New HoP: Motivated Historiography, Child Prodigies, and More

The August 2021 issue of History of Psychology is now available. The issue includes a special section on reassessing the history of German critical psychology and motivated historiography, as well as additional articles on the film the Snake Pit, child prodigies in Paris, and a proposed new class: the psychologesque. A further review article looks at recent scholarship on William James. Full titles, authors, and abstracts below.

Special Section: Reassessing the History of German Critical Psychology

Beyond narratives: German critical psychology revisited,” Schönpflug, Wolfgang. Abstract:

In 2 articles, this journal has presented critical psychology (CP), which emerged in Germany during the 1980s, as an exemplary paradigm that committed itself to both scientific and political objectives and became a victim of Cold-War confrontations. The presentation was mainly based on narratives and writings circulating within CP itself. I have reexamined the case using archival materials and supplementary literary sources. This allows for a more complete and balanced account of postwar psychology and the contemporary political situation in general. In particular, I argue against Teo’s hypothesis that CP was an indigenous paradigm that had to assert itself against American psychology. Marxism, constructivism, and subject orientation are analyzed as principal components of CP, and a claim for sole representation is identified as a predominant reason for the isolation of CP within German psychology. Finally, I briefly report on CP following the collapse of Soviet communism and comment on the present historicization of CP.

Motivated historiography: Comments on Wolfgang Schönpflug’s reappraisal of German critical psychology,” Teo, Thomas; Jovanovi?, Gordana; Dege, Martin. Abstract: 

Introducing the concept of motivated historiography, we seek to answer the question of what constitutes a good history of psychology and of German Critical Psychology (CP) in particular. It is suggested that one needs to include questions about the purpose of historiography, the background and horizon of the historiographer, the quality and originality of the thesis, the quality of the material, selected and omitted, and the quality of interpretations. We submit that the article by Schönpflug (2021) does not accomplish a realistic account of CP. We conclude that the two original main theses in the article on links of CP to communism and Nazism reflect motivated historiography and are remnants of political and cultural struggles in Germany in the 1970s. We suggest that more important than just denouncing an innovative program is to do justice to the sociopolitical, academic, and theoretical entanglements, the historical contributions and the intellectual legacies of CP, while also accounting for shortcomings.

Self-report on motivation,” Schönpflug, Wolfgang. Abstract:

Teo et al. (2021, p. 217) have asked me “to locate [myself] epistemologically and politically and identify [my] position in…institutional and departmental struggles…to allow a reader to contextualize [my] reconstructions.” Therefore, I provide information on my political and scientific orientation, my position at the Free University of Berlin, and my relationship to Klaus Holzkamp.

Regular Articles

The Snake Pit: Mixing Marx with Freud in Hollywood,” Harris, Ben. Abstract:

In 1948, the motion picture The Snake Pit was released to popular and critical acclaim. Directed by Anatole Litvak, the film told of the mental illness and recovery of one patient, who survived overcrowding and understaffing and was treated by a neo-Freudian psychiatrist known as Dr. Kik. It was based on a novel of the same title by Mary Jane Ward, who had been treated at Rockland State Hospital in New York. Building upon exposés of horrid hospital conditions in the press, The Snake Pit helped motivate reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill. Via unpublished correspondence and drafts of the film’s screenplay, this article explores the populist and antifascist themes in The Snake Pit, which came from the director, screenwriters, and the politics of the immediate post-WWII era. It also describes the case history of Mary Jane Ward and her treatment by Gerard Chrzanowski, the real “Dr. Kik.”

Child prodigies in Paris in the belle époque: Between child stars and psychological subjects,” Graus, Andrea. Abstract:

This article considers the double role of child prodigies as child stars and psychological subjects in Paris in the Belle Époque. I argue that the celebrity status of child prodigies during this time contributed to their transformation into objects of scientific curiosity. The notions of innate talent and natural-born genius contributed heavily to stories of child prodigies within the public sphere; these stories also circulated in psychological accounts of such children. To illustrate this, I examine the case of Pepito Arriola, the so-called Spanish Mozart, in more detail. This musical prodigy toured Europe and America during the early 20th century, and when he was 3- and one-half years old, Charles Richet presented him at the Fourth International Psychology Congress (1900) in Paris. Arriola became the first virtuoso to be submitted to psychological examination, and he was subsequently examined in Berlin by the psychologist Carl Stumpf. This closer look at Pepito Arriola’s case clarifies how popular culture and scientific research interacted in the making of a prodigy.

