.

New HHS with a Special Section: Archiving the COVID-19 pandemic in Mass Observation and Middletown

The April 2023 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. This issue includes a special section on “Archiving the COVID-19 pandemic in Mass Observation and Middletown” guest edited by Nick Clarke and Clive Barnett. Full titles, authors, and abstracts below.

Special Section: Archiving the COVID-19 pandemic in Mass Observation and Middletown

“Archiving the COVID-19 pandemic in Mass Observation and Middletown,” by Nick Clarke and Clive Barnett. Open-access. Abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic generated debates about how pandemics should be known. There was much discussion of what role the human sciences could play in knowing – and governing – the pandemic. In this article, we focus on attempts to know the pandemic through diaries, other biographical writing, and related forms like mass photography. In particular, we focus on the archiving of such forms by Mass Observation in the UK and the Everyday Life in Middletown (EDLM) project in the USA, and initial analyses of such material by scholars from across the human sciences. Our main argument is that archiving the pandemic was informed by, and needs viewing through, the history of the human sciences – including the distinctive histories and human sciences of Mass Observation and Middletown. The article finishes by introducing a Special Section that engages with archiving the pandemic in two senses: the archiving of diaries and related forms by Mass Observation and the EDLM project, and the archiving of initial encounters between researchers and this material by History of the Human Sciences. The Special Section seeks to know the pandemic from the human sciences in the present and to archive knowing the pandemic from the human sciences for the future.

“Rupture, repetition, and new rhythms for pandemic times: Mass Observation, everyday life, and COVID-19,” by Dawn Lyon. Open-access. Abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic has foregrounded the significance of time to everyday life, as the routines, pace, and speed of social relations were widely reconfigured. This article uses rhythm as an object and tool of inquiry to make sense of spatio-temporal change. We analyse the Mass Observation (MO) directive we co-commissioned on ‘COVID-19 and Time’, where volunteer writers reflect on whether and how time was made, experienced, and imagined differently during the early stages of the pandemic in the UK. We draw on Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Régulier’s ‘rhythmanalysis’, taking up their theorisation of rhythm as linear and cyclical and their concepts of arrhythmia (discordant rhythms) and eurhythmia (harmonious rhythms). Our analysis highlights how MO writers articulate (a) the ruptures to their everyday rhythms across time and space, (b) their experience of ‘blurred’ or ‘merged’ time as everyday rhythms are dissolved and the pace of time is intensified or slowed, and (c) the remaking of rhythms through new practices or devices and attunements to nature. We show how rhythm enables a consideration of the spatio-temporal textures of everyday life, including their unevenness, variation, and difference. The article thus contributes to and expands recent scholarship on the social life of time, rhythm and rhythmanalysis, everyday life, and MO.

“Seeing like an epidemiologist? Mobilising people against COVID-19,” by Nick Clarke and Clive Barnett. Abstract:

Diaries and other materials in the Mass Observation Archive have been characterised as intersubjective and dialogic. They have been used to study top-down and bottom-up processes, including how ordinary people respond to sociological constructs and, more broadly, the footprint of social science in the 20th century. In this article, we use the Archive’s COVID-19 collections to study how attempts to govern the pandemic by mobilising ordinary people to see like an epidemiologist played out in the United Kingdom during 2020. People were asked to think in terms of populations and groups; rates, trends, and distributions; the capacity of public services; and complex systems of causation. How did they respond? How did they use the statistics, charts, maps, concepts, identities, and roles they were given? We find evidence of engagement with science plural; confident and comfortable engagement with epidemiological terms and concepts; sceptical and reluctant engagement with epidemiological subject positions; use of both scientific and moral literacy to negotiate regulations and guidance; and use of scientific literacy to compare and judge government performance. Governing the pandemic through scientific literacy was partially successful, but in some unexpected ways.

