Of rats and psychologists: A study of the history and meaning of science

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Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


The relationship between psychology and rats is explored in connection with the pre-scientific lifeworld, where important motivational roots, historically changing cultural practices and far-reaching societal consequences of rat psychology are found. The pre-theoretical meanings of the rat entail its inimical. Otherness opposing humanity, its unrelenting parasitic cohabitation with people, and its reflection of the inhumanity of the person. A historical analysis shows how, in coming to terms with the rat-induced Black Plague, humanity developed the practices of surveillance, analysis and control that culminated in the modern scientific transformation of the rat from a threat into a docile servant. The triumph over the rat-like in the human and in the rat itself aimed at by psychoanalysis and experimental psychology reveals humanity’s attempt to overthrow its own evil by means of modern disciplinary structures. The societal ramifications of this psychology of one-way surveillance, analysis and control are found to contain a dehumanization in which the psychologist’s hidden rat-likeness threatens to destroy human subjectivity and freedom. In order to curtail the alienating trends in the historical trajectory of modern psychology, a science entailing reciprocity and mutual recognition between the scientist and humanity, leading to an owing of the rat-like as a part of existence, is suggested.

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