Middle class sprawl: Locating the psychologesque in the history of psychology,” Devonis, David C. Abstract: 

To add to the system of classes already present in the recent historiography of psychology, a new and broader class is proposed, the psychologesque. This class includes, along with a central core of master’s- and PhD-level psychologists, surrounding belts of cognate professionals in other fields who are, to a greater or lesser degree, tinged with psychology. Advantages to including this broad class, in some ways similar to the U.S. middle class, in the history of psychology are advanced.

Essay Review

Before and beyond dualism: Paul Croce and David Leary on William James,” Bordogna, Francesca. Abstract:

Reviews the books, “Young William James Thinking” by Paul Croce (2018) and “The Routledge Guidebook to James’s Principles of Psychology” by David E. Leary (2018). Paul Croce’s Young William James Thinking and David Leary’s The Routledge Guidebook to James’s Principles of Psychology reach important, at times convergent conclusions, though through very different approaches. Croce practices the kind of sympathetic hermeneutics that James wished had informed the reception of his pragmatism. A labor of love, Young William James zeroes in on the “center” of James’s “vision,” redrawing its contours. Leary, by contrast, proceeds through a razor-sharp analysis of James’s Principles of Psychology. He sees himself as tracing paths and itineraries, through which readers can explore James’s complex work. Croce’s book addresses a broad audience of people who are interested in William James and the James family, and who also desire to learn more about American culture and society in the second half of the 19th century. Leary’s study is aimed at a more specialized readership of historians of science, intellectual historians, psychologists, and philosophers, as well as graduate and undergraduate students. Through works like Leary’s and Croce’s readers can better understand the reasons why James’s thought came to function as a resource not only for neuroscientific, biological understandings of mind, self, and values, such as Antonio Damasio’s, but also for a humanistic “sciences of the human person,” such as Roberto Assagioli’s psychosynthesis and American humanistic psychology.

CFP – Useful Film in (Neuro) Psychiatry Europe, 1900–1950. University of Lausanne, March 3-4, 2022

AHP readers may be interested in the following call for papers: “Useful Film in (Neuro) Psychiatry Europe, 1900–1950.” Full details below.

Workshop – University of Lausanne 3-4 March 2022

Since its inception, the cinematograph had many applications in the medical field, and particularly in the fields of psychiatry, neurology and neuropsychiatry (Lorusso & Venturini 2019). With surgeons, neurologists and psychiatrists are at the forefront of using film as a tool for analyzing, storing, archiving, and transmitting knowledge. For a long time, the (neuro) psychiatric films made by doctors as part of their teaching and research have been overshadowed by educational and health films. But since 2000, and especially 2010, scholars from different disciplines are increasingly interested in these practices. Several interdisciplinary teams have conducted research, with the aim of rehabilitating film as a privileged source for both the history of medicine and the history of cinema.

This interest stems partly from discoveries of films thought to be lost, such as the Magnus-Rademaker collection (1909–1940) (Koehler, Lameris & Hielscher 2015; Koehler & Lameris 2016). We can also mention the research in Italy on the Vincenzo Neri collection (Lorusso, Vanone & Venturini 2012; Vanone, Lorusso & Venturini 2015; Venturini & Lorusso 2013); in Germany on the Arthur Simmons and Max Nonne collections (Holdorff 2010, 2012, 2016); in Belgium on the Van Gehuchten collection (Aubert 2002a, 2002b, 2009, 2016); or in Rumania on the G. Marinescu collection (Buda et al. 2009). All these studies, and many others, show the dynamism of a field of research in continuous expansion.

