Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 48(1), 86–88 Winter 2012 View this article online at Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/jhbs.21530  C 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


The 30th Annual Conference of the European Society for the History of the Human Sciences (ESHHS) took place in Belgrade, Serbia, on July 5–8, 2011. Hosted by Professor Gordana Jovanovic of the University of Belgrade, the conference was a rich and stimulating event. It was well organized and characterized by the diversity of participants and the high intellectual level of the presentations. The conference had excellent invited speakers, and cultural intermezzo: a breathtaking Serbian song and dance performance during the conference dinner at the Aero Klub. Hosting a conference always gives the opportunity for the local people to introduce themselves and their work. No less then 17 papers from Serbia and Macedonia dealt with the history of Serbian and Yugoslavian psychology. Ana Marjanovic-Shane and Mirjana Pesic spoke about the Belgrade School of Creativity; their talk inspired nostalgia for the vibrant cultural life of Belgrade during the 1970s and 1980s. We also learned that work psychology in Yugoslavia became a part of education in psychology as early as in 1927, and it seems that in Yugoslavia, unlike in the other socialist countries—where psychology was prohibited or barely tolerated—it steadily developed even in the 1950s (S. Cizmic and I. Petrovic). Milos Jovanovic’s paper provided insight into the everyday life of Belgrade at the turn of the twentieth century, a period of intensive urbanization for the post-Ottoman Serbia. As often happens, relative isolation and special historical circumstances can promote critical thinking and original approaches. Ana Altaras-Dimitrievic drew attention to the shifts that took place in the interpretation of giftedness at the dawn of the twentieth century. She was concerned with the de-emphasis of the concept of giftedness, which might have negatively effected education. Ivana Spasic and Gordana Gorunovic’s presentation was especially original. The two presenters envisaged an encounter between Clifford Geertz and Pierre Bourdieu—two major scholars who were quite different in their theoretical backgrounds, political commitments, and methods of research, and who were also rather critical of each other. According to Spasic and Gorunovic, both Geertz and Bourdieu could have benefited if they had taken each other’s ideas into consideration. Bourdieu could have incorporated Geertz’s interpretative subtlety into his approach, while Geertz’s approach would have been widened if he had not seen culture as an undivided unit and had accepted Bourdieu’s views about intracultural differences. The ESHHS—as we, the members, have discussed a number of times—is not an association that can guarantee people good jobs and relationships with powerful and influential people. It has no wealthy sponsors, and it is not besieged by advertisers. The critical approaches, original perspectives, and in-depth historical analyses of ESHHS members are usually not much appreciated by the “main stream” in psychology and other human sciences today. Former ESHHS president James Good, in his key note, stated that those who emphasize the cultural roots and historical embeddedness of psychological categories find themselves at the margins of the discipline of psychology. Scholars helplessly look on as historical approaches to the human sciences retreat and the assertiveness of reductionist interpretations of human nature grows. We are offered only the glimmer of hope that worldwide financial and social uncertainties will awaken in people the thought that the history of human sciences can be useful in




