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The Illuminating Case: The Case Study Method in the Fin-de-Siècle French Brain and Mind Sciences

Levine, Zachary Joseph

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, French brain and mind scientists filled publications with “case studies” – written works of varying lengths on individual patients or human subjects. This dissertation shows the clinical and conceptual labor that brain and mind scientists employed to transform individual cases into epistemologically meaningful case studies. More specifically, it tracks the rise, fall and afterlife of a model of the case study that emerged in the Salpêtrière in the 1870s and ultimately fell out of scientific favor in the 1890s. In this model, neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists had a common goal of presenting case study subjects as simple representatives of diseases or faculties of mind, but the strategies they used to attain that goal transformed. Clinicians’ literary strategies for presenting cases as simple gave way to an increasing emphasis on the selection of cases perceived to be inherently simple, particularly in the case studies of neurologist J.M. Charcot and his students. Meanwhile, psychologist Alfred Binet created procedures for generating simplicity experimentally that would impact early intelligence tests, challenging the stability of the distinction between case studies and statistical methods in the brain and mind sciences.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
History
Thesis Advisors
Moyn, Samuel
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2021