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Abstracts for Departmental Seminars

Seminars are held on Thursdays from 3.30 to 5pm in Seminar Room 2. There is tea beforehand from 3pm in Seminar Room 1.

Organised by Mary Brazelton and Marta Halina.

Michaelmas Term 2016

Show overview

13 October Robbie Duschinsky and Sophie Reijman (Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge)
'Patterning within the disturbance of coherence': the practical work of measuring and classifying infant disorganised attachment
'Disorganised attachment' (Main and Solomon 1990) is a classification made of infant-caregiver relationships in the Ainsworth Strange Situation, and is among the most influential assessments of infant mental health. It is made on the basis of observations of out-of-context, unexpected, or anomalous behaviours shown by an infant on reunion with their caregiver after a brief separation. This classification has received a high degree of interest, from researchers, clinicians and social workers, as well as policy makers. Disorganised attachment has primarily been understood through the lens of the Hesse and Main's concept of 'fright without solution', taken to mean that an infant experiences a conflict between a desire to approach and flee from a parent who frightens them. This talk draws from a wider project, funded by an Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust, studying debates around disorganised infant attachment and their implications for clinicians and social workers. The specific focus of the paper will be on the practical work of measuring and classifying infant-caregiver attachment relationships, drawing on interviews, archival research, and participant observation. The paper will reflect particularly on the significance of sharp disparities found between conventional, circulating accounts of disorganised attachment and coders' practical theories of behaviour and relationship processes.
20 October Harry Collins (Cardiff University)
Some sociological aspects of the detection of gravitational waves
What is the sociologist, who has spent years demonstrating the interpretative flexibility of claims to have detected gravitational waves, to make of a detection that no-one will question? And where did the confidence in that detection come from – not quite where you think!
27 October Emma Tobin (UCL)
Mechanisms and natural kinds
In the classification literature, there has been much discussion of the no-overlap principle, which allows a categorical distinction between natural kinds from a realist perspective. However, cases of crosscutting natural kinds in scientific practice provide a serious challenge to the no-overlap principle (Khalidi, 1998, Dupre 1993, Tobin 2010). The HPC view of natural kinds has emerged in order to accommodate the fuzzy boundaries we associate with clusters of properties, by the introduction of a homeostatic regulating mechanism. Craver (2009) claims that there is a difficulty in deciding where a particular mechanism begins and another ends. The strategy of lumping and splitting is designed in order to accommodate the no overlap principle; namely if you find that a single cluster of properties is regulated by more than one mechanism, then because there can be no overlap between mechanisms, then we must split the natural clusters. However, a closer analysis of dynamic mechanisms in scientific practice reveal that the overlap problem re-emerges with the strategy of lumping and splitting in that there is an assumption that once a mechanism is found to be responsible for a property cluster, that this is sufficient for delineating the boundaries of that cluster. Scientific practice reveals that there might be multiple causal routes that could result in a similar functional output. Moreover, there might be different kinds of mechanisms, which produce the same property cluster and depending on which one we are using, the decision to lump or split may be different. The paper concludes with some observations about the implications for the classification of mechanisms and to the additional question as to whether mechanisms are themselves natural kinds.
10 November Giovanna Colombetti (University of Exeter)
Contemplative neuroscience and the limits of talking about experience
A few recent advances in contemplative neuroscience have adopted a neurophenomenological approach that involves relying on first-person data to interpret patterns of brain activity during meditative practices. I welcome this approach but I also argue that it needs to pay more attention to the difficulties and tensions – long recognized in theological, anthropological, sociological and other analyses – associated with talking about one's meditation practice and the experiences that come with it. Accordingly, I propose that contemplative neuroscience could give more consideration specifically to what can or should not be said about experiences of meditation. After illustrating how the topic of the 'not said' has featured in various disciplines and debates on meditation outside neuroscience, I advance a set of preliminary suggestions on how to integrate such considerations into a refined neurophenomenological approach to meditation.
17 November Richard Powell (University of Oxford)
The hubris of youth? Oxford, Cambridge and the Arctic, c.1920–1940
During the interwar period, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge sent successive expeditions to the Arctic, mainly focusing on Nordauslandet (North East Land in the Svalbard archipelago) and Greenland. These expeditions have been rather neglected by historians, save for some celebratory work by former protagonists. This paper investigates some of their legacies, both in terms of their scientific contribution and in their impacts on particular Inuit communities. It focuses specifically on psychological experiments conducted on the people of Illorsuit in the late 1930s. In investigating this, some of these expeditionary activities complicate a number of historiographical assumptions about the nature of Greenlandic governance, the role of universities in the field sciences and the wider development of the disciplines of Arctic study.  This discussion also provides for heuristic reflection in recent attempts to de-colonise the curriculum at both universities.
24 November Twelfth Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine
Alexandra Minna Stern (University of Michigan)
Eugenic sterilization in California: from demographic analysis to digital storytelling
From 1909 to 1979, California sterilized more than 20,000 patients in state homes and hospitals. This lecture draws from new interdisciplinary research into the history of sterilization, presenting both overarching demographic trends that illustrate the intersectional racial, gender, and diagnostic biases of compulsory reproductive surgery, and the experiences of people whose lives were irrevocably changed by this medical intervention. These new findings are drawn from a dataset that I and my team created after digitizing more than 50,000 microfilm documents that had been long forgotten in the file cabinets of state agencies in Sacramento, California. This lecture asks how an in-depth interdisciplinary study of patterns and experiences of sterilization confirms and challenges historical understandings of eugenics, and highlights the value of epidemiological and demographic methods in historical analysis. The presentation also provides an overview of the digital archive we are creating that will feature data visualization and digital storytelling.