Scholars face several challenges in front of films made by mental health professionals. How to locate objects that are poorly (or not at all) identified? How to understand them in the absence of sufficient information about their production and distribution context? How to work on films that are in poor condition? How to solve problems of access to sensitive data? How to establish productive transdisciplinary collaborations? Indeed, there is still much to be done to build on these documents defying traditional classifications (e.g. the distinction between documentary and fiction) and even escape knowledge altogether, as they “sleep” at the bottom of a closet, in a hospital, a bunker or the cellar of private owners.

Such investigations involve observing the contexts in which the film medium is used. But also, how scientific practices, observation protocols and discursive logics discipline-specific shape the medium and the uses of film. If the film is embedded in a preexisting framework that it modifies, it is itself also transformed in return by its environment of use. For this reason, it would be essential to question the consensus on the epistemic value of the “medical gaze” as mediated by film.

Focusing on the study of films shown in medical institutions, in lecture halls and at scientific conferences, this workshop has several goals: to map the state of research on works devoted to useful films in the field of neurology, psychiatry and neuropsychiatry, in Europe between 1900 and 1950; to highlight investigations on poorly known or unknown film collections; to serve as a starting point for one to two publications (journal issues). The main purpose is thus to increase our knowledge on practices that have long been considered “marginal” both in the medical humanities and in the history of cinema (and the media

We seek papers that may provide some answers to one or other of these questions:

  • In which context (historical, institutional, scientific, etc.) do doctors appropriated the filmic medium?
  • What are their needs and expectations regarding film?
  • What are their explicit and implicit goals?
  • What conception(s) of cinema underlie(s) the use of the moving image?
  • What formal elements of the technology are considered productive or counterproductive?
  • Which criteria lead doctors to emphasize certain technical properties of the medium to the expense of others?
  • Which issues are raised by the films in the medical community?
  • How are the films distributed and watched?
Film reel, Waldau collections, Cinémathèque suisse (picture by MB)

Contributions can include but are not limited to the following topics:

  • Study of specific film collections, or other related media as film operates in conjunction with other visual media (Lorusso, Venturini 2019)
  • Methodological issues raised by the examination of such sources, including issues related to their preservation and storage
  • Theoretical questions, as long as they are supported by a case study
  • Investigation of institutional or personal synergies on a European scale (Switzerland, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain, etc.), given the intense circulation of medical expertise during the twentieth century

Organization committee: Mireille Berton, Elodie Murtas, Raphaël Tinguely

Scientific committee: Mireille Berton, Christian Bonah, Peter Koehler, Lorenzo Lorusso, Simone Venturini

Proposals submission

  • Abstract submission deadline: October 30, 2021
  • Ideally, each abstract should articulate: 1) an issue or research question to be discussed, 2) a source-based case study 3) a methodological or critical framework used, and 4) expected findings or conclusions
  • Decisions will be communicated to the authors by November 30, 2021
  • Title and abstract (400 words max.), and a short bio (200 words max.) should be submitted in Word format to Mireille.Berton@unil.ch 

Practical info

  • Language: English
  • Location: University of Lausanne, Dorigny campus, Switzerland
  • Expenses covered: one night’s accommodation, meals, travel within Europe
  • No payment from the participants will be required
  • Contact: Mireille.Berton@unil.ch or Raphael.Tinguely@unil.ch

Timeline

  • October 30, 2021: application deadline
  • November 30, 2021: notification of acceptance
  • February 1, 2022: submission of a long abstract (500-600 words)
  • March 3-4, 2022: workshop
  • September 1, 2022: submission of the articles for publication

Bibliography

AUBERT, Geneviève (2016), “Cinema and Neuroscience: Development and Application of Cinematography in the Field of Neurosciences”, Journal of History of Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 1–2.

AUBERT, Geneviève (2009), “Neurological Illustration: From Photography to Cinematography”, Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Nr. 95, 289–302.

AUBERT, Geneviève (2002a), “Arthur Van Gehuchten Takes Neurology to the Movies”, Neurology, Vol. 59, Nr. 10 (November 26), 1612–1618.

