New Histories of Psychology: Politics, Publics, and Power

This Consortium working group builds on a virtual community, founded in the midst of the pandemic to connect scholars working in the history of psychology. “New Histories of Psychology” seeks to integrate the subfield of history of psychology into the heart of the history of science by reading cutting-edge scholarship that highlights major themes in the history of science—from the role of experts to the popularization of science. Our monthly themes focus on the intersections of psychology with contemporary issues, showing how psychology has been bound up in politics, publics, and power throughout its history. The content of monthly meetings will vary session to session, including a mix of key texts, panel presentations on a common theme, and workshop opportunities for works-in-progress. We welcome scholars at all career stages and all disciplines, including those in related fields concerned with the history, sociology and ethnography of the human sciences, as well as psychologists interested in understanding the history of their discipline. We aim to create a multi-disciplinary space for pursuing theoretically-informed, critical histories of psychology, involving scholars from different institutions, disciplines, and career stages.

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Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to

Upcoming Meetings

  • Wednesday, January 26, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST

    Pop Psychology
    It’s easy to roll our eyes at pop psych, especially when ideas from psychology are translated into into feel good, neoliberal, self-help books. But this meeting we dig deeper into the uses of pop psych. When is it political and when is it apolitical? Why is it more eagerly consumer by women, and can it ever be feminist? And how do we navigate the relationship and boundaries between “real” psychology and pop psychology, both today and in the past? When is psychology appropriated by culture, and when is culture appropriated by psychology? What does the self-help bestseller tell us about its surrounding culture?
    Susanne Schmidt, ‘The Anti-Feminist Reconstruction of the Midlife Crisis: Popular Psychology, Journalism and Social Science in 1970s USA’ Gender & History, Vol.30 No.1 March 2018, pp. 153–176.
    Eleanor Cummins, "The Self-Help That No One Needs Right Now,” The Atlantic October 18, 2021

  • Wednesday, February 23, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, March 23, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT


  • Wednesday, April 27, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT


  • Wednesday, May 25, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT


Past Meetings

  • December 22, 2021

    History of Substance Use Disorder Treatment
    As overdose rates have risen in the last few years, there has been more attention to treating substance use disorder. The history of such treatments, from the “narcotic farm” in Lexington, Kentucky of the 1950s to present pharmaceutical and CBT-informed treatments, reveal the intertwined phenomena of the professionalization of the psy sciences, race, and the criminal legal system. However, alongside these more carceral and medicalized forms of addiction treatment, there have been various community-based interventions, including the Lincoln Detox clinic, which provided acupuncture treatments for people who used heroin. In this discussion, we will elaborate on questions such as what has been the role of psychology in the war on drugs? How has mindfulness been conceived as treatment within carceral spaces? How can we, as historians of psychology, investigate community-based approaches to substance use treatments? 
    Kerrison, E. M. (2017). An historical review of racial bias in prison-based substance abuse treatment design. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 56(8), 567–592.
    Shaw, D. (2016). 50 Years since the Panthers formed, Capitalism + Drugs still = Genocide. Liberation School.

  • November 24, 2021

    History of Psychedelic Research
    Over 1,000 articles on the scientific and medical applications of psychedelics were published in the 1950s and 60s. However, by the early 1970s, changes in how medications were regulated and the conservative backlash against hippie culture essentially ended research into psychedelics. Over the past 15 years that has changed. Scientists at prominent universities like Johns Hopkins, Columbia and University College London are now investigating how drugs like MDMA and psilocybin can be used to treat conditions such as PTSD, depression and addiction. This week we explore the history of why psychedelics were banned and the burgeoning field of contemporary psychedelic research. How did (and does) the usage of psychedelics outside of a controlled scientific setting affect the course of psychedelic research? How does research into psychedelics blend religious and scientific beliefs? Can psychedelics possibly deliver on their current promise to be a cure-all for many treatment-resistant psychiatric ailments like PTSD and addiction?
    Novak, Steven J. 1997. “LSD before Leary: Sidney Cohen’s Critique of 1950s Psychedelic Drug Research.” Isis 88(1):87–110.
    Pollan, Michael. 2015. "The Trip Treatment." The New Yorker.

