Article ID: CBB049318165

Planes of Phenomenological Experience: The Psychology of Deafness as an Early Example of American Gestalt Psychology, 1928–1940 (2017)


When, in 1928, the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, opened a psychological research division, it was nothing unusual in a time fascinated with the sciences of education. Yet with its longstanding ties to Northampton’s Smith College, the school was able to secure the collaboration of eminent Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, who, in turn, engaged 2 more German-speaking emigrants, Margarete Eberhardt and social psychologist Fritz Heider, and Heider’s American wife Grace Moore Heider. This collaboration has seen little attention from historians, who have treated Koffka’s and Heider’s time in Northampton as a transitory phase. I argue, however, that their research on deafness adds to the history of emigration and knowledge transfer between European and American Schools of psychology, and to historical understanding of the interrelation of Gestalt, child, and social psychology. Professionals in child studies and developmental psychology were keenly interested in the holistic and introspective approach Gestalt psychology offered. Deaf children were considered a particularly fascinating research population for exploring the relationship between thought and language, perception and development, Gestalt, and reality. At the Clarke School, Grace Moore Heider was among the first Americans to apply Gestalt principles to child psychology. In a time in which pejorative eugenic beliefs dominated professional perceptions of disability, the Heiders’ groundbreaking work defined the deaf as a social and phenomenological minority. This was in opposition to dominant beliefs in deaf education, yet it points to early roots of a social model of deafness and disability, which historians usually locate in 1960s and ’70s activism. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved) (Source: journal abstract)

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Authors & Contributors
Nebelung, Sven.
Schirmacher, Wolfgang
Benjafield, John G.
Plháková, Alena
Hark, Michel ter
Ash, Mitchell G.
History of Psychology
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
History of Education Quarterly
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Medical History
Bulletin of the History of Archaeology
New York University Press
Harvard University
University of Iowa
Birkhäuser Basel
Helion & Company
Disabilities; disability; accessibility
Gestalt psychology
Disability technology
Köhler, Wolfgang
Wertheimer, Max
Husserl, Edmund
Wundt, Wilhelm Max
Freud, Anna
Fromm, Erich
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
20th century
20th century, late
United States
Massachusetts (U.S.)
Southern states (U.S.)
American Telephone and Telegraph Company

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