As a follow up to our recent post highlighting Luke Stark’s Slate piece on “The Long History of Computer Science and Psychology Comes Into View,” we point you to Stark’s forthcoming piece in the April issue of Social Studies of Science. Now available online as a preprint, the article explores what Stark terms the “scalable subject” in relation to the history of the psy-disciplines and the ongoing big data controversies around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Full details below.
“Algorithmic Psychometrics and the Scalable Subject,” by Luke Stark. Abstract:
Recent public controversies, ranging from the 2014 Facebook ‘emotional contagion’ study to psychographic data profiling by Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 American presidential election, Brexit referendum and elsewhere, signal watershed moments in which the intersecting trajectories of psychology and computer science have become matters of public concern. The entangled history of these two fields grounds the application of applied psychological techniques to digital technologies, and an investment in applying calculability to human subjectivity. Today, a quantifiable psychological subject position has been translated, via ‘big data’ sets and algorithmic analysis, into a model subject amenable to classification through digital media platforms. I term this position the ‘scalable subject’, arguing it has been shaped and made legible by algorithmic psychometrics – a broad set of affordances in digital platforms shaped by psychology and the behavioral sciences. In describing the contours of this ‘scalable subject’, this paper highlights the urgent need for renewed attention from STS scholars on the psy sciences, and on a computational politics attentive to psychology, emotional expression, and sociality via digital media.
The 2017 issue of Osiris is dedicated to Data Histories and includes a piece on big data in mid-twentieth century social science that may be of interest to AHP readers.
“Anthropology’s Most Documented Man, Ca. 1947: A Prefiguration of Big Data from the Big Social Science Era,” by Rebecca Lemov. Abstract:
“Big Data,” a descriptive term of relatively recent origin, has as one of its key effects the radically increased harnessing of ever-more-personal information accrued in the course of pedestrian life. This essay takes a historical view of the amassing and sharing of personal data, examining the genealogy of the “personal” and psychological elements inherent in Big Data through the case of an American Indian man who (the reigning experts claimed) gained the status of the most documented single individual in the history of modern anthropology. Although raised a traditional Hopi Indian in Oraibi, Arizona, Don Talayesva (1890–1985) gave over his life materials to scientists at prominent universities and constituted in and of himself a “vast data set” long before such practices were common. This essay uses this pioneering data set (partially preserved in the Human Relations Area Files and its web-based full-text database, eHRAF) to examine the distinctiveness of Big Data in relation to the personal, psychological realm; finally, a comparison is made with twenty-first-century data-collection practices of quantifying the self.
“Queer signs: The women of the British projective test movement,” by Katherine Hubbard. Abstract:
As queer history is often hidden, historians must look for “signs” that hint at queer lives and experiences. When psychologists use projective tests, the search for queer signs has historically been more literal, and this was especially true in the homophobic practices of Psychology in the mid-twentieth century. In this paper, I respond to Elizabeth Scarborough’s call for more analytic history about the lesser known women in Psychology’s history. By focusing on British projective research conducted by lesbian psychologist June Hopkins, I shift perspective and consider, not those who were tested (which has been historically more common), but those who did the testing, and position them as potential queer subjects. After briefly outlining why the projective test movement is ripe for such analysis and the kinds of queer signs that were identified using the Rorschach ink blot test in the mid-twentieth century, I then present June Hopkins’ (1969, 1970) research on the “lesbian personality.” This work forms a framework upon which I then consider the lives of Margaret Lowenfeld, Ann Kaldegg, and Effie Lillian Hutton, all of whom were involved in the British projective test movement a generation prior to Hopkins. By adopting Hopkins’ research to frame their lives, I present the possibility of this ambiguous history being distinctly queer.