AUBERT, Geneviève (2002b), “From Photography to Cinematography: Recording Movement and Gait in a Neurological Context”, Journal of the History of Neuroscences, Nr. 11, 248–257.

Buda O., Arsene D., Ceausu M., Dermengiu D. & Curca G. C. (2009), “Georges Marinesco and the Early Research in Neuropathology”, Neurology, Vol. 72, Nr. 1 (January 6), 88–91.

CURTIS, Scott (2016), “Dissecting the Medical Training Film”, in Marta Braun, Charlie Keil, Rob King, Paul Moore & Louis Pelletier (ed.), Beyond the Screen. Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 161–167.

CURTIS, Scott (2015), The Shape of Spectatorship. Art, Science, and Early Cinema in Germany, New York, Columbia University Press.

HOLDORFF, Bernd (2016), “Arthur Simons (1877-1942) and Tonic Neck Reflexes With Hemiplegic ‘Mitbewegungen’ (Associated Reactions): Cinematography From 1916-1919”, Journal of History of Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 63–71.

HOLDORFF, Bernd (2012), “Arthur Simons (1877-1942) über tonische Halsreflexe beim Hemiplegiker mit Demonstration seines Film (mit Fällen aus den Jahren 1916-1919)”, Der Nervenartz, Nr. 83, 514–520.

HOLDORFF, Bernd (2010), “Max Nonne und die Kriegsneurose: Mit Filmdarstellung der Kriegszitterer vor und nach Hypnose von Max Nonne/Hamburg (1918). Zur Erinnerung an Max Nonnes 50. Todestag”, Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Nervenheilkunde, Nr. 16, 197–208.

LORUSSO, Lorenzo & VENTURINI, Simone (2020), “Cinema and Neurology: From History to Therapy”, dans Bruno Colombo (ed.), Brain and Art. From Æsthetics to Therapeutics, Cham/CH, Springer, 95–120.

LORUSSO, Lorenzo, VANONE, Federico & VENTURINI, Simone (2012), “L’arrivo e le sue tracce: la collezione Vincenzo Neri”, Immagine. Note di storia del cinema, Nr. 6 (July-August), 32–54.

KOEHLER, Peter J., LAMERIS, Bregt & HIELSCHER, Eva (2016), “Neurocinematography in Pre-World War II Netherlands: The Magnus-Rademaker Collection”, Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 84–101.

KOEHLER, Peter, J. & LAMERIS, Bregt (2016), “The Magnus-Rademaker Scientific Film Collection: Ethical Issues on Animal Experimentation (1908-1940)”, Journal of History of Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 102–121.

VENTURINI, Simone & LORUSSO, Lorenzo (2013), “Vincenzo Neri: Anatomy of a Finding”, Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, Vol. 16, Nr. 1, 112–116.

From Poacher to Protector of Attention: The Therapeutic Turn of Persuasive Technology and Ethics of a Smartphone Habit-breaking Application

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Science, Technology, and Human Values:

From Poacher to Protector of Attention: The Therapeutic Turn of Persuasive Technology and Ethics of a Smartphone Habit-breaking Application,” by Alex Beattie. Abstract:

This paper critically investigates the ethical perspectives and practices of individuals and organizations who make persuasive technologies (“persuasive technologists”). An organization that claims to be at the forefront of ethical persuasion is behavioral software company Boundless Mind. Yet Boundless Mind sells ostensibly oxymoronic software products: an Application Programming Interface for third-party applications that optimizes the capture of end user attention, and an application for end users on how to make third-party applications less persuasive. Drawing upon Foucault’s interpretation of ethics as an “aesthetics of existence” and the related concept of “therapeutic authority,” I argue Boundless Mind justify the “poaching” and “protecting” of user attention based on a view of the human subject as fixable and their capability to instrumentalize user subjectivity to socially desirable ends. I walkthrough Boundless Mind’s technology-habit-breaking application Space and highlight a behavioral technique administered by Space called stimulus devaluation, which enables the user to develop a transformative relationship with their technology habits and persuasive applications. I conclude the paper by arguing that a persuasive technology ethics based on fixing the user obfuscates the power of persuasive technologists by limiting the scope of ethical inquiry to the activities of the user.

