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Importing Freud: First-wave psychoanalysis, interwar social sciences, and the interdisciplinary foundations of an American social theory


  • Edward J. K. Gitre

    1. A postdoctoral fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia
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    • He is completing a history of mid-twentieth-century conformity in America and has published in Church History and History of the Human Sciences, as well as elsewhere. His research includes the history of the social sciences; transatlantic religious movements; warfare in modern society and culture; and boredom and the history of emotions. Research for this article was partially supported by a generous Special Collections Research Fellowship from the University of Chicago Library.


For all that has been written about Freud, one of the most significant sites for his initial importation into the U.S. remains largely unexamined: namely, within and through the social sciences. During these early years, social scientists were attracted to psychoanalysis for reasons that were not only personal and idiosyncratic, but also intellectual, social, and professional. Focusing on the University of Chicago's Division of Social Sciences and using oral histories, students records, course materials, as well as published sources, this essay explores this varied attraction and its substantive impact upon American social theory vis-à-vis the ideals and ideology of “social adjustment.” © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.