“‘There is nothing less spectacular than a pestilence’: Picturing the pandemic in Mass Observation’s COVID-19 collections,” by Annebella Pollen. Open-access. Abstract:

What is to be gained by studying visual observation in Mass Observation’s COVID-19 collections? What can we see of the pandemic through diarists’ images and words? Visual methods were part of the plural research strategies of social research organisation Mass Observation (MO) in its first phase, when it was established in 1937, but remained marginal in relation to textual research methods. This continues with the post-1981 revival of the Mass Observation Project (MOP), with its emphasis on life writing. With wider shifts in technology and accessibility, however, even when they are not solicited, photographs now accompany MOP correspondents’ submissions. In MO’s substantial COVID-19 collections, images appear in or as diary entries across a range of forms, including hand-drawn illustrations, correspondent-generated photographs, creative photomontages, and screengrabs of memes. In addition, diarists offer textual reflections on COVID-19’s image cultures, such as the role of photographs in pandemic news media, as well as considering how the pandemic is intersecting with the visual in more abstract ways, from themes of surveillance and ‘Staying Alert’ in public health messaging to internal pictorial imaginaries produced as a result of isolation and contemplation. Positioning these materials in relation to wider patterns in pandemic visual culture, including public photographic collecting projects that make explicit reference to MO as their inspiration, this article considers the contribution of the visual submissions and image-rich writing in MO’s COVID-19 collections to the depiction of a virus commonly characterised as invisible.

“Time shifts: Place, belonging, and future orientation in pandemic everyday life,” by Patrick Collier and James J. Connolly. Abstract:

The disruptions to everyday life wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic include distortions in the experience of time, as reported widely by ordinary citizens and observed by journalists and social scientists. But how does this temporal disruption play out in different time scales—in the individual day as opposed to the medium- and long-term futures? And how might place influence how individuals experience and understand the pandemic’s temporal transformations? This essay examines a range of temporal disruptions reported in day diaries and surveys submitted to the Everyday Life in Middletown project, an online archive that has been documenting ordinary life in Muncie, Indiana, USA since 2016. Viewing these materials as instances of life writing, the essay probes the interactions between temporal disruptions and the local setting as they inflect the autobiographical selves our writers construct in their pandemic writings. It shows how living in Muncie—a postindustrial city with its particular combination of historical, demographic, economic, social, and political dynamics—structures the autobiographical stories available to our writers, and how the disruption of time produces new variations and problems for life writing. In the midst of a global crisis, we glimpse the pandemic’s reshaping of a local structure of feeling in which a pervasive, local narrative of civic decline frames individual self-fashioning.

“A genealogy of the scalable subject: Measuring health in the Cornell Study of Occupational Retirement (1950–60),” by Tiago Moreira. Open-access. Abstract:

Increased use of scales in data-driven consumer digital platforms and the management of organisations has led to greater interest in understanding social and psychological measurement expertise and techniques as historically constituted ‘technologies of power’ in the making of what Stark has labelled the ‘scalable subject’. Taking a genealogical approach, and drawing on published and archival data, this article focuses on self-rated health, a scale widely used in population censuses, national health surveys, patient-reported outcome measurement tools, and a variety of digital apps. The article suggests that the first methodological articulation of self-rated health by the investigators of the Cornell Study of Occupational Retirement (1951–58) provides a window into the key epistemic, institutional, and cultural uncertainties about psychological and social measurement, processes of adjustment to ‘old age’, and the capacity of individuals to value their own health. I propose that these uncertainties have become incorporated into extant and operational measurements of health.

“Racial anthropology in Turkey and transnational entanglements in the making of scientific knowledge: Seniha Tunakan’s academic trajectory, 1930s–1970s,” Nazan Maksudyan. Open-access. Abstract:

This article situates the trajectory of the academic life of Seniha Tunakan (1908–2000) within the development of anthropology as a scientific discipline in Turkey and its transnational connections to Europe during the interwar period and up until the second half of the 20th century. Relying on the archives of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the archive of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes in Germany, and the Prime Ministry’s Republican Archives in Turkey, it focuses on the doctoral studies of Seniha Tunakan in Germany and her life as a female PhD researcher in the capital of the Third Reich, as well as her entire research career after her return to Turkey. Through Tunakan’s career, the article also provides an analysis of the perpetuation of German race science in the Turkish context, shedding light upon the success of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Anthropologie, menschliche Erblehre und Eugenik (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics) and its transnational impact.

