Tag Archives: Völkerpsychologie

New Book: The Mind of the Nation: Völkerpsychologie in Germany, 1851-1955

Egbert Klautke, of University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, has written a book on the history of Völkerpsychologie. The Mind of the Nation: Völkerpsychologie in Germany, 1851-1955 recounts how Völkerpsychologie struggled to find a foothold in the German university system and its demise by the mid-twentieth century. As described on the publisher’s website,

Völkerpsychologie played an important role in establishing the social sciences, in Germany and abroad, via the works of such scholars as Georg Simmel, Emile Durkheim, Ernest Renan, Franz Boas, and Werner Sombart. In Germany, the intellectual history of “folk psychology” in Germany was represented by Moritz Lazarus, Heymann Steinthal, Wilhelm Wundt and Willy Hellpach. This book follows the invention of the discipline in the nineteenth century, its rise around the turn of the century, and its ultimate demise after the Second World War. In addition, it shows that despite the repudiation of “folk psychology” and its failed institutionalization, the discipline remains relevant as a precursor of contemporary studies of “national identity.”

The publisher’s website also includes an interview with Klauptke about the volume,

Berghahn Books: How would you define “Folk Psychology” and what drew you to the study of it?

Egbert Klautke: “Folk Psychology” is an awkward translation of the German term Völkerpsychologie. Originally, it referred to attempts to study the psychological make-up of nations, and as such is a forerunner of today’s social psychology. However, in today’s common understanding, Völkerpsychologie equals national prejudice: it is seen as a pseudo-science not worth considering seriously.

My first book dealt with perceptions of the U.S.A. in Germany and France, and much of these views could be described as Völkerpsychologie: clichés and stereotypes about a foreign nation, which were of a surprisingly coherent nature. Back then, my rather naïve idea was that there must be a general theory behind these perceptions, and I embarked on a study of Völkerpsychologie.

BB: Did any perceptions on the subject change from the time you started your research to the time you completed the book?

EK: When I started my research, I shared the general view of Völkerpsychologie as a flawed attempt to present national stereotypes as academic research, and was suspicious of its nationalist agenda and racist undertones. I also considered it typically German. Having completed the book, I have a much more sympathetic view of “folk psychology,” at least of the early attempts by (Moritz) Lazarus, (Heymann) Steinthal and (Wilhelm) Wundt. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, Völkerpsychologie was a serious and honorable attempt to introduce a social science to the university curriculum. As such, it influenced pioneers of the social sciences not only in Germany, but also around the world.

The full interview can be found here and The Mind of the Nation can be found on Amazon here.

New Talks! BPS Hist. of Psych. Seminar Series

As previously reported on AHP (here and here) the British Psychological Society’s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, is putting on a fall seminar series. Two more talks in this series have just been announced. On November 30th, Egbert Klautke will be speaking on the German repudiation of Völkerpsychologie and on December 14th Thibaud Trochu will speak on the psychological experiments of John Garth Wilkinson (right). Full seminar information, including abstracts, follow below.

BPS History of the Psychological Disciplines
Seminar Series – Autumn term 2011

The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines

Location: UCL Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Room 544,* 5th Floor, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ (map)

Time: 6pm

30 November 2011
“The Repudiation of Völkerpsychologie in Germany,” by Dr Egbert Klautke (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies). The abstract reads,

My talk will focus on the ‘last’ representative of the once honourable discipline of Völkerpsychologie in Germany, Willy Hellpach. I will present his contribution to the field – his textbook Introduction to Folk Psychology (1938) – as part of his personal strategy to adapt to the conditions of the Third Reich, despite later claims to the contrary by Hellpach and some of his sympathetic interpreters. In the second part of the paper, I will outline the conditions and results of the slow repudiation of his Völkerpsychologie after World War II, and outline the problems which academics critical of ‘national character studies’ encountered.

14 December 2011
“Psychological Experimentation in the Nineteenth Century: John Garth Wilkinson (1812-1899), Physician, Mystic and Radical,” by Thibaud Trochu (University of Paris 1, Sorbonne). The abstract reads,

Though quite forgotten nowadays, Dr J. J. Garth Wilkinson was once a widely known intellectual figure in Victorian Britain. Praised by his contemporaries as a fine scholar, a first-rate writer, and a highbrow public ethicist, he was notorious for stirring controversy and debate – most often against the grain. His personality and thinking revolved around two passionate feelings: deep-seated religious yearnings – though quite unorthodox ones – on the one hand, and on the other, an inclination to mistrust and to defy all forms of established authority – be they religious, medical or political – which he accused of narrowing the horizons of self-conscious practitioners and free citizens. His medical career, strongly entwined with his ‘spiritual’ quest, was thus coloured by a radical political tone. This led him to carry out numerous experiments in his daily practice of the art of healing, such as homeopathy, hypnotism and other forms of ‘psychological analysis’, whilst establishing himself as an opponent of what he saw as the dominant trend of medical materialism, ‘dogmatic objectivism’ and authoritarianism. At a time of triumphant scientific medicine, Wilkinson saw himself as – in his own words – ‘smashing its institutional structure’.

A History of German Völkerpsychologie

The May 2010 issue of Central Europe contains an article by Egbert Klautke (right) of University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies. In “The Mind of the Nation: The Debate about Völkerpsychologie, 1851–1900” Klautke offers a history of German Völkerpsychologie tracing its influence into the twentieth century. The article’s abstract reads,

Völkerpsychologie or ‘folk psychology’ has a bad reputation amongst historians. It is either viewed as a pseudo-science not worth studying in detail, or considered a ‘failure’ since, in contrast to sociology, psychology, and anthropology, it never established itself as an independent discipline at university level. This article argues that Völkerpsychologie as developed by Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal was an important current in nineteenth-century German thought. While it was riddled with conceptual and methodological problems and received harsh criticism from academic reviewers, it contributed to the establishing of the social sciences since key concepts of folk psychology were appropriated by scholars such as Georg Simmel and Franz Boas. The article summarizes the main features of Lazarus and Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie, discusses its reception in Germany and abroad, and shows how arguments originally developed for folk psychology were used by Lazarus to reject antisemitism in the 1870s and 1880s. It concludes that Lazarus and Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie epitomized the mentality of nineteenth-century liberals with its belief in science, progress, and the nation, which was reinforced by their experience of Jewish emancipation.

Thanks to Cathy Faye for bringing this article to AHP’s attention.