In 1945, the émigré psychoanalyst René Spitz published a landmark article in which he suggested that babies cared for in institutions commonly suffered from ‘hospitalism’ and failed to thrive. According to Spitz this was the case because such babies were deprived of ‘maternal care, maternal stimulation, and maternal love.’ Historical interest in separation research and the development of the concept of maternal deprivation has tended to focus on the 1940s and 50s. The term ‘hospitalism’, however, was coined at the end of the nineteenth century and by 1945 the question of whether or not babies could be cared for in institutions had already been debated for a number of decades by an international community of paediatricians and developmental psychologists, later joined by psychoanalysts. Criss-crossing national boundaries and exploring debates over the nature, causes, and prevention of ‘hospitalism’, this article elucidates the changing understandings of the impact on babies of living in institutions.
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.