  • October 27, 2021


  • September 22, 2021

    Aversion Therapy
    Few terms are as controversial in the history of psychology as “behavior modification.” At once at the heart of almost every psychological intervention, the term evokes images of involuntary control, manipulation, and even torture. This is especially true of “aversion therapy” targeting sexuality. In this session, we will examine the history of this controversy. What was the historical geography of this approach? How did the promote and critique of behavior modification intersect with wider political concerns? What is the historical relationship among behavior modification regimes for homosexuality, gender nonconformity, pedophilia? How did the political controversies of the 1960s and 1970s shape subsequent psychotherapeutic orientations like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and eclecticism/integration? Our core reading examines the considerable gap between the initial studies of aversion therapy for homosexuality conducted in Czechoslovakia and their subsequent interpretation among behavior therapists across the British Commonwealth. Follow up readings examine the historical memory of aversion therapy among patients and professionals as well as a recent online exhibit dedicated to LGBTQ+ psychology.
    Davison, Kate. "Cold War Pavlov: Homosexual aversion therapy in the 1960s." History of the Human Sciences 34, no. 1 (2021): 89-119.
    Smith, Glenn, Annie Bartlett, and Michael King. "Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s—an oral history: the experience of patients." BMJ 328, no. 7437 (2004): 427.
    King, Michael, Glenn Smith, and Annie Bartlett. "Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s—an oral history: the experience of professionals." BMJ 328, no. 7437 (2004): 429.
    Radiolab interview with Gerald Davison
    A Clockwork Lavender (online exhibit from Cummings Center for the History of Psychology)


  • May 26, 2021

    Unpacking Communities of Care in the History of Psychology
    In our final session of the academic year, we will try unpacking the contested meaning of “community care” in the history of psychology, the social sciences, and politics. What is meant to empower the community? What constitutes a community “after kinship”? Who does the work of care in our austere times?  
    Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. Care work: Dreaming disability justice. Vancouver: arsenal pulp press, 2018, chapter 1.
    Cooper, Melinda. "Neoliberalism’s Family Values: Welfare, Human Capital, and Kinship" in Mirowski, Philip, Dieter Plehwe, and Quinn Slobodian, eds. Nine Lives of Neoliberalism. Verso Books, 2020, 95-119.

  • April 28, 2021

    Radical Psychiatry and Political Activism
    In the 1970s, a growing number of psychiatrists expressed concern that their field was merely adjusting people to an oppressive society rather than to changing the oppressive society itself. In challenging many of the suppositions and traditions of their discipline, radical psychiatrists urged a shift from biological approaches toward political organizing and community mental health. This challenge was not only at the ideological level, but a shift at the professional and organizational level as well, including separate caucuses (i.e., the Black Caucus and the Women’s Caucus). The role of radical psychiatry meant not only challenging the authority of psychiatry, and the psy sciences more broadly, but also meant including informal expertise and advocacy from current or former mental health consumers/patients. What were some of the insights from radical psychiatry and what were its limits? What can these separate groups of psychiatrists and therapists tell us about psychiatry and counseling today? 

    Richert, L. (2014). ‘Therapy Means Political Change, Not Peanut Butter’: American Radical Psychiatry, 1968–1975. Social History of Medicine, 27(1), 104–121.

    Center for the History of Psychology blog:
    Kunzel, R. (2017). Queer History, Mad History, and the Politics of Health. American Quarterly, 69(2), 315–319.

  • March 24, 2021

    Deinstitutionalization and Abolitionist Futures 
    Deinstitutionalization, a term often referring to the closing of psychiatric asylums in the late 20th century, remains controversial today. While institutionalism was seen as dehumanizing, the New Asylums thesis has come to describe mass incarceration in prisons as the result of deinstitutionalization without considering the differences between populations of the two. Concerns of reentry (that is, people going  from incarceration to society at large) have extended treatment and surveillance into public life and private homes. These issues are further complicated by the fact that institutionalization has increased in certain parts of the world, while in the US there has been a rise of abolitionism. How might historical narratives about the deinstitutionalization of the mental ill fit with the rise of mass incarceration? What are the implications for understanding institutions as disabling? What are the stakes compared to different forms of psychiatric treatments? Do criticisms of deinstitutionalization risk feeding into reform of current practices? 
    Ben-Moshe, Liat. 2017. “Why Prisons Are Not ‘The New Asylums.’” Punishment & Society 19(3):272–89. 
    doi: 10.1177/1462474517704852.
    Abi-Rached, Joelle M. 2021. “Psychiatry in the Middle East: The Rebirth of Lunatic Asylums?” BJPsych International 18(1):5–8. doi: 10.1192/bji.2020.22.

