The New Books in STS podcast series, part of the New Books Network, has released an episode with historian Erik Linstrum on his new book Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire. As New Books in STS describes,
Despite its critics, Linstrum shows how psychology mobilized to take part in Britain’s counter-insurgency campaigns in Kenya and Malaya. Colonial administrators borrowed tools from psychology to conduct interrogations and suppress dissent. The colonial state attempted to cast doubt on the psychological maturity of the colonized, articulating Third World nationalism itself as a kind of pathology. Britain’s representatives aimed to actively reshape thoughts and feelings in their quest to win “hearts and minds.”
Linstrum’s book challenges rigid definitions of scientists in the service of empire, complicating earlier narratives which portrayed psychologists as powerful supporters of colonial discourse. Psychology’s intended role was to aid the technocratic administration of a waning empire. While attempting to make the colonized knowable and predictable, British psychologists unintentionally exposed the dysfunctions inherent in European society, challenging the notion of an irrational, inferior “other.”
The full episode can be found here.
New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has posted an interview with Matthew Heaton about his recent book Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry.
As described on the publisher’s website,
Black Skin, White Coats is a history of psychiatry in Nigeria from the 1950s to the 1980s. Working in the contexts of decolonization and anticolonial nationalism, Nigerian psychiatrists sought to replace racist colonial psychiatric theories about the psychological inferiority of Africans with a universal and egalitarian model focusing on broad psychological similarities across cultural and racial boundaries. Particular emphasis is placed on Dr. T. Adeoye Lambo, the first indigenous Nigerian to earn a specialty degree in psychiatry in the United Kingdom in 1954. Lambo returned to Nigeria to become the medical superintendent of the newly founded Aro Mental Hospital in Abeokuta, Nigeria’s first “modern” mental hospital. At Aro, Lambo began to revolutionize psychiatric research and clinical practice in Nigeria, working to integrate “modern” western medical theory and technologies with “traditional” cultural understandings of mental illness. Lambo’s research focused on deracializing psychiatric thinking and redefining mental illness in terms of a model of universal human similarities that crossed racial and cultural divides.
Black Skin, White Coats is the first work to focus primarily on black Africans as producers of psychiatric knowledge and as definers of mental illness in their own right. By examining the ways that Nigerian psychiatrists worked to integrate their psychiatric training with their indigenous backgrounds and cultural and civic nationalisms, Black Skin, White Coats provides a foil to Frantz Fanon’s widely publicized reactionary articulations of the relationship between colonialism and psychiatry. Black Skin, White Coats is also on the cutting edge of histories of psychiatry that are increasingly drawing connections between local and national developments in late-colonial and postcolonial settings and international scientific networks. Heaton argues that Nigerian psychiatrists were intimately aware of the need to engage in international discourses as part and parcel of the transformation of psychiatry at home.
The full interview can be heard online here.
Historian Jamie Cohen-Cole (left), author of the recent book The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature, has been interviewed by New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network. As the site describes,
Jamie Cohen-Cole’s new book explores the emergence of a discourse of creativity, interdisciplinarity, and the “open mind” in the context of Cold War American politics, education, and society. The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature (University of Chicago Press, 2014) considers how open-mindedness took on a political role (as a model of citizenship contrasted with that of totalitarian states), an academic role (as a model of a scientist or thinker), and a broader role as a model of human nature in the mid-late twentieth century. Cohen-Cole’s book not only offers a fascinating glimpse into the development of mid-century psychology and cognitive science, but also shows the deep connections among what was happening in what might otherwise be considered separate social and political spaces that include laboratories, classrooms, cocktail parties, conferences, academic departments, and various physical and textual loci of political and social engagement. It is exceptionally clear in its narrative structure, prose style, and argument, and it offers a fresh perspective on how we understand the co-creation of science and society in Cold War America.
Listen to the full interview here.
New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with historian Michael Pettit (left) on his recent book The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America. (For previous AHP posts on The Science of Deception see here and here.) As New Books in STS describes,
Parapsychology. You may have heard of it. You know, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis. Spoon-bending and that sort of thing. If you have heard of it, you probably think of it as a pseudoscience. And indeed it is. But it wasn’t always so. There was a time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when practitioners and advocates of parapsychology abounded. William James, one of the very founders of modern psychological science, was a fan. Most of the founders of modern psychology, of course, weren’t fans. They considered the parapsychologists frauds peddling cheap tricks to gullible people. These con-men, they said, gave true psychological science a bad name. There was only one thing to do: unmask them.
As Michael Pettit shows in his fascinating book The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America (University of Chicago Press, 2013), that is precisely what the scientific psychologists did, or at least tried to do. They worked hard to create a firm boundary between their legitimate practice and what they considered illegitimate trickery. In so doing, they developed a science of deception, one that had far reaching implications for science, the law, and commerce in the United States.
The full interview can be heard online here.
New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with historian Gabriel Finkelstein on his recent book Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany. As described on the New Books in STS website,
Finkelstein considers how someone so famous and so important could end up so forgotten, and he does a masterful job in rectifying that situation. The book traces du Bois-Reymond’s life and work, from a childhood in Berlin, to an early life and schooling in Bonn, and then back to Berlin and beyond in the course of a mature career in laboratories and lecture halls. We meet the scientist as teacher, as writer, and as public and university intellectual, and follow his transformation from Romantic to Lucretian and his dual existence as simultaneously staunch individual and product of his class and culture. The chapters are beautifully written, and range from exploring diary pages and love letters to laboratory equipment, with stopovers to consider frog pistols and hopping dances of joy along the way. Whether du Bois-Reymond was accepting the advice of his friends (as offered above) or avoiding his underwear-proffering mother-in-law (of which you’ll hear more in the conversation), he emerges here as not just an important historical figure, but also a fascinating person who’s a joy to read about.
The full interview can be found online here.