responding to challenges. Invited speaker Hank Stam formulated a similar perspective in his talk about history, memory, and ethics, discussing the phenomenon of cultural amnesia, a kind of forgetfulness that is typical of late capitalism. He was not optimistic that critical historians of psychology can resist the onslaught of the naturalization and reification of psychological categories. The role and identity of psychology was the topic of an important event: the symposium on cultural psychology was organized by local host Gordana Jovanovic. It was a special session, since all participants belonged to the Central European–German tradition of the human sciences, which rivaled American behaviorism during the interwar period. It was noticeable that participants might have preferred to speak in German: they submitted their papers in both German and English. All non-native speakers feel the disadvantages of the predominance of English at conferences, but we also know that without it international communication would be even harder, if not impossible. On the surface, cultural psychology is a product of the 1970s, but Christian Allesch described its roots in the culture and personality school of the first decades of the twentieth century. Ruth Benedict, Abram Kardiner, and Margaret Mead, members of this school of thought, examined relationships between child-rearing practices and predominant personality characteristics in various cultures. Unfortunately, this approach had few followers after the 1960s; eventually, it was replaced by schematic models of cross-cultural studies. According to Lars Allolio-Nacke, cultural psychology nowadays is a mixture of different approaches with different metaphysical assumptions and concepts of man. In contrast, Wundt in his V¨olkerpsychologie and the founders of the cultural anthropology—Boas and Malinowski— had a coherent system for the description of the behavior of nonwestern ethnic groups. The third presenter J¨urgen Straub also claimed that the contemporary representatives of cultural psychology have nothing common with Wundt. He also mentioned that Toulmin mistakenly translated “V¨olkerpsychologie” as “cultural psychology.” Contemporary cultural psychology is different from that tradition, and it is questionable whether it can obtain valid findings about the human nature and human action. Gordana Jovanovic was less critical about cultural psychology. She stated that cultural psychology’s aim was to reflect the human-made world, not the psychological “nature” of human beings. But she was worried that cultural psychology’s focus on ethnic differences might contribute to the sharpening of present ethnic conflicts. In her view, cultural psychology should discover not only the cultural differences between peoples but should also show what is common and universal. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to discuss exhaustively this extremely interesting issue. Roger Smith’s comment is certainly worth considering: universal human qualities are necessarily biological—and this is exactly what neuroscience claims. On the other hand, it is questionable whether the eruption of interethnic conflicts has anything to do with the peculiarities of individual groups or how cultural psychology describes them. The Belgrade conference was special because of the wide array of diverse topics of the talks. Several presentations dealt with the history of historiography. As we learned from Roger Smith’s talk, historiography had a special sense in Victorian Britain. Many British historians then thought that history was a “science” as it dealt with factual materials, even though it did not deal with “laws.” The alleged scientific position of the discipline of history can become important when the interpretation of the past serves political purposes, as it has often been the case. Ekaterina Volkova’s presentation on a related topic attracted a large audience. Instructively, she provided insight into how local historians interpreted the collapse of the two multiethnic countries, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) and the USSR.




It is of course impossible to discuss here all presentations, but there are some notable papers I would like to mention briefly. Martin Wieser and Thomas Slunecko, in their paper on the role of images and graphs in the history of psychology, claimed that pictures are far from passive objects. Thus, Kurt Lewin’s mapping of the mind and Freud’s model of the mind were not simply illustrations but played an important role as representations of scientific concepts. Sigrid Leyssen discussed the special role of images in the experiments on perception of the famous Belgian psychologist Michotte. Bettina Wahrig reported on the attempt of Italian anthropologist Mantegazza to classify ethnic groups according to their consumption of psychoactive substances. Jannes Eshuis presented an instructive paper on the changes in the concept of evolution in social and cultural history. Winfried Kudszus had a very special and exciting topic: different interpretation of microemergence at three giants of the history of science, Agassiz, Freud, and Nietzsche. And it was a great experience to hear distinguished scholars Kenneth Gergen and Thomas Laqueur speak in person. Gergen’s topic was the perspective of psychology after the “relational turn.” Laqueur, in The deep time of the dead, discussed the various historical attitudes and practices toward the dead body. Participants love ESHHS meetings because they are informal, the presentations provoke discussion and reflection, and inspiring conversations take place during the breaks. Although we cannot expect the ESHHS to acquire a huge influence on the human sciences, its reputation and popularity are growing. We can welcome at our conferences more and more people from overseas, not just from North America, but also from the southern part of America and other parts of the world. For Europeans, it was instructive to learn about the psychiatry of Brazil from the paper of Arthur Ferreira and his colleagues. We hope that this trend of internalization continues. ZSUZSANNA VAJDA Corvinus University Budapest Hungary


Conference report meeting on the Danube: Report on the annual ESHHS conference Belgrade, 2011.

Conference report meeting on the Danube: Report on the annual ESHHS conference Belgrade, 2011. - PDF Download Free
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