“Urban Emotions: A Symposium on Stress and the City” (London, 21 March 2012)

List members are warmly invited to the following workshop:
A joint meeting of the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the
Emotions and the Queen Mary City Centre

Wednesday 21 March 2012

The city has long been held up as a kind of psychopathological miasma.
From the urban hypochondria identified by George Cheyne in The English
Malady (1733) through to the theories of alienation and anomie
advanced by Emile Durkheim, Walter Benjamin and Louis Wirth, the speed
and stress of city life is seen as exhausting psychological resources
and undermining mental health. In 2011 Canadian and German
neuroscientists claimed to have demonstrated the overstimulation of
the amygdala in city dwellers led to long term changes brain function.

In this workshop organised by the Queen Mary City Centre and the
Centre for the History of the Emotions, Felicity Callard, James
Mansell and Edmund Ramsden will interrogate the apparent connections
between urbanism and psychopathology and consider the theories and
techniques that have been deployed to make these forces visible.

James Mansell (Nottingham), ”Londonitis’: Noise and Nervousness in
Early Twentieth-Century London’

What was the relationship between the experience of urban noise and
popular constructions of ‘nervousness’ in early twentieth-century
culture? Organisations such as the Anti-Noise League (established in
1933) took it for granted that noise was the cause of ‘nervous
exhaustion’ in London’s population (a condition labelled ‘Londonitis’
by medical writer Edwin Ash) and successfully lobbied for all kinds of
new legislation to control the urban soundscape. Emerging between
somatic and psychological explanations for nervous illness, the early
twentieth-century medicalisation of urban noise relied upon a
hybridisation of the two. This paper examines popular psychological
writings in order to explain why noise, often as a metaphor for
modernity itself, came to be considered such a significant threat to
twentieth-century urbanism.

Edmund Ramsden (Manchester), Coping with the “whirl of the crowd”:
Animal models and model cities in the twentieth century United States.

The study of population dynamics by animal ecologists and ethologists
helped generate considerable interest in the problem of crowding
stress among social and medical scientists and the design and planning
professions. Most notable were a series of experiments on rats and
mice carried out by John B. Calhoun at the National Institute of
Mental Health from 1956-1986. In 1962, Calhoun published a
particularly influential paper that identified a series of “social
pathologies” that resulted from increased population density, such as
violence, withdrawal and sexual deviance. The paper will explore how
Calhoun’s work was used to express fears of, and solutions for, the
damaging effects of the American city on social behaviour and
psychosocial wellbeing. However, in spite of its influence, Calhoun’s
rats also served as a focal point for growing opposition to the
attempts to resolve urban problems regarding mental health and social
deviancy through the planning and design of physical spaces.

Felicity Callard (MPIWG, Berlin and Durham), Where did the city go?
Donald Klein, panic disorder, and the rethinking of agoraphobia

When agoraphobia emerged as a named condition in the early 1870s,
discussions regarding its phenomenology and aetiology intimately
engaged the question of urban modernity. Both in pre-psychoanalytic
and psychoanalytic formulations of agoraphobia, for example, the
spatial form of the city – its architecture, its socio-spatial
relations, its materialization of a ‘public sphere’ – were central to
accounts of what agoraphobia was, whence it arose, and how it might be
combated. But after the Second World War, psychiatrists and
psychologists’ investigations of agoraphobic anxiety tended to result
in the city falling away as a central analytical term. In various
models that attempted to account for pathological anxiety that limited
individuals’ ability to move freely in their daily lives, the city
appeared as a kind of backdrop – if it appeared at all. In this paper,
I address the formulations of the American psychiatrist and
psychopharmacologist Donald Klein, whose influential research on panic
disorder (which he started in the 1950s and continues to this day)
exemplifies this turn away from the city. His conceptualizations of
pathological anxiety served to install a very different model of the
articulation between subject, pathological emotion and socio-spatial
word, a model that has had – through its consolidation in American
psychiatric nosology – a significant influence on today’s
Anglo-American discourses concerning anxiety and public space.
The meeting will run from 2.30 pm. to 6pm in the G. O. Jones
Building, Room 602, Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London.

For further information please contact the Centre for the History of
the Emotions administrator, Adam
Wilkinson a.wilkinson@qmul.ac.uk

Dr Rhodri Hayward
Director of Graduate Studies
School of History
Queen Mary, University of London

020 7882 2863

  1. I have a blog on this subject, quoting at length from Karl Lamprecht. See http://clarespark.com/2009/11/19/the-scary-city-lamprecht-becker-lynd/. These authors saw the city as a site of class warfare and neurasthenia.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: