23 February 2012

Upcoming Talk: 13 March 2012, Rhodri Hayward (Queen Mary) "Ulcers, Cortisol and the Remaking of Modern Britain"

Dr Rhodri Hayward
Institute of Historical Research

Gordon Room G34, South Block, Senate House London WC1E 7HU

Tuesday, 13 March, 5.15 p.m

From the early 1930s psychology, psychiatry and neurophysiology populated the world with a novel collection of concepts and objects - such as the 'anxiety neuroses', the 'unconscious', 'nervous ulcers', 'cortisol', 'stress' and 'lifestyle' - that allowed emotions, selfhood and social relationships to be described in new ways. Concentrating upon the uptake of the language of stress from the late 1930s this paper will show the concept disrupted traditional ideas of causality, temporality and influence while at the same time providing a new point of reference point for political intervention and a new landscape for government action. In particular I want to look how the language of stress was used to bring together two different orders of time - the evolutionary inheritance of the Pleistocene environment and the lived experience of post-war Britain - and then consider how this bifurcated understanding of emotions and temporality made possible new forms of political action. Examining the rhetorical function of stress in events such Coronation Bus Strike of 1937 or the planning of Harlow New Town should allow us to critically interrogate the turn to evolutionary neuroscience in contemporary historiography and the adoption of a 'happiness agenda' in modern government.

Note: Dr Rhodri Hayward is an extremely good historian of science and medicine. If anyone would like to send a reaction to his talk, I will publish it for regular readers unable to attend his lecture but interested in Dr Hayward's ideas.

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