Over the past several decades, the human sciences broadly considered and, more narrowly, the “psy” disciplines in particular—psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis, and psychopharmacology—have drawn the attention of scholars from across the disciplines.  The field is loosely organized around the broad question of ‘the human’ as the subject of scientific and social scientific inquiry from the eighteenth century to the present.  Anthropologists, historians, sociologists, psychologists, and historians of science have been critical to its consolidation as a specialty, defining its contours in explorations of topics as various as characterizations of human nature from the Enlightenment to the present; the relationships of the normal and the pathological; hysteria and the female body; norms and intelligence; trauma and the politics of memory; and the nature of the modern and post-modern self.  The field is irreducibly interdisciplinary, which contributes to its dynamism and appeal to ambitious graduate students seeking to do methodologically and substantively path breaking work. 

Scholarship on this field has enriched existing disciplinary traditions while at the same time pushing at well established boundaries.  For example, work on the different ways in which race has been constructed across time and place and on the workings of gender in scientific and social practice has augmented long-standing streams of argumentation within a number of disciplines.  At the same time,  scholarship on the ‘psy’ disciplines has created new sub-specialties within existing traditions; histories and ethnographies of psychology and psychiatry, for example, which would once have been relegated to the margins now figure centrally in existing disciplines.  In the workshops, we will attend in particular to how and under what conditions scientific knowledge of the human is produced. In contrast to much work in existing disciplinary practices, studies of the human sciences often collapse the common distinction between theory and practice, for example, or between ideas and a material substratum.  Instead they conceptualize theory as a form of practice and locate ideas in dense webs of quotidian interaction and exchange.  Many students of the human sciences are interested in accounting for the technologies that structure the ways the human is apprehended by science—the bell curve, the questionnaire, the hospital record, the mood diary, the table of experimental results—rather than treating such as unproblematic vehicles for the presentation and transmission of knowledge.  In this vein, scholars of the human sciences have written densely and imaginatively researched studies that existing disciplines have immediately embraced for the ways in which they shed fresh light on old issues. 

We envision this research field as a capacious rubric, and invite students throughout the humanities and social sciences.  We recognize that the field’s interdisciplinary nature poses particular difficulties for students as they embark on their research, as they must on the one hand master a wide-ranging literature and be conversant with methodologies in fields beyond those of their home disciplines and on the other aim to write dissertations that will be recognized as sufficiently mainstream within their home disciplines to make them employable.  Our aim in the workshops is to draw students into common conversation around the human sciences while giving them the tools to craft compelling and successful dissertations.


  • David J. Alworth

    University of Chicago, English Language and Literature

    Humans, Nonhumans, and Societies in Late-Modern Literature
    My project examines the figuration of humans, nonhumans, and societies in American literature between 1945 and 1989. I am especially interested in the intersection between innovative realist writing and the visual arts, trying to understand how both responded to the unprecedented social, economic, and physical-infrastructural changes of the postwar era. If realism strives to represent a plausible social world, then it can in some cases imagine an alternative to the way that society is traditionally conceptualized. In the decades following World War Two, a number of intellectual disciplines began to redefine the social by questioning how the human and its others are to be understood. The critical studies of the human sciences pioneered by Michel Foucault during this period comprise what is perhaps the best-known intervention in how human beings are constituted as objects of scientific inquiry. But Foucault's work emerges alongside several other very different attempts—philosophical, sociological, and aesthetic—to redefine human subjects, nonhuman objects, and the collectives of both that comprise modern, developed societies. By reading late-modern American literature—the writing of Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Vladimir Nabokov, Kathy Acker, Don DeLillo, Samuel Delany, and Tom Wolfe—in relation to the visual arts and to postwar mass culture, I try to show that aesthetic innovation can propose an analytical challenge to what C. Wright Mills calls the "sociological imagination." I argue that in reconfiguring fundamental social-scientific concepts (such as actor, artifact, structure, and agency) and categories (such as human, nonhuman, and social) the literature of late-modernity encourages us to reconsider the way that we conceptualize the modern social world and its participants.
  • Matthew J. Amato

