Michael E. Staub (Baruch College) has published a new volume this month that will be of great interest to our AHP readership. In The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and The Bell Curve, Staub assesses research post-desegregation of education in latter-half of 20th century America, and the interrelationship between the public and institutional uptake of psychological concepts and growing dissatisfaction with IQ as a measure. In doing so, he “charts the paradoxes that have emerged and that continue to structure investigations of racism even into the era of contemporary neuroscientific research.”
The November 2017 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue explore the American Gestalt psychology’s role at the Clarke School for the Deaf, Luigi Luciani’s work on consciousness in relation to localizationism, and professional psychology in Germany during the National Socialist period. (A fun collection of images from the Clarke School for the Deaf from 1955 is also available from Getty Images.) Full details below.
“Planes of phenomenological experience: The psychology of deafness as an early example of American Gestalt psychology, 1928–1940,” by Marion A.Schmidt. Abstract:
When, in 1928, the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, opened a psychological research division, it was nothing unusual in a time fascinated with the sciences of education. Yet with its longstanding ties to Northampton’s Smith College, the school was able to secure the collaboration of eminent Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, who, in turn, engaged 2 more German-speaking emigrants, Margarete Eberhardt and social psychologist Fritz Heider, and Heider’s American wife Grace Moore Heider. This collaboration has seen little attention from historians, who have treated Koffka’s and Heider’s time in Northampton as a transitory phase. I argue, however, that their research on deafness adds to the history of emigration and knowledge transfer between European and American Schools of psychology, and to historical understanding of the interrelation of Gestalt, child, and social psychology. Professionals in child studies and developmental psychology were keenly interested in the holistic and introspective approach Gestalt psychology offered. Deaf children were considered a particularly fascinating research population for exploring the relationship between thought and language, perception and development, Gestalt, and reality. At the Clarke School, Grace Moore Heider was among the first Americans to apply Gestalt principles to child psychology. In a time in which pejorative eugenic beliefs dominated professional perceptions of disability, the Heiders’ groundbreaking work defined the deaf as a social and phenomenological minority. This was in opposition to dominant beliefs in deaf education, yet it points to early roots of a social model of deafness and disability, which historians usually locate in 1960s and ’70s activism.
The September 2017 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, is now online. Two articles in this issue may be of especial interest to AHP readers: one documenting the relationship between cybernetics and modern Chinese linguists and the other exploring the construction of “gifted” and “academically talented” students in the context of efforts to desegregate schools following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. Full details follow below.
“From Modernizing the Chinese Language to Information Science: Chao Yuen Ren’s Route to Cybernetics,” by Chen-Pang Yeang. Abstract:
As one of the most famous Chinese intellectuals of the twentieth century, Chao Yuen Ren is known primarily for his founding of modern Chinese linguistics. This essay examines a less familiar part of his career: cybernetics. When he taught at Berkeley in 1947, he read Norbert Wiener’s book manuscript and gravitated toward the subject. His participation in the 1953 Macy Conference marked the beginning of his decades-long work that used the concepts of feedback and information to understand language in general and Chinese in particular. This essay argues that Chao’s exploration of cybernetics was influenced not only by the rise of information science in the midcentury United States but also by the movement to modernize the Chinese language two decades earlier. His phonetic research for dialect surveys, involvement in language reform, and appropriation of structuralism when he worked in China in the 1920s and 1930s shaped his cybernetic interpretations of language in the 1950s and 1960s. This article enriches the current historiography of information science, which stresses disunity and internationalism, by showing how an East Asian context affected an aspect of the early development of cybernetics. It also demonstrates the value of an immigrant scientist’s intellectual biography for studies of transnational science.
The article discusses the role that conceptualisations of child ‘imperfection’ played in the rise and fall of Russian ‘child study’ between the 1900s and the 1930s. Drawing on Georges Canguilhem’s ideas on ‘the normal’ and ‘the pathological’, the article analyses practices centred on diagnosing subnormality and pathology in the Russian child population in the late tsarist and early Soviet eras. It first examines mutually competing normative regimes that framed categorisations of ‘imperfection’ among Russia’s children in the context of the empire’s accelerated, yet ambivalent modernisation during the 1900s–1910s. It then charts the expansion of this diagnostics in the first decade or so of the Soviet regime, following its shift in focus from the early-1920s’ ‘delinquent child’ to the late-1920s’ ‘mass child’. The article concludes with a discussion of the emergence, over this same period, of the Russian field of medicalised special education known as ‘defectology’. It argues that defectology’s disciplinary specificity crystallised in 1936 around a purposely restrictive concept of ‘imperfection’, understood as individualised and clinically established pathological ‘impairment’. The latter conceptualisation became fixed at the height of Stalinism as a strategic counter to the expansive flux in which the diagnostics and conceptualisation of child ‘imperfection’ had otherwise been over the first three decades of the twentieth century in the context of the remarkable rise of child study during this period.
Early on, Bruner explored the ways that experience affects perception. His paper “Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception” (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947) reported the finding that children were more likely to overestimate the size of coins than cardboard discs — and the greater the value of the coin, the more likely the children were to overestimate its diameter. What’s more, poor children were significantly more likely than rich children to overestimate the size of coins. In other words, both value and need influenced the way the children perceived the world around them.
Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.