  • February 24, 2021

    What is “Behavioral” in Behavioral Economics?
    Behavioral economics has a particular hold on the twenty-first century (neo)liberal imagination. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the field of mathematical psychology went from the academic margins to the political mainstream as a scientifically respectable way of talking about human irrationality. In this session, we will scrutinize this ascendency, focusing on the popular dichotomy between thinking fast and slow, short- and long-term. Why did heuristics switch from making us smart in the 1950s to error-prone in the 1970s? Is the distinction between behavioral and neuro-economics a semantic or ontology one? Is brainhood a necessary component of dual process theories? Does the popularity of ‘nudges’ among policy-makers represent a behaviorist “counter-revolution” against cognitivism (and democracy)? How is behavioral economics’ critique of human judgment related to wider critiques and venerations of expertise?
    Natasha Dow Schüll and Caitlin Zaloom. "The shortsighted brain: Neuroeconomics and the governance of choice in time." Social Studies of Science 41, no. 4 (2011): 515-538.
    John McMahon, "Training for Neoliberalism," Boston Review (2015).

  • January 27, 2021

    Un(happy) Times
    We live in a world awash in emotion. Its experience, measurement, manipulation, and augmentation shape daily life. From feminist engagements with “public feelings” to the emergence of positive psychology as a third force to hot cognition in decision making, the affective realm has recently taken a more prominent place across numerous academic disciplines. How should we make historical sense of this “affective revolution”? Is the pursuit of happiness a political ideal or an existential curse? In this session, we focus on the long past and short history of (un)happiness.
    Sara Ahmed, "Killing Joy: Feminism and the History of Happiness," Signs 35, no. 3 (2010): 571-594.
    Content Warning: suicide
    Jennifer Senior, “Happiness Won’t Save You,” New York Times, November 24, 2020

  • December 16, 2020

    “I Got a Lot of Problems with You People”: Our Favourite Pet Peeves about the History of Psychology
    As the days grow short and people retrieve their unadorned aluminum poles from the closet, our thoughts inevitably turn to the holidays. Please join us for a History of Psychology Festivus! In this light-hearted session, we invite participants to “air their grievances” about the field’s greatest foibles as work together to imagine a brighter future. Libations optional!

Group Conveners

  • Ian Davidson


  • Jacob Green

    Jacob's dissertation investigates the history of psychological research into the nature of mind-altering drugs such as nitrous oxide, caffeine and cannabis between 1870 and 1933, with a focus on the United States. Jacob's work addresses questions related to why psychologists' efforts to provide definitive quantitative and qualitative descriptions of the effects of drugs ultimately failed, how psychological work on drugs intersected with psychologists' recreational use of intoxicants, and the cultural history of drugs and their use around the turn of the 20th Century.


  • Bridget Keown


  • rachelmoran's picture

    Rachel Louise Moran

    Rachel Louise Moran is an Associate Professor of History at the University of North Texas. She is the author of Governing Bodies: American Politics and the Shaping of the Modern Physique (Penn 2018) and is currently writing a book on the politics of postpartum depression in the 20th century US. She occasionally remembers to update her website,


  • Mike.Pettit's picture

    Michael Pettit

    Michael Pettit is a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto. He is the author of Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America (2013) and over a dozen scholarly articles on the history and public understanding of psychology. Website:


  • cvalasek's picture

    Chad Valasek

    CJ Valasek is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology & Science Studies at University of California San Diego. CJ is currently finishing a dissertation on the racial origins of reaction time measures and discount rate models used in behavioral economics today.


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