British Psychological Society History of the Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series
Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)
Monday 26th March
Professor Elizabeth Valentine (Royal Holloway)
“Spooks and Spoofs: relations between psychical research and academic psychology in Britain in the inter-war period”
The close connections between psychologists and the Society for Psychical Research in the late nineteenth century have been duly acknowledged. What is less well known is that senior academic psychologists were involved in psychical research in the early to mid-twentieth century. William McDougall and William Brown attended a number of séances arranged by Harry Price; JC Flugel, Cyril Burt, C Alec Mace and Francis Aveling were members of his ‘University of London Council for Psychical Investigation’ and supported psychical research in various ways. This paper describes some of their antics and ask how reputable psychologists (and the University of London) could have collaborated with someone the Economist described as “a rogue, a falsifier, and a manufacturer of evidence”. Personal, metaphysical and socio-historical factors in their collaboration are discussed. It is suggested that the main reason for their mutual attraction was their common engagement in a delicate balancing act between courting popular appeal on the one hand and the assertion of scientific expertise and authority on the other. Their interaction is typical of the boundary work performed at this transitional stage in the development of psychology as a discipline.
Location: UCL Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Room 544, 5th Floor, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HB
Directions: From the main reception, go through the double doors at the back and turn left, walk the length of this corridor and at the very end turn left again – you will find yourself in front of the ‘West’ Lifts. Take these to 5th Floor. On exiting the lift, turn right through double doors and then left through single door, walk the length of this corridor pass through another door and then turn right – you will see a marble table ahead. Room 544 is straight ahead.
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