A Question of Nerves

On the Emergence of a Neuropsychiatric Thought-Style in Austria and Japan circa 1900

Bernhard Leitner, BA MA

Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2 (Campus)
1090 Wien
Zimmer: 2K-O1-11


The huge impact of the Vienna-based neurologic paradigm on Japanese psychiatry at the brink of the 20th century can only be roughly estimated today. Every substantial research on the history of Japanese psychiatry credits the strong connection of the first generations of Japanese psychiatrists to Vienna, but a detailed account of scientific transfer in psychiatry between Austria and Japan at the end of the 19th through the beginning of the 20th century is still to be conducted. Where these inquiries end, my research will start with the following questions: How did scientific exchange in psychiatry between Austria and Japan happen? How did Viennese academic psychiatry shape the psychiatric discourse in Japan?  And vice versa, was there any backlash of Japanese scientists to Austrian psychiatry? How did these transnational processes inform the establishment of the new medical-scientific discipline of neurology?

These questions open a new field in the history of psychiatry in both Austria and Japan. To answer these questions, the present study engages in two stages: First, the distinct psychiatric thought-style, which was constituted through interchange between the new Mecca of neuroscientific research Vienna and a fast-evolving medical global player like Japan, will be analyzed with methods of the sociology of sciences. The second stage will deepen this analysis by taking a closer look at the structure and form of the thought-collective, consisting of the Viennese scientists and their visiting colleagues from Japan, who ultimately embody their specific thought-style. Thought-style and thought-collective are concepts drawn from the famous polish philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck. He defines thought-style as a “directed perception”, which also includes “mental and factual processing of the perceived phenomena”. A thought-collective represents the actual agency of the thought-style, usually consisting of a group of individuals tied together by common interests and methods. 

The present research aims not only at analyzing the mechanisms of knowledge-production of the world-famous Neurological Institute of the University of Vienna and its Austrian and Japanese scientists, but also at revealing the constituent character of marginalized discourse elements in psychiatric discourse at the time through close reading of Festschriften, acknowledgements in psychiatric journals and seemingly negligible forewords. This unique approach on historical medical literature from Austria and Japan will shed new light on the motives of neuropsychiatric discourse as a socio-economic agent in emerging nation states and empires, as well as on the dynamics of transnational scientific knowledge circulation.