“I never promised you a rose garden.… When landscape architecture becomes a laboratory for the Anthropocene,” by Henriette Steiner. Abstract:

In the summer of 2017, wildflower seeds were spread on a large, empty open space close to a motorway flyover just outside Copenhagen, Denmark. This was an effort to use non-mechanical methods to prepare the soil for an ‘urban forest’ to be established on the site, since the flowers’ roots would penetrate the ground and enable the planned new trees to settle. As a result, the site was transformed into a gorgeous meadow, and all summer long Copenhageners were invited to come and pick the flowers. In this article, I critically examine different aspects of this project – including the role of design, the perception of nature–culture relationships, climate change, and flower-picking as an event – in relation to my personal experience of visiting this meadow both on-site and on social media. The different temporalities that clash at the site give rise to conflicting interpretations, and I suggest that the meadow can be seen as a living plant archive of the Anthropocene, both physically and digitally. In doing so, I introduce and critique key conceptual pairs, including archive/death and bloom/decay, suggested by Lee Edelman’s queer cross-reading of Jacques Derrida’s ‘Archive Fever’ and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I thereby contrast flower motifs pertaining to the cycles of blooming, decay, and nature’s (failed) eternal return in the meadow with the expansive futurity of the digitally mediated archive.

Reflections on the use of patient records: Privacy, ethics, and reparations in the history of psychiatry

A new open-access piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Reflections on the use of patient records: Privacy, ethics, and reparations in the history of psychiatry,” by Jonathan Sadowsky and Kylie Smith. Abstract:

One of the most common questions we get asked as historians of psychiatry is “do you have access to patient records?” Why are people so fascinated with the psychiatric patient record? Do people assume they are or should be available? Does access to the patient record actually tell us anything new about the history of psychiatry? And if we did have them, what can, or should we do with them? In the push to both decolonize and personalize the history of psychiatry, as well as make some kind of account or reparation for past mistakes, how can we proceed in an ethical manner that respects the privacy of people in the past who never imagined their intensely personal psychiatric encounter as subject for future historians? In this paper, we want to think through some of the issues that we deal with as white historians of psychiatry especially at the intersection of privacy, ethics, and racism. We present our thoughts as a conversation, structured around questions we have posed for ourselves, and building on discussions we have had together over the past few years. We hope that they act as a catalyst for further discussion in the field.

Talcott Parsons on building personality system theory via psychoanalysis

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences: “Talcott Parsons on building personality system theory via psychoanalysis,” by A. Javier Treviño. Abstract:

This article examines Talcott Parsons’s efforts at building the theory of personality system as a special case of his general theory of action and places those efforts in historical context. I demonstrate how, during the middle decades of the twentieth century, Parsons employed elements of classic Freudian thought to advance a new appreciation of the personality system and its relations to other action systems. I begin with an overview of the reception of psychoanalysis at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, the Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Harvard Department of Social Relations, showing how Parsons’s thinking on the personality system cannot be understood apart from his association with these three institutions. I then turn to how Parsons endeavored to integrate his particular brand of sociology with his own interpretation of Freud’s writings to explain how the personality system functions and develops. I conclude by showing that while Parsons’s involvements with psychoanalysis became more intermittent after the mid-1950s, to the end of his life he remained steadfast in his enthusiasm for Freud’s theory of personality. In short, Parsons always believed that for sociological theory to progress, it needed to engage with psychoanalysis.

