New issue – History of the Human Sciences

The October 2012 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online and includes the following articles:

Contested psychiatric ontology and feminist critique: ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’ and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Katherine Angel)

In this article I discuss the emergence of Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) within American psychiatry and beyond in the postwar period, setting out what I believe to be important and suggestive questions neglected in existing scholarship. Tracing the nomenclature within successive editions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), I consider the reification of the term ‘FSD’, and the activism and scholarship that the rise of the category has occasioned. I suggest that analysis of FSD benefits from scrutiny of a wider range of sources (especially since the popular and scientific cross-pollinate). I explore the multiplicity of FSD that emerges when one examines this wider range, but I also underscore a reinscribing of anxieties about psychogenic aetiologies. I then argue that what makes the FSD case additionally interesting, over and above other conditions with a contested status, is the historically complex relationship between psychiatry and feminism that is at work in contemporary debates. I suggest that existing literature on FSD has not yet posed some of the most important and salient questions at stake in writing about women’s sexual problems in this period, and can only do this when the relationship between ‘second-wave’ feminism, ‘post-feminism’, psychiatry and psychoanalysis becomes part of the terrain to be analysed, rather than the medium through which analysis is conducted.

Freud’s social theory: Modernist and postmodernist revisions (Alfred I. Tauber)

Acknowledging the power of the id-drives, Freud held on to the authority of reason as the ego’s best tool to control instinctual desire. He thereby placed analytic reason at the foundation of his own ambivalent social theory, which, on the one hand, held utopian promise based upon psychoanalytic insight, and, on the other hand, despaired of reason’s capacity to control the self-destructive elements of the psyche. Moving beyond the recourse of sublimation, post-Freudians attacked reason’s hegemony in quelling disruptive psycho-dynamics and, focusing upon the social domain, they sought strategies to counter the oppressive (repressive) social restrictions and conformist impositions impeding individual freedom that result from thwarted desire. Postmodern celebration of desire at the expense of reason and sublimation leaves the Enlightenment prospects altogether and moves psychoanalysis into a new terrain, where the very notion of rationality and an autonomous ego upon which much of Freudianism rests has been deconstructed. Thus the debate that begins with Freud’s social theories reflects the deeper divisions, which arose with postmodern ethics and discarded Cartesian–Kantian notions of personal identity. Here we consider the moral framework in which Freudian social theory sits and a contrasting understanding of agency that confronts his modernist conception. In that debate, we discern the larger humanist confrontation with postmodernity. Yet, all who engaged Freud shared some version of his utopian ethos, albeit radically restructuring the theory upon which social reform might occur.

The enigma of the brain and its place as cause, character and pretext in the imaginary of dementia (Alan Blum)

An analysis of the collective engagement with the disease known as Alzheimer’s and the dementia reputed of it reveals recourse to a socially standardized formula that attributes causal agency to the brain in the absence of clinching knowledge. I propose that what Baudrillard calls the model of molecular idealism stipulates such a neurological view of determinism in order to provide caregivers with reassurance in the face of the perplexing character of dementia and the depressing reactions to mortality that it brings to the surface.

The issue also contains a review of the book Portrait of the Psychiatrist as a Young Man: The Early Writing and Work of R.D. Laing, 1927–60.

For more information and a complete table of contents, click here.

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