    University of Southern California, History

    Minding Their Business: Psychology, Psychiatry, and Hollywood Film Practice
    This project seeks to explore how Hollywood contributed to the development of the history of the human sciences between the 1920s and 1950s. Using the methods of cultural and intellectual history, I will illuminate the centrality of psychological principles to transformations in the technological capacity of the medium, to representational strategies of filmmakers and cinematographers, and to the theories and practice of actors. Whether one looks at 1930s montage-maker Slavko Vorkapich and his efforts to visualize the “mind’s eye” of individual characters, or the emphasis on psychoanalysis in the acting community of the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood’s interest in exploring and representing the mind becomes readily apparent. By examining the historical relationship between film and psychological thought, this project seeks to understand how Hollywood not only drew upon psychological ideas to shape its technology and aesthetic conventions, but also how it became a significant purveyor of ideas about the mind, especially notions tying the mind to the image, in the mid-twentieth century.
  • Dwaipayan Banerjee

    New York University (NYU), Anthropology

    Caring for the Self in Bhopal: The Everyday Life of Moral Subjects
    In 1984, a chemical plant run by the multinational corporation Union Carbide released a poisonous cloud of toxic gas that spread over the surrounding slums, immediately killing over two thousand people and leaving about 100,000 more physically impaired and chronically ill. In the face of governmental and corporate negligence, the environment remains toxic and the groundwater contaminated. Survivors continue to face severe health challenges as psychiatric illness and a new generation of birth deformities are not even recognized as deserving of care or compensation. My interest in this story is to understand the ways in which survivor-activists have set about the work of making themselves and others healthy once again. I plan to situate myself in a health care center that they have set up, a center that encourages indigenous systems of care (Ayurveda, Yoga, Panchakarma) with the explicit aim of contesting the irresponsibility of pharmacological and chemical corporations and their ventures in developing countries. My interest is in an ethnographic understanding of how the survivors tie a politics of knowledge to the work of making themselves healthy again. How can we come at questions about technology-transfers, corporate responsibility and the possible ill-effects of modern pharmacology and psychopharmacology from this particular population’s work of living on at the site of life-altering violence?
  • Jennifer Jean Esala

    University of New Hampshire, Sociology

    Biomedicine meets Biofeedback: how Alternative Therapies are Transforming Modern Medicine
    Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has proven to be a powerful force in mainstream medicine. CAM is increasingly becoming a standard service in hospitals across the U.S., is utilized by over one-third of the population, and CAM research receives over 120 million dollars in government funding annually. This research will address the socio-historical emergence of CAM over the past two decades through textual analysis of academic and medical journal articles, historical analysis of public documents, and in-depth interviews with hospital administration, doctors, and CAM providers employed by hospitals. My research will investigate (1) the mechanisms (such as consumer demand) by which CAM has developed, (2) the impact of CAM on mainstream medical treatment and philosophy, (3) specifically the impact on practices and ideas grounded in the Cartesian duality, which CAM implicitly rejects, and (4) how these changes impact ideas about humanness and subsequent ideas about the “best” way to “treat” human beings. I argue that the last several decades have been politically, economically, and socially tumultuous and transformative for the medical field, and that CAM has and will continue to be an antagonistic and influential force that warrants serious exploration.
  • Mark Daniel Fleming

    University of California / San Francisco, Medical Anthropology

    Measuring Feeling: Technologies of Experience in Neuroscience
    This proposed dissertation is an analysis of contemporary neuroscientific approaches to affect. I intend to examine the methods of apprehending and representing phenomenological experience in the production of knowledge about affect and the brain. This project will examine how self-reported pleasurable and painful experiences are currently articulated, quantified and utilized in experimental contexts. Technologies for measuring phenomenological experience are central to conceptualization in the neuroscience of emotion, although they receive far less attention than the technologies for imaging the brain. However, brain images are interpreted through the meaningful frames produced by articulations of emotional experience. There are many technologies for apprehending experience currently used in the neuroscience laboratories, including discursively produced “self-report” measures and a range of physiological measures including pupil dilation and facial expression. Modes of discussing and reporting experiences of affect used in neuroscience laboratories are embedded in historically and culturally specific arrangements of discourses, concepts, images, and meanings. By an examination of the characteristics of experience deemed relevant for deciphering brain function, I suggest that we can trace how contemporary forms of subjectivity and personhood condition the production of neuroscientific knowledge of our moods, emotions, desires and thoughts. The broader aim of this project is to build a theoretical and methodological framework for anthropologists to engage with neuroscientific explanations of human thought and behavior.
  • Terence D. Keel