The Engineered Student: On B. F. Skinner’s Teaching Machine

AHP readers may be interested in an excerpt from Audrey Watters’ recent book Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning now up on the MIT Press Reader: “The Engineered Student: On B. F. Skinner’s Teaching Machine.” As Watters writes about Skinner,

…His teaching machine, he argued, would enable a student to progress through exercises that were perfectly matched to her level of knowledge and skill, assessing her understanding of each new concept, and giving immediate feedback and encouragement along the way.

It was a “primitive” machine, Skinner admitted, fashioned out of a rectangular wooden box. “Problems in arithmetic were printed on cards,” he explained. “The student placed the card in the machine and composed a two-digital answer along one side by moving two levers. If the answer was right, a light appeared in a hole in the card.” He quickly built a second model in which a student manipulated sliders bearing the numbers 0 through 9 in order to compose an answer. In another prototype, the student turned a knob after setting the answer. If the answer was wrong, the knob would not turn. If the answer was right, the knob would move freely, and a bell would ring.

Read the full excerpt here.

Revisiting the ‘Darwin–Marx correspondence’: Multiple discovery and the rhetoric of priority

AHP readers may be interested in a new article in History of the Human Sciences: “Revisiting the ‘Darwin–Marx correspondence’: Multiple discovery and the rhetoric of priority,” Joel Barnes. Abstract:

Between the 1930s and the mid 1970s, it was commonly believed that in 1880 Karl Marx had proposed to dedicate to Charles Darwin a volume or translation of Capital but that Darwin had refused. The detail was often interpreted by scholars as having larger significance for the question of the relationship between Darwinian evolutionary biology and Marxist political economy. In 1973–4, two scholars working independently—Lewis Feuer, professor of sociology at Toronto, and Margaret Fay, a graduate student at Berkeley—determined simultaneously that the traditional story of the proposed dedication was untrue, being based on a long-standing misinterpretation of the relevant correspondence. Between the two, and among several other scholars who became their respective allies, there developed a contest of authority and priority over the discovery. From 1975 to 1982, the controversy generated a considerable volume of spilled ink in both scholarly and popular publications. Drawing on previously unexamined archival resources, this article revisits the ‘case’ of the so-called ‘Darwin–Marx correspondence’ as an instance of the phenomenon of ‘multiple discovery’. A familiar occurrence in the natural sciences, multiple discovery is rarer in the humanities and social sciences. The present case of a priority dispute in the history of ideas followed patterns familiar from such disputes in the natural sciences, while also diverging from them in ways that shed light on the significance of disciplinary norms and research infrastructures.

CfP – Workshop on the History of Psychology and the Sciences of the Human Mind

CfP – German Forum for the History of the Human Sciences

In cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin) and the Erfurt Chair for the History of Science, the German Forum for the History of the Human Sciences is organizing its fifth workshop for ongoing projects on the history of psychology and other disciplines conducting research on the human mind (anthropology, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, phrenology, etc.).

We are open to all contributions in the subject area, regardless of their epochal or regional focus. The objective of the workshop is to discuss drafts for journal articles, chapters for master theses, dissertations or book projects. We invite experts in the history of the human sciences to join us to discuss these drafts.

Interested scholars at all stages of their career are encouraged to submit abstracts and a short CV by October 15, 2021. Manuscripts of accepted abstracts will be presented briefly by other participants during the workshop, and discussed with the support of subject matter experts. To allow for a reasonable reading time, accepted texts should be submitted by February 15, 2022

The workshop will be held online on March 17 and 18, 2022, and will provide one hour of discussion time for each manuscript. The presentation of the texts will be kept short to allow adequate time for discussion.

The Forum for the History of the Human Sciences was founded in Berlin in June 2016 and aims to promote long-term exchange among scholars working on the history of the human sciences. While we have focused on German-speaking academia in recent years, we are excited to take advantage of the newly-established practice of videoconferencing to host this unconventional international workshop.

