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New Book – The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (Nikolas Rose, Joelle M. Abi-Rached)

Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind

Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached

Princeton University Press, 2013

The brain sciences are influencing our understanding of human behavior as never before, from neuropsychiatry and neuroeconomics to neurotheology and neuroaesthetics. Many now believe that the brain is what makes us human, and it seems that neuroscientists are poised to become the new experts in the management of human conduct. Neuro describes the key developments–theoretical, technological, economic, and biopolitical–that have enabled the neurosciences to gain such traction outside the laboratory. It explores the ways neurobiological conceptions of personhood are influencing everything from child rearing to criminal justice, and are transforming the ways we “know ourselves” as human beings. In this emerging neuro-ontology, we are not “determined” by our neurobiology: on the contrary, it appears that we can and should seek to improve ourselves by understanding and acting on our brains.

Neuro examines the implications of this emerging trend, weighing the promises against the perils, and evaluating some widely held concerns about a neurobiological “colonization” of the social and human sciences. Despite identifying many exaggerated claims and premature promises, Neuro argues that the openness provided by the new styles of thought taking shape in neuroscience, with its contemporary conceptions of the neuromolecular, plastic, and social brain, could make possible a new and productive engagement between the social and brain sciences.

Nikolas Rose is professor of sociology and head of the Department of Social Science, Health, and Medicine at King’s College London. His books include The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century (Princeton).

Joelle M. Abi-Rached is a PhD candidate in the history of science at Harvard University.

For more information on this book, click here.

New issue – History of Psychiatry

A new issue of History of Psychiatry is now available online and contains the following articles:

The morbidity and mortality linked to melancholia: two cohorts compared, 1875–1924 and 1995–2005 (Margaret Harris, Fiona Farquhar, David Healy, Joanna C Le Noury, Stefanie C Linden, J Andrew Hughes, and Anthony P Roberts)

For over a century, melancholia has been linked to increased rates of morbidity and mortality. Data from two epidemiologically complete cohorts of patients presenting to mental health services in North Wales (1874–1924 and 1995–2005) have been used to look at links between diagnoses of melancholia in the first period and severe hospitalized depressive disorders today and other illnesses, and to calculate mortality rates. This is a study of the hospitalized illness rather than the natural illness, and the relationship between illness and hospitalization remains poorly understood. These data confirm that melancholia is associated with a substantial increase in the standardized mortality rate both formerly and today, stemming from a higher rate of deaths from tuberculosis in the historical sample and from suicide in the contemporary sample. The data do not link melancholia to cancer or cardiac disease. The comparison between outcomes for melancholia historically and severe mood disorder today argue favourably for the effectiveness of asylum care.

Ergotism in Norway. Part 1: The symptoms and their interpretation from the late Iron Age to the seventeenth century (Torbjørn Alm and Brita Elvevåg)

Ergotism is a horrendous disease with grotesque symptoms caused by ingesting specific ergot alkaloids. Mass poisoning episodes are attributable to consumption of grain – usually rye – infected with the fungus Claviceps purpurea. By focusing on possible cases of ergotism, we re-examine Norwegian history from the sagas through to the end of the seventeenth century. Our review – not intended to be exhaustive, orex post facto to assign medical or psychiatric labels – draws attention to the very real possibility that many remarkable medical cases may have been the result of the ingestion of highly poisonous and psychoactive food substances. Where possible we highlight explanations given at the time – often rooted in religion or demonology – to explain the disease.

Revisiting mental hygiene: Josef Lundahl’s interpretation of modern psychiatry in Sweden at the beginning of the twentieth century (Katarina Piuva)

The concept of mental hygiene is historically intertwined with eugenics and what it meant both ideologically and for the care of the mentally ill. A closer investigation of the concept and of the historical context shows that different interpretations existed simultaneously. The aim of this essay is to highlight the literary and scientific works of a Swedish psychiatrist, Josef Lundahl, an advocate of the mental hygiene concept. A close reading of his texts is used to provide an example of how the concept of mental hygiene was understood by a psychiatrist and practitioner of mental hygiene. The practice of child-care and out-patient care that Lundahl founded in Visby is far from what we now associate with mental hygiene in the past.

Psychopathology beyond semiology. An essay on the inner workings of psychopathology (Carlos Rejón Altable and Dr Tom Dening)

This text develops three interwoven issues: first, a succinct comparative analysis of medical and psychiatric semiology, which proposes that the lack of referring relations between psychiatric symptoms and brain/psychic dysfunction is a fundamental distinction between medical and psychiatric semiology. Second, the multiple features of psychiatric semiology are reviewed. Third, a new approach to psychopathology is introduced, proposing three different ways to shape symptoms (perception, linguistic structure, praxis); highlighting its role as a cognitive activity that creates intelligibility from undifferentiated experiences; and distinguishing psychopathology and semiology on an activity/product relation basis.

William James and psychical research: towards a radical science of mind (Alexandre Sech Junior, Saulo de Freitas Araujo, and Alexander Moreira-Almeida)

Traditional textbooks on the history of psychiatry and psychology fail to recognize William James’s investigations on psychic phenomena as a legitimate effort to understand the human mind. The purpose of this paper is to offer evidence of his views regarding the exploration of those phenomena as well as the radical, yet alternative, solutions that James advanced to overcome theoretical and methodological hindrances. Through an analysis of his writings, it is argued that his psychological and philosophical works converge in psychical research revealing the outline of a science of mind capable of encompassing psychic phenomena as part of human experience and, therefore, subject to scientific scrutiny.

‘Paralysed with fears and worries’: neurasthenia as a gender-specific disease of civilization (Jessica Slijkhuis and Harry Oosterhuis)

Around 1900 neurasthenia received much attention in both the medical world and society at large. Based on professional publications by Dutch psychiatrists and neurologists and on patient records from the Rhijngeest sanatorium near Leiden in the Netherlands, this article addresses the meanings and interpretations of this nervous disorder as put forward by doctors and patients. We argue that their understanding of this disorder was determined not only by medical views, but also by social-cultural factors and prevailing gender norms.

Use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration (HR Guly)

During the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, there was much discussion on the role of alcohol. The explorers expected to be able to consume alcohol, and the expeditions were supported by companies producing alcoholic beverages that used the Antarctic connection in their advertising. On the other side, it was said (incorrectly) than Fridjof Nansen, perhaps the most famous of the Arctic explorers, had taken no alcohol and this was used in the arguments against alcohol by the temperance movement. In general, alcohol consumption was low but it was felt that alcohol played an important role in maintaining the psychological welfare of the participants. A number of them had alcohol problems, and participation in an expedition was thought to be of benefit in that it would remove the temptation to consume alcohol. However, there were episodes of drunkenness on the ships and in the Antarctic. Cocaine was taken as one of a number of tonics but only one explorer is thought to have abused drugs, though another is said to have done so.

The issue also contains a number of book reviews and the classic text ‘On the Diseases of the Head’ in the Scale of Medicine by Muhammad Akbar Arzn [d. 1722] (presented by Neil Krishan Aggarwal)

For more information, click here.

Seeking Panelists for 2014 AHA (deadline February 1)


I am seeking additional presenters for a panel I am proposing for the 2014 meeting of the American Historical Association. The panel will interrogate issues of nineteenth-century masculinity and, at this point, I am particularly interested in papers that consider the intersections of masculinity with economic issues and/or violence. I also hope to include at least one paper that takes as its subject non-U.S. masculinities or transnational elements of these problems. Please feel free to contact me with questions, suggestions, and/or paper proposals. I can be reached at



Kathleen Brian

American Studies Department

George Washington University

2108 G Street NW

Washington, DC 20052

1 (812) 219.7517

Call for Papers: Post-Traumatic Cultures Since the Great War (Copenhagen)



University of Copenhagen

22.05.2013-24.05.2013, Copenhagen, Denmark

Deadline: 21.01.2013

This cross-disciplinary conference focusses on genres of post-traumatic stress as identified and studied in military and civilian psychology, social and cultural history, film studies as well as literary and art criticism. Post-trauma’s elusive, psycho-social, inter-relational complexity requires such an interdisciplinary approach to place the after-effects of recent conflicts, for instance in Iraq and Afghanistan, within the complex narratives of war-related stress from 1914 onwards. Body, mind and emotion inflected by time and locality should be explored together with the interconnected histories of individual (combat) and collective (civilian) aftershock.

