Tag Archives: law

Forensic Psychology in Germany: Witnessing Crime, 1880-1939

A new book from Heather Wolffram on the history of forensic psychology in Germany will be of interest to AHP readers. Forensic Psychology in Germany: Witnessing Crime, 1880-1939 is described as follows:

This book examines the emergence and early development of forensic psychology in Germany from the late nineteenth century until the outbreak of the Second World War, highlighting the field’s interdisciplinary beginnings and contested evolution. Initially envisaged as a psychology of all those involved in criminal proceedings, this new discipline promised to move away from an exclusive focus on the criminal to provide a holistic view of how human fallibility impacted upon criminal justice. As this book argues, however, by the inter-war period, forensic psychology had largely become a psychology of the witness; its focus narrowed by the exigencies of the courtroom. Utilising detailed studies of the 1896 Berchtold trial and the 1930 Frenzel trial, the book asks whether the tensions between psychiatry, psychology, forensic medicine, pedagogy and law over psychological expertise were present in courtroom practice and considers why a clear winner in the “battle for forensic psychology” had yet to emerge by 1939.

2017 Cheiron Book Prize: Susanna L. Blumenthal’s Law and the Modern Mind

Cheiron: The International Society for the History of the Behavioral and Social Sciences has announced their 2017 Book Prize winner. Congratulations to Susanna Blumenthal!

Cheiron awards the 2017 Cheiron Book Prize to Susanna L. Blumenthal (Julius E. Davis Professor of Law and Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota) for Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Culture (Harvard University Press, 2016). Dr. Blumenthal’s book contributes much to our understanding of the quandaries that lawyers and jurists faced and explored as they considered the appropriate legal relations between human activity and culpability, particularly over the course of the nineteenth century.

During the early years of the American republic, as the precedents following from inherited position fell away, jurists found themselves having to consider matters of standing, evidence, and responsibility in new ways. In doing so, they found that human subjectivity took on new consequences. Well into this process, Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote in 1894, “In a proper sense the state of a man’s consciousness always is material to his liability.” Relying on extensive knowledge of the primary sources (including routine civil and criminal cases), Blumenthal provides historians, psychologists, anthropologists, and other readers with an invigorated understanding of the emergence of refined notions of the individual (generally white men, at that time): they became singular legal persons, and there were circumstances by which such legal persons could be held culpable for their actions or culpability might be limited due to mental impairments of various sorts.

Blumenthal’s prose is lucid and subtle. Her exposition is both magisterial and thought-provoking. For example, the historical examination of the jurisprudence of insanity illuminates contemporary attitudes toward ‘others’—children, women, and slaves.

Members of the 2017 Cheiron Book Prize Committee: Jennifer Bazar, Elissa Rodkey, Gerald Sullivan (Chair), and Phyllis Wentworth.

The 2017 Cheiron Book Prize will be formally presented at the annual meeting of Cheiron, June 22-25, at Mississippi State University, Starkville.

NBN Interview with Susanna Blumenthal on Law and the Modern Mind

New Books Network (NBN) has released an interview with legal historian Susanna L. Blumenthal on her recent book, Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Legal Culture. As  NBN describes,

Blumenthal offers a historical examination of the jurisprudence of insanity, legal capacity, and accountability from post-revolutionary America through the nineteenth century. Americans struggling to set the boundaries of ordered liberty turned to Common Sense philosophy that held to divinely given rational faculties of intellect, volition, and moral sense. Republican citizenship assumed that a reasonable man, as a legal person, would act accordingly. The market economy of self-made men, the new field of medical psychology, will and contract challenges over wealth and property, tort law and increased liability claims exposed the inadequacy of social and political norms in defining human fallibility, and the limits of responsibility. Litigants, lawyers, judges, and medical experts struggled to find a reliable way to settle issues of mental competency and define the bounds of freedom. The incapacity of married women, children, and slaves provided a means of comparison for the male citizen involving metaphysical, political, social, and economic ideas wrapped up in the concept of self-government. Blumenthal has produced a remarkable piece of intellectual and legal history situated in the rapidly changing market environment of a young republic.

The full interview can be heard online here.

Sad News, the Passing of Jerome Bruner

young brunerOn June 5th, 2016, after becoming a centenarian last October. Renowned for his significant thinking in cognitive, developmental, and educational psychology, and ranked as one of the top-cited psychologists of the 20th century. Comprehensive obituaries are certain to follow, but for the time being, here is an engaging interview in the NYU Law magazine from last year that aptly identifies him as an “acrobatic meta-connector of ideas;” also, a note on his life and career from the Harvard department of psychology.

older bruner

Additionally, here is a post that I particularly enjoyed over on the History of Emotions
blog
 , by Jules Evans, about Bruner’s volume Acts of Meaning and the cultural construction of emotion.

Here, here, and here, are previous AHP posts that relate to his work.

Open Access Article: “How Personality Became Treatable”

Now available free online is the article, “How personality became treatable: The mutual constitution of clinical knowledge and mental health law.” In this article, published in the February 2013 issue of Social Studies of Science, sociologist of science, technology, and medicine Martyn Pickersgill (right), of the University of Edinburgh, describes the move toward treating personality disorders in the United Kingdom and the role of the legal system in such changes. The abstract reads,

In recent years, personality disorders – psychiatric constructs understood as enduring dysfunctions of personality – have come into ever-greater focus for British policymakers, mental health professionals and service-users. Disputes have focussed largely on highly controversial attempts by the UK Department of Health to introduce mental health law and policy (now enshrined within the 2007 Mental Health Act of England and Wales). At the same time, clinical framings of personality disorder have dramatically shifted: once regarded as untreatable conditions, severe personality disorders are today thought of by many clinicians to be responsive to psychiatric and psychological intervention. In this article, I chart this transformation by means of a diachronic analysis of debates and institutional shifts pertaining to both attempts to change the law, and understandings of personality disorder. In so doing, I show how mental health policy and practice have mutually constituted one another, such that the aims of clinicians and policymakers have come to be closely aligned. I argue that it is precisely through these reciprocally constitutive processes that the profound reconfiguration of personality disorder from being an obdurate to a plastic condition has occurred; this demonstrates the significance of interactions between law and the health professions in shaping not only the State’s management of pathology, but also perceptions of its very nature.

The full article can be downloaded for free here.