    Harvard University, Religion

    The Contested Legacy of Monogenesis in America: The Democratic and Religious Stakes of Race for the Human Sciences
    This project concerns the intersection of religious and scientific conceptions of human origin and racial difference within the context of American liberal democracy. To this effect I will explore how 19th, 20th and 21st century advancements and regressions within the science of race became possible as Christian biblical narratives about the monogenesis of the human species were reconfigured by a growing body of knowledge about the “human” produced within the biological and behavioral sciences. At the same time this project revisits what intellectual historians George Stocking and George M. Frederickson documented as the persistence of polygenesis within post-Darwinian science and anthropology. In this study I pickup up where they left off by investigating how the debate between polygenesis and monogenesis accounts of human origins persisted well into the 20th and 21st century in spite of the advancements made by modern genetics following WWII. One of the goals of my research is to argue that mid 19th century articulations of monogenist and polygenist accounts of human origins reiterate themselves during the 20th and 21st century in discussions about public health, intelligence, and genetic ancestry.
  • Janelle D. Lamoreaux

    University of California / Berkeley, Medical Anthropology

    The Making of a Relation Between Sperm and Society: "Independent Variables" of Infertility Science in Contemporary China
    Many social scientists study the effects of social change on people, arguing that economic and political shifts bring about new subjects and subjectivities. This project starts from the observation that in contemporary China biomedical researchers are making a similar claim. Since China's official Reform and Opening policies began thirty years ago, infertility rates are said to have dramatically increased for both men and women. Male reproductive health experts in particular report striking shifts in sperm counts: from approximately 100 million per ml in the 1970s to 40 million per ml in 2007. My ethnographic research project analyzes scientists in the field of men's medicine or nanke, and asks how "independent variables" such as economic development, modernization and environmental degradation are made visible as the causal factors for sperm decline. Why are such external variables and ideas of bodily permeability more present in research on male infertility, whereas science on female infertility continues to stress internal causal factors, such as age, weight, structural dysfunction, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome? How might the science of infertility structure varied notions of the body, thereby reconfiguring and reinforcing specific boundaries of the human?
  • Burcak Ozludil Altin

    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Urban Systems

    Healing Spaces: Mental Institutions in the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, 1870-1930
    My research will explore the mental hospitals of the transitional period between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, from 1870 to 1930. The topic brings together architecture (hospitals), landscape (hospital gardens), and mental health care in an interdisciplinary approach and situates this institutional building type within the broader history of psychiatry. My goal is to contextualize the scientific knowledge of psychiatry in the Ottoman case, and its implementation in a specific institutional setting, which was considered essential to the treatment. I will address the following questions: What did modern medicine demand from “therapeutic design” and how was it translated into the architecture of the mental hospitals? How did the roles of physicians and architects evolve over time? How did they collaborate and negotiate? What was the emphasis placed on the hospital gardens? How did concerns of gender and ethnicity affect the treatment of insane and the organization of psychiatric hospitals? Relying on untapped primary sources (official documents, hospital archives, and medical publications of the period), I will investigate the history of mental institutions and their physical settings, filling in a significant gap in the Ottoman/Turkish studies and contributing to the growing literature on architecture and psychiatry.
  • Ellen Rubinstein