The organizers hope to compare varieties of post-traumatic stress as well as its expressions across societies and cultures in film, literature or visual arts. The interactions between returnees and the traumatized society which they re-enter creates communal, political and media conceptualizations that deserve more extensive study. While military psychology research on returnees thrives, other areas, for instance the dysfunction of post-war family relations, await more comprehensive examination.

To create a forum for exchange and cooperation across the human, social and medical sciences the organisers seek contributions willing to engage with other disciplines. Scholars interested in addressing the inter-connectedness of individual and collective mentalities – for example, in families, medical and political policy, representations of post-trauma, and conflicts over memories of trauma – are welcome to submit proposals for a paper or a panel. Contributors are invited to identify common themes for future cross-disciplinary study that will enable comparison and contrast between post-war nation states, communities and individuals. The organizers intend to establish a network for further research.

Keynote speakers

– Professor Jay Winter, Department of History, Yale University

– Dr Mette Bertelsen, Danish Veteran Centre, Copenhagen Denmark

– Professor Michael Roper, Department of Sociology, University of Essex

– Professor Simon Wessely, Professor of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and Director, Kings Centre for Military Health Research Institute of Psychiatry

– Dr Sophie Delaporte, Faculty of Philosophy and Human and Social Sciences, Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens

– Dr. Raya Morag, Department of Communication & Journalism, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem

– Professor Allan Young, Department of Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal

Submission guidelines: Panels and papers The organizers encourage contributors to propose their own cross-disciplinary/ comparative panels. Apart from suggested panels, there will be panels formed by the organizing committee: individual presenters will be grouped according to topic rather than academic discipline. Such panels will be led by nominated Chairs. The organizing committee kindly asks contributors to accept nominations.

Each Chair will coordinate the exchange of papers among the panellists at least a month before the conference to inspire responses and facilitate discussion during the conference. Papers should be up to 2000 words. Panels will last 90 minutes – each panellist will have no more than 20 minutes to present their main points; the remaining time should be devoted to discussion moderated by the Chair, who will also incorporate questions from the audience.

Contributors are invited to submit an abstract (up to 300 words) accompanied by six keywords. The abstracts should indicate affinities with other themes and disciplines in order to suggest recommendations for the organization of panels.

Contributors who want to propose panels are asked to send in a panel title, a brief description (300 words) of its themes and all the abstracts.

Please see the conference website for further information:

Deadline for submissions: January 21, 2013

All enquiries and submissions should be sent to

The program will be announced in January – February 2013.

Les Jeudis de la B.I.U.M.


Salle de lecture de la BIUM (© Wikipedia)

Programme des séances 2012-2013

Le rendez-vous est fixé, à 14 heures 45, au pied au pied de la statue La Nature se dévoilant devant la Science, en bas de l’escalier menant à la bibliothèque de l’École de Médecine (Bibliothèque Inter-Universitaire de Santé):

12, rue de l’École de Médecine – 75006 PARIS

Pour tout renseignement :

8 novembre 2012

Présentation du programme de l’année. Actualités.

