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From milgram to zimbardo: the double birth of postwar psychology/psychologization

Jan De Vos (UGent)
(2010) HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES. 23(5). p.156-175
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Abstract
Milgram’s series of obedience experiments and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment are probably the two best-known psychological studies. As such, they can be understood as central to the broad process of psychologization in the postwar era. This article will consider the extent to which this process of psychologization can be understood as a simple overflow from the discipline of psychology to wider society or whether, in fact, this process is actually inextricably connected to the science of psychology as such. In so doing, the article will argue that Milgram’s and Zimbardo’s studies are best usefully understood as twin experiments. Milgram’s paradigm of a psychology which explicitly draws its subject into the frame of its own discourse can be said to be the precondition of Zimbardo’s claim that his experiment offers a window onto the crucible of human behaviour. This will be analysed by drawing on the Lacanian concepts of acting out and passage à l’acte. The question then posed is: if both Milgram and Zimbardo claim that their work has emancipatory dimensions — a claim maintained within mainstream psychology — does a close reading of the studies not then reveal that psychology is, rather, the royal road to occurrences such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? The drama of a psychology which is fundamentally based on a process of psychologization is that it turns its subjects into homo sacer of psychological discourse.
Keywords
PSYCHOLOGY, Stanley Milgram, HOUSEHOLD WORD, Philip Zimbardo, psychology, psychologization, psychoanalysis

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Citation

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Chicago
De Vos, Jan. 2010. “From Milgram to Zimbardo: The Double Birth of Postwar Psychology/psychologization.” History of the Human Sciences 23 (5): 156–175.
APA
De Vos, Jan. (2010). From milgram to zimbardo: the double birth of postwar psychology/psychologization. HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES, 23(5), 156–175.
Vancouver
1.
De Vos J. From milgram to zimbardo: the double birth of postwar psychology/psychologization. HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES. 2010;23(5):156–75.
MLA
De Vos, Jan. “From Milgram to Zimbardo: The Double Birth of Postwar Psychology/psychologization.” HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES 23.5 (2010): 156–175. Print.
@article{1088139,
  abstract     = {Milgram{\textquoteright}s series of obedience experiments and Zimbardo{\textquoteright}s Stanford Prison Experiment are probably the two best-known psychological studies. As such, they can be understood as central to the broad process of psychologization in the postwar era. This article will consider the extent to which this process of psychologization can be understood as a simple overflow from the discipline of psychology to wider society or whether, in fact, this process is actually inextricably connected to the science of psychology as such. In so doing, the article will argue that Milgram{\textquoteright}s and Zimbardo{\textquoteright}s studies are best usefully understood as twin experiments. Milgram{\textquoteright}s paradigm of a psychology which explicitly draws its subject into the frame of its own discourse can be said to be the precondition of Zimbardo{\textquoteright}s claim that his experiment offers a window onto the crucible of human behaviour. This will be analysed by drawing on the Lacanian concepts of acting out and passage {\`a} l{\textquoteright}acte. The question then posed is: if both Milgram and Zimbardo claim that their work has emancipatory dimensions --- a claim maintained within mainstream psychology --- does a close reading of the studies not then reveal that psychology is, rather, the royal road to occurrences such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? The drama of a psychology which is fundamentally based on a process of psychologization is that it turns its subjects into homo sacer of psychological discourse.},
  author       = {De Vos, Jan},
  issn         = {0952-6951},
  journal      = {HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES},
  keyword      = {PSYCHOLOGY,Stanley Milgram,HOUSEHOLD WORD,Philip Zimbardo,psychology,psychologization,psychoanalysis},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {5},
  pages        = {156--175},
  title        = {From milgram to zimbardo: the double birth of postwar psychology/psychologization},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0952695110384774},
  volume       = {23},
  year         = {2010},
}

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