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11 - Stress in the City: Mental Health, Urban Planning, and the Social Sciences in the Postwar United States

from Part Six - Surveilling Stress

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2014

Edmund Ramsden
Affiliation:
University of London
David Cantor
Affiliation:
Acting Director, Office of History, National Institutes of Health
Edmund Ramsden
Affiliation:
Research Fellow at the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester
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Summary

The Study of Mental Health in the City

The city has long been perceived as a pathological space, a cause of deviance, sickness, and delinquency. Its various social and psychological problems have often been associated with its physical structures and conditions. Perhaps the most famous sociological statement on the city, Louis Wirth's “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” identified size, density, and heterogeneity as resulting in superficiality, alienation, anomie, and various forms of social and psychological breakdown. This chapter focuses on a diverse group of social and behavioral scientists, biologists, psychiatrists, architects, and planners concerned with rectifying the problems associated with urban life. From the mid-1950s they were united in a series of conferences supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to better understand and control the influence of the environment on mental health and illness. The Committee on Physical and Social Environmental Variables as