    Yale University, Anthropology

    Making Meaning Out of Madness: Interpretations and Treatment of Psychosis in Japan
    How do families, communities, and institutions in Japan react and respond to an individual’s first episode of psychosis? My ethnographic study seeks to understand the sociocultural contexts that shape clinical and experiential interpretations of psychotic disorders. Knowledge about psychiatric illnesses arises not only from institutions of power, such as academic hospitals and private clinics, but also from the everyday experiences of ill individuals and their families. I intend to study how this experiential knowledge broadens conceptions of psychotic disorders beyond the biomedical and into the sociocultural by examining perceptions of individual autonomy, agency, and subjectivity vis-à-vis psychosis. In Japan, multiple discourses compete to locate disease etiology within various social circles, including the individual, the family, and society at large. Questions of etiology—and its close relation, blame—are particularly significant at this historical moment, as Japan moves toward deinstitutionalization and community-based care. This structural change requires negotiation and cooperation among multiple actors, as well as a shift in public opinion toward acknowledging and legitimating lifeways that exist far removed from the mainstream.
  • Connie Michelle Steel

    University of Texas / Austin, English

    Who Put the 'Human' in 'Human Rights'? The Meeting of Rhetoric, Philosophy and Psychology in the 18th Century
    The history of ‘human rights’ is most often approached as a collection of civil rights movements, as a part of the post-WWII narrative discourse of ‘universal human rights’ or as a 'natural' continuation of John Locke’s ideas regarding property rights. Instead, this project examines the argument or rhetoric implied by the ‘human’ in ‘human rights’ and its 18th century origins. After all, ideas about rights based systems and social movements pre-date Aristotle. This project argues that 18th century Scottish Enlightenment conceptions of the human and human nature developed in the fields of philosophy and psychology were the new innovation, which, combined with political tension and religious anxiety, sparked the popularization of human rights rhetoric through the political writings of Hannah More for anti-slave trade reform and Thomas Paine for working class revolution. In order to argue for human rights both authors needed a distinct sense of individuals as human independent of factors like gender, color and creed. This project investigates the nuanced network of linkages between the political writings of More and Paine and the rhetoric of the human proposed by Scottish Enlightenment thinkers like David Hume, Adam Smith and Thomas Reid.
  • Siri Suh

    Columbia University, Sociomedical Sciences

    Medicine, Modernity and Morality: Negotiating Professional Identity among Providers of Post-Abortion Care in Senegal
    In Senegal, there are multiple claims to knowledge about women’s bodies, sexuality and reproductive health. Biomedical practitioners represent one form of knowledge; religious leaders, traditional practitioners and women seeking abortion represent others. Biomedical practitioners derive occupational power from their status as experts in modern, Western medicine. I wish to examine the formation of professional identity among health providers within the larger context of organized medicine in Senegal. Specifically, I wish to investigate how knowledge regarding gender, sexuality and reproduction in the domains of abortion and post-abortion care forges and consolidates professional identity. Using qualitative research methods, I will explore what being a modern health professional means to various types of biomedical practitioners and how they negotiate occupational identity with other forms of social identity. The study will also investigate how health practitioners use clinical data from abortion and post-abortion care patients to strengthen their modern identities. A study of abortion and post-abortion care as sites of professional identity formation in a predominantly Muslim setting in Africa where abortion is legally restricted would be among the first of its kind. This study hopes to contribute to literature on gender, sexuality, reproduction, biomedicine and the social organization of medicine in Africa.
  • Simon Taylor

    Columbia University, History

    The Invention of Existential Psychoanalysis
    My project is an intellectual history of the existential approach to psychoanalysis. Existential psychoanalysis critiques a number of the foundational principles of psychoanalysis: rather than tracing the etiology of psychopathology to desire or sexuality, existential psychoanalysis focuses on such givens of human existence as freedom, finitude, and isolation. Initially arising from a psychoanalytic engagement with the existentially-oriented philosophy of Martin Heidegger, existential psychoanalysis quickly spread beyond the confines of Switzerland and Germany, exerting a major influence on the development of philosophy, psychology, and psychoanalysis across Europe and the United States. Drawing on the work of such prominent philosophers as Heidegger, Sartre, and Foucault, as well as psychologists and psychoanalysts including Freud, Binswanger, Minkowski, Boss, and Fromm, my project tracks the interdisciplinary and transnational fate of this movement from its emergence in 1920s Mitteleuropa, through its varied fortunes in postwar France, to its eventual appropriation – in a radically altered form – by American psychologists and psychoanalysts from the mid-1950s until the late-1970s.