For questions about the workshop or the German Forum for the History of the Human Sciences please contact Laurens Schlicht (laurens.schlicht@uni-saarland.de) or Verena Lehmbrock (verena.lehmbrock@uni-erfurt.de).

New SHM: American Child Psychiatry, Opiates in Japan, Intellectually Disabled in Ireland, and More

Several new articles in the August 2021 issue of Social History of Medicine may interest AHP readers. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Stella Chess and the History of American Child Psychiatry,” Laura D. Hirshbein. Abstract:

Throughout its history, American child psychiatry has been a hospitable specialty for women physicians. In its early years when practitioners were often steeped in psychoanalysis and influenced by theorists such as Anna Freud, many leaders within the field were women. By the 1960s and 1970s, child psychiatry was moving away from analysis and towards more research-based practice. The biography of an important leader in this area, New York University’s Stella Chess, illustrates the mechanism of that transformation and the role of ideas about mothers and working women. Chess, along with her husband and collaborator Alexander Thomas, gathered data to disprove the popular notion that mothers were to blame for children’s behaviour problems and demonstrated instead that issues resulted from a poor fit between a child’s temperament and his/her environment. Chess not only demanded that facts support theory, but also used her own parenting experiences and common sense to guide her work.

A ‘forgettable minority’? Psychiatric Institutions and the Intellectually Disabled in Ireland, 1965–84,” David Kilgannon. Open Access. Abstract:

This article investigates the admission of the intellectually disabled to institutional psychiatric facilities in the Republic of Ireland between 1965 and 1984, using this as a way to explore disability provision and the later years of the state’s congregate mental hospital network. Drawing on institutional documents and news media, it argues that ‘handicap admissions’ continued along an established pattern, while demonstrating how these facilities remained ill-equipped to meet the needs of disabled residents. In doing so, this article begins to address the broader lacuna surrounding intellectual disability within Irish historiography, while complicating an emergent body of work on the ‘deinstitutionalisation’ of the state’s psychiatric hospitals during the late twentieth century. It suggests ways in which institutional records can be used to access patient experiences and highlights the need for further research on intellectual disability, examinations of which can contribute towards the histories of institutionalisation and social policy in post-war Ireland.

Professional Migration, Occupational Challenge, and Mental Health: Medical Practitioners in New Zealand, 1850–1890s,” Alannah Tomkins, Catharine Coleborne. Abstract:

Australasian colonies were promoted as ‘lands of opportunity’ for British medical practitioners of the Victorian period, but once there doctors often found that any problems they faced had travelled with them. Furthermore, the act of migration could add to personal difficulty. This article builds on existing work about the challenges confronting doctors in England, and on the potential of asylum records to address the consequences of migration, to consider the experiences of men who chose to move round the globe. It concerns practitioners’ turbulent careers in New Zealand, with an emphasis on their poor mental health and suicide. Official and personal sources are used to evaluate the impact of professional drivers, and the consequences for medical men. It concludes that migration did not mitigate professional stresses and instead induced or exacerbated personal crisis. The visibility of alcohol-related distress is particularly marked in contrast to evidence for practitioners in England.

Opiates and the ‘Therapeutic Revolution’ in Japan,” Judith Vitale. Abstract:

This article argues that the widespread use of opiate-compounded medicines in late-nineteenth-century Japan was partly a result of Meiji period (1868–1912) public health policies. An overview of the status of opiates in Japan from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries is intended to explain possible reasons: pharmaceutical reforms in the 1870s and 1880s were based on Edo-period (1603–1868) protostructures of regulated drug manufacture; in contrast, the Meiji government failed to introduce Western clinical practice within a short span of time. As a result opiates, marketed as Western ‘modern’ medicines, were smoothly integrated into pre-existing beliefs, according to which drugs and diets maintained bodily health.