Attempted suicide in older people in New South Wales, Australia, 1870–1908

A new open-access piece in History of Psychiatry may interest AHP readers: “Attempted suicide in older people in New South Wales, Australia, 1870–1908,” Brian Draper. Abstract:

This study examines attempted suicide in older people between 1870 and 1908 in (NSW), Australia. Statistical Registers of NSW indicate persons aged 60+ had disproportionately high rates of apprehension (10.9%) and conviction (13.0%) for attempted suicide. Newspaper reports of 110 suicide attempts in older people indicate that alcohol misuse, poor health, depression, being tired of living, financial problems, relationship difficulties, loss events and insanity were the main issues. Most were treated compassionately with medical care and support, albeit sometimes in a gaol setting. Medical casebooks of persons aged 60+ years with suicide attempts (n = 49) or suicidal ideation (n = 43) admitted to hospitals for the insane indicated that over 75% were psychotic and 50% had melancholia.

Understanding understanding in psychiatry

A new piece in History of Psychiatry may interest AHP readers: “Understanding understanding in psychiatry,” by Joseph Gough. Abstract:

Originally put forward to defend history from the encroachment of physics, the distinction between understanding and explanation was built into the foundations of Karl Jaspers’ ‘phenomenological’ psychiatry, and it is revised, used and defended by many still working in that tradition. On the face of it, this is rather curious. I examine what this notion of ‘understanding’ amounts to, why it entered and remains influential in psychiatry, and what insights for contemporary psychiatry are buried in the notion. I argue that it is unhelpfully associated with the view that the mental is epistemologically and methodologically autonomous, but that it nevertheless highlights an important lacuna in many views of psychiatry and the scientific study of humans more generally.

From Galton’s Pride to Du Bois’s Pursuit: The Formats of Data-Driven Inequality

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Theory, Culture & Society: “From Galton’s Pride to Du Bois’s Pursuit: The Formats of Data-Driven Inequality,” Colin Koopman. Abstract:

Data increasingly drive our lives. Often presented as a new trajectory, the deep immersion of our lives in data has a history that is well over a century old. By revisiting the work of early pioneers of what would today be called data science, we can bring into view both assumptions that fund our data-driven moment as well as alternative relations to data. I here excavate insights by contrasting a seemingly unlikely pair of early data technologists, Francis Galton and W.E.B. Du Bois. Galton, well known for his contributions to eugenics, was first and foremost a tinkering technician of measure. There are numerous domains of science over which Galtonian conceptions retain considerable influence, presumably without his pride in racial inequality. A more viable, because more egalitarian, alternative for the present can be found in the early data work of Du Bois.

Mental recovery, citizenship roles, and the Mental After-Care Association, 1879–1928

A new open-access piece in History of the Human Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Mental recovery, citizenship roles, and the Mental After-Care Association, 1879–1928,” Hannah Blythe. Abstract:

This article argues for the importance of studying life after mental illness. A significant proportion of people who experience mental illness recover, but the experience continues to affect their lives. Historical examination of the birth of mental after-care through the Mental After-Care Association (MACA) highlights the challenges faced by those who were discharged recovered from English and Welsh lunatic asylums between 1879 and 1928. This research demonstrates the relationship between ideas regarding psychiatric recovery and citizenship. Throughout the period, certification of insanity for institutional treatment stripped patients of the status and rights of citizenship. Discharge on account of recovery restored a patient’s legal access to citizenship, yet suspicions about their right and ability to particate in society lingered. The MACA designed after-care to facilitate restoration to full citizenship. The MACA was a product of the active citizenship movement, according to which, one’s right to identify as a citizen depended on the performance of certain duties to the community. These duties varied according to socio-economic position and sex, meaning that each individual was prescribed a gendered personal citizenship role. MACA personnel saw their endeavours as part of their own citizenship roles, and designed their treatments accordingly. The MACA used a patient’s assumption of a citizenship role to indicate recovery, and believed that supporting the performance of that role had mentally healing effects for patients who had been discharged recovered. MACA workers thus imbued the psychiatric innovation of after-care with the liberal political and social values of active citizenship