Science is not fun

Opinions personals de membres del CEHIC i alumnes de postgrau

Archive for Juny, 2009

Jun 12 2009


Posted in General |


Scientists spend most of their time doing research. But sometimes they stop and reflect on their discipline. In talks, textbooks or general introductions scientists present their own field of expertise to students and the lay public. Usually a broad description of the present day situation is offered, sometimes even enriched with a historical perspective. Generally, this type of text draws a coherent and harmonic picture of the discipline, presented in very positive terms. But sometimes talks and texts of this genre contain critical reflections about the past and present situation of the field, addressing theoretical and methodological problems. In my project I will study this second type of texts dealing with crisis diagnosis and discussions on the historical situation or evolution of a discipline put forward by scientists.
Thomas Kuhn (1962/1970) claimed that every scientific revolution is preceded by a crisis of a dominant scientific paradigm. He also took it that states of crises are hardly if ever acknowledged by scientists. In other words, Kuhn’s concept of “crisis” is not an actor’s, but an observer’s category. But what if “crisis” does figure as an actor’s category? What are we to make of the scientific crises diagnosed by scientists themselves? In what contexts do such diagnoses occur?
There are indeed historical cases in which a crisis was diagnosed by scientists. Perhaps the strongest instance of this can be found in psychology from the late 19th century until the 1930s. The first author who in 1897 raised an alarm was Rudolf Willy. Many other texts stating a crisis in psychology followed. Authors as varied as Constantin Gutberlet, Alfred Binet, Nicolai Kostyleff, Hans Driesch, Mary Whiton Calkins, Karl Bühler, Wilhelm Wirth, and many others all found the notion of “crisis” something worth discussing. In the late twenties of the last century the discussions about crisis reached a first peak defined by a notable increase of frequency and intensity.
The questions I will pursue during my stay in Berlin (21/06/-21/07/2009) at Department II of the Max Planck Institute for History of Science are twofold. First, what do the actors mean by “crisis”? Secondly, what arguments do they propose for or against a diagnosis of crisis in psychology? The examination of arguments will lead to the necessity of taking into account basic issues raised in relation with the crisis diagnoses in psychology, like the problem of defining psychology as natural or human science. Different epistemological ideals about psychology as science are confronted with one another in these crisis debates.
The discussion and historical analysis of arguments requires the inclusion of voices from both sides, the defenders of crisis diagnosis and their opponents, and in connection with general reflections made by psychologists about their discipline. My interest is historical and historiographical. That is why I will concentrate on how the evolution and present status of psychology is perceived by psychologists themselves at a certain time.
(For more information about the project or my stay see: )

No hi ha comentaris