Adaptation to the New Normal—Maternal Employment in the Framework of Psychosomatic and Stress Discourse in Finland from the 1950s to the Early 1970s,” Mikko Myllykangas, Eve-Riina Hyrkäs. Abstract:

This article examines how the psychosomatic approach, a holistic orientation towards health and illness, and the concept of ‘stress’ were employed in the Finnish socio-medical discussion on maternal employment during the post-war decades. The concepts of psychosomatics and stress voiced the contemporary anxieties about a changing way of life, and as the psychosocial environment was connected to morbidity, maternal employment could be seen as a medical problem. The changing value climate of the late 1960s elicited an emerging discrepancy between interpretations of medical theories and ‘modern values’, articulated in maternal employment and day care discussions. ‘Psychosomatics’ and ‘stress’ could be used as tools for victim-blaming, but also to call for changes in social conditions. The article contributes to the historical scholarship on social change by suggesting how the interaction between individual behaviour and the planning of social policies can be analysed.

On the assumption of self-reflective subjectivity

A new open-access article in History of the Human Sciences may interest AHP readers: “On the assumption of self-reflective subjectivity,” by Christoforos Bouzanis. Abstract:

Contemporary social theory has consistently emphasized habitual action, rule-following, and role-performing as key aspects of social life, yet the challenge remains of combining these aspects with the omnipresent phenomenon of self-reflective conduct. This article attempts to tackle this challenge by proposing useful distinctions that can facilitate further interdisciplinary research on self-reflection. To this end, I argue that we need a more sophisticated set of distinctions and categories in our understanding of habitual action. The analysis casts light on the idea that our contemporary social theories of self-reflection are not consistent with everyday notions of agential knowledgeability and accountability, and this conclusion indicates the need to reconceptualize discourse and subjectivity in non-eliminative terms. Ultimately, the assumption of self-reflective subjectivity turns out to be a theoretical necessity for the conceptualization of discursive participation and democratic choice.

From Papers to Programs: Courts, Corporations, Clinics, and the Battle Over Computerized Psychological Testing

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing by Kira Lussier “From Papers to Programs: Courts, Corporations, Clinics, and the Battle Over Computerized Psychological Testing“. Abstract:

This article examines the role of technology firms in computerizing psychological tests from the 1960s to 1980s. It focuses on National Computer Systems (NCS)’s development of computer software to interpret the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. NCS trumpeted their computerized interpretation as a way to free up clerical labor and mitigate human bias, even as psychologists cautioned that proprietary algorithms risked obscuring decision rules. Clinics, courtrooms, and businesses all had competing interests in the use of computerized personality tests. I argue that test developers promoted computerized psychological tests as technical fixes for bias, even as courts and psychologists pointed to the complex layers of technological and social mediation embedded in software programs for psychological tests. This article contributes to histories of computing emphasizing the importance of intellectual property law in software development; to the relationship between labor, technology, and expertise; and to scholarship on the history and politics of algorithms.

In the Public Good: Eugenics and Law in Ontario

The just-published book, In the Public Good: Eugenics and Law in Ontario, may interest AHP readers. Written by C. Elizabeth Koester, the book is described as follows:

In the early twentieth century, the eugenics movement won many supporters with its promise that social ills such as venereal disease, alcoholism, and so-called feeble-mindedness, along with many other conditions, could be eliminated by selective human breeding and other measures. The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia passed legislation requiring that certain “unfit” individuals undergo reproductive sterilization. Ontario, being home to many leading proponents of eugenics, came close to doing the same.

In the Public Good examines three legal processes that were used to advance eugenic ideas in Ontario between 1910 and 1938: legislative bills, provincial royal commissions, and the criminal trial of a young woman accused of distributing birth control information. Taken together, they reveal who in the province supported these ideas, how they were understood in relation to the public good, and how they were debated. Elizabeth Koester shows the ways in which the law was used both to promote and to deflect eugenics, and how the concept of the public good was used by supporters to add power to their cause.

With eugenic thinking finding new footholds in the possibilities offered by reproductive technologies, proposals to link welfare entitlement to “voluntary” sterilization, and concerns about immigration, In the Public Good adds depth to our understanding. Its exploration of the historical relationship between eugenics and law in Ontario prepares us to face the implications of “newgenics” today.