L’affaire Yves Bertherat – Stanilas Capitolin (1967)

6 décembre 2012

Thérapeutiques physiques et biologiques. Hasard et sérendipité

3 janvier 2013

Une épidémie hystéro-démonopathique en Savoie sous le Second Empire : Les possédées de Morzine (Haute-Savoie)

7 février 2013

Le Traitement moral de la lypémanie

7 mars 2013

Les premières femmes médecins en psychiatrie

4 avril 2013

Les psychiatres et l’Académie de médecine

2 mai 2013

Le haschich

6 juin 2013

Séance délocalisée à la Bibliothèque médicale de Maison-Blanche, 18 rue Rémy de Gourmont 75019 Paris


Book Review – Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and Sonu Shamdasani, The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis (Cambridge Univ. Press 2012)

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and Sonu Shamdasani, The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis (Cambridge Univ. Press 2012)

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Making Minds and Madness: From Hysteria to Depression (Cambridge Univ. Press 2009)


By Simon Taylor

Beginning with the French publication of The Freudian Subject in 1982, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen has established himself as one of this generation’s foremost historians of psychoanalysis. Strongly influenced by the intellectual atmosphere of late-1970s France – including the thought of his teachers Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy – his work is known for its dense theoretical expositions, close readings, and forensic attention to detail. It has also, from the beginning, been characterized by a relentless and penetrating critique of Freud and the psychoanalytic endeavour as a whole; as early as The Freudian Subject, Borch-Jacobsen declared that, “All this (psychoanalysis, in short) was nothing but a great egoistic dream” bolstered not only by Freud himself, but also by “the throng of parricidal listeners and readers.” (239) He has, if anything, become more strident in his criticism since then, most notably in his work on hypnosis and his deconstruction of the “first analysis,” Remembering Anna O.: A Century of Mystification. Taken together, the two works under review – The Freud Files, co-written by the equally prominent Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani, and a collection of essays dating from 1994-2008 entitled Making Minds and Madness – constitute something approaching Borch-Jacobsen’s definitive statement on Freud and his legacy.


The Freud Files takes the form of a full-frontal assault on what the authors, following the example of Henri Ellenberger and Frank Sulloway, refer to as the “Freudian legend.” The legend, at least as Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani conceive it, consists of two separate elements: the myth of Freud’s self-analysis and what they refer to as the “immaculate conception” of psychoanalysis. Combined, these myths constitute nothing less than a complete rewriting of the historical record, a sleight of hand that subsequent generations of analysts, historians, and the public at large have been complicit in perpetrating. In tandem with the sequestering of the Sigmund Freud Archives – a cache of material protected by an extraordinary set of restrictions engineered, according to the authors, to ensure that the true record of the birth of psychoanalysis would remain off-limits to all but the faithful “guardians” (28) of Freud’s legacy and justified by the spurious demands of patient confidentiality – these myths have for many decades deliberately placed the Freudian legend beyond the scrutiny of historians. “For a discipline concerned with the past,” the authors note, “psychoanalysis is strangely allergic to its own history.” (32)

Much of The Freud Files is devoted to undermining the myths that bolster the legend. Let us take them in turn, beginning with the immaculate conception. Although virtually every aspect of Freud’s theory that we take to be distinctively psychoanalytic had been formulated by his predecessors or contemporaries – from Schopenhauer’s adumbration of repression and the sexology of Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis to Hartmann’s “philosophy of the unconscious” and Breuer and Anna O.’s development of the “talking cure” – Freud and his followers first argued, and then simply affirmed again and again, that these sources had played no role in the development of psychoanalysis. Indeed, by his own account, it was not until “very late in [his] life” that Freud even read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (106). Alfred Tauber has recently demonstrated the extent to which Freud’s professions of philosophical ignorance were a fabrication, and Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani are unequivocal in their assessment of Freud’s claims to “theoretical virginity”: the history that Freud so carefully constructed is nothing more than “a fable, a scientific fairytale” designed to “establish [his] autocratic political authority through affirming the absolute originality of the theory.” (106-7)

Another crucial aspect of Freud’s attempt to affirm “exclusive rights over his creation” (106) were his claims that 1) he had carried out a successful self-analysis; and 2) that this self-analysis could not – in either a technical or a moral sense – be replicated by anyone else. Freud used the first claim – the example of his self-analysis, where analysis entailed not merely observing but actively curing oneself, as Freud claimed to have done – to insist that all psychoanalysts submit to their own analysis as a prerequisite of professional development; he used the second claim to insist that such analyses could only be carried out by an external authority. As the “primal analyst,” (38) this left Freud in an incredibly powerful position, especially in the initial years of psychoanalysis: as the only authority capable of dispensing analysis, Freud established himself as the profession’s gatekeeper.

In one stroke, Freud had cemented his own position at the top of the psychoanalytic hierarchy and delegitimized the authority of his rivals. He had, furthermore, simultaneously insulated himself from any attempts at being analysed by others – which would both call into question Freud’s own omniscience and strengthen the hand of his rivals – and reserved for himself a monopoly on diagnosing the (alleged) psychopathologies of others, a power that Freud and his followers made liberal use of in their disputes with Adler, Rank, Jung, et al. It is important to understand that Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani’s point here is epistemological as well as institutional: “Freud’s self-analysis,” they write, “became the central pillar of psychoanalytic theory. Without it, psychoanalysis would collapse into a chaos of rival interpretations, with no means to adjudicate between them.” (52) Unsurprisingly, however, the authors conclude that what they term Freud’s “heroic self-analysis” “never took place.” (54)

It is not so much that Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani doubt that self-analysis is possible, as they doubt that analysis of any kind is possible. Freud’s self-analysis, like all psychoanalytic case studies, was nothing more than a “retrospective construction.” (54) Indeed, this is the most that psychoanalysis can ever hope for. As Borch-Jacobsen argues in an essayentitled “Is Psychoanalysis a Fairy-Tale?” – the answer, it may not surprise you to learn, is a resounding yes – psychoanalytic case-studies are nothing more than “historical novels or romanticized biographies” (Making Minds, 151) in the vein of Zweig or Balzac, what the novelist Paul Auster once referred to as “the anecdote as a form of knowledge.” To use the slightly clumsy neologism coined by Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani, these case studies represent “interprefactions,” (144-45) a reificatory process through which “Freud created facts with words.” (Making Minds, ix)

The debunking of Freud’s case-studies, beginning with his own, is the most convincing section of The Freud Files: especially impressive is the manner in which Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani complement their epistemological critique with a highly controlled and precise use of archival material. There are times, however, when the sheer volume of archival and primary source material threatens to overwhelm and even undermine the argument. The authors have employed what they describe as a “polyphonic” approach to quotation, which in practice entails “deliberately cho[osing] to cite excerpts in extenso, letting the historical actors speak in their own voices.” (28)

Although the logic behind this method is sound – the material, lying behind the lock and key of the Freud archives, was so difficult to access and offers such a radically different interpretation of the origins of psychoanalysis that only direct and extensive quotation can do it justice – this maximalist approach can at times lend The Freud Files the appearance of a Renaissance commonplace book. Furthermore, and contrary to the apparent expectations of the authors, many of the passages quoted do not speak for themselves. Perhaps more damagingly, the sheer volume of critical material produced to dismantle Freud’s claims has the paradoxical effect of serving to, if not necessarily justify, then certainly explicate, the defensive and revisionary strategies of Freud and his disciples: faced with overwhelming hostility (painstakingly catalogued by Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani) from the established medical and psychiatric authorities, Freud’s efforts to carve out a position of professional security and prestige, and his subsequent policing of those boundaries, come across as unsurprising, even understandable.

More troublingly still, the argument of The Freud Files at times resembles little more than a sustained ad hominem attack on the integrity and character of Freud and his followers. No doubt Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani would counter that in a discipline as intimately bound up with the personality of its founder as psychoanalysis – a body of knowledge that, after all, regards the introspective reflections of its progenitor as both foundational and paradigmatic – such a strategy is not only fair game but inescapable. The problem with this line of argument is that it presupposes that psychoanalysis is nothing more than a series of case studies and personal anecdotes. It is, however, equally plausible to argue that psychoanalysis is nothing less than the series of extraordinary metapsychological papers, bookended by “Formulations Regarding the Two Principles in Mental Functioning” and “Mourning and Melancholia,” that Freud published between, roughly, 1911-1917.

The total omission of Freud’s metapsychology is especially problematic given the severity of the authors’ conclusions: psychoanalysis, they declare, is “Nothing – or nearly nothing […]: it is a ‘machine’, a ‘whatsit’, a ‘thingumajig’ which can serve to designate anything, an empty theory in which one can cram whatever one likes.” (303) More striking still are their claims about the implications for the contemporary practice of psychoanalysis: “one could say that psychoanalysis, in a certain sense, no longer exists – or rather, never did.” (307). Borch-Jacobsen reaches similar conclusions in a number of essays contained within Making Minds, including the aforementioned “Fairy-Tale” and a piece entitled “Interprefactions: Freud’s Legendary Science” (co-written with Shamdasani) that informs much of the methodology of The Freud Files, from which we learn that “what Freud actually did […] was to form a self-confirming apparatus which could produce, suggest evidence for whatever theory one liked.” (Making Minds, 171). In “Simulating the Unconscious” Borch-Jacobsen concludes that “there is no ‘psychic reality’ to discover or to describe in the subject, only realities to produce and to negotiate with him.” (Making Minds, 136).

These are huge claims, as befits a book of the scope, ambition, and prodigious scholarship of The Freud Files. For, despite the criticisms above, the monograph and essay collection under review constitute a formidable and, for the most part, highly persuasive critique of Freud and his legacy; indeed, this review can only hint at the depth of argumentation and rich analysis contained within their pages. Nevertheless, it is hard to shake the feeling that Borch-Jacobsen’s dismantling of the psychoanalytic edifice is perhaps a little too thorough, even as its implications remain underdeveloped. Assuming that we accept the logic of his criticisms, what are we left with? What is the mind? What is mental illness beyond constructivism? Nothing? Something? There are a number of contemporary philosophers, neurologists, and psychologists who offer potential answers to these questions, but Borch-Jacobsen isn’t one of them. As an historian, perhaps he feels justified in not having to engage with such questions. Equally, however, as an historian of psychoanalysis he has, or ought to have, a vested interest in offering alternative paths for investigation. After all, if, as Borch-Jacobsen argues in the methodological essay that opens Making Minds, mental illness is nothing more than a particularly complex and fluid social construct – an open dialogue between analyst, patient, and society at large – what more is there to say on the subject? In order to answer what then becomes the truly pressing question – why does a given form or manifestation of “illness” establish itself as the predominant mode of mental expression in a particular time and place? – we must surely seek an answer beyond the confines of the history of the psyences. We must become cultural historians: that is the true implication of a history that denies the existence of the object it studies.


Simon Taylor is a graduate student in the Department of History at Columbia University. He specializes in modern European intellectual history, particularly the history of philosophy and the psyences. He is writing his dissertation on the medicalization of the concept of anxiety. Simon previously reviewed Alfred Tauber’s Freud, The Reluctant Philosopher for h-madness.

Reconstructing What Happened to Phineas Gage

Christian Jarrett, editor/writer over at the informative and entertaining British Psychological Society Research Digest, has just posted a piece on the latest attempt by researchers to reconstruct what happened to Phineas Gage.  Gage, of course, is one of the most famous neurology patients in history.  In 1848, due to an explosion, a large iron rod went through his face and brain, out the top of his head.  Amazingly, Gage survived, living until 1860.  Jarrett looks at a new study using imaging data:

Now Gage’s skull has been analysed yet again. A team of experts, led by John Van Horn, based at the University of California and Harvard Medical School, has used diffusion imaging data, together with anatomical MRI, to try to find out how Gage’s injury affected the connective tissues of his brain. As they explain: ‘while many authors have focused on the gross damage done by the iron to Gage’s frontal cortical grey matter, little consideration has been given to the degree of damage to and destruction of major connections between discretely affected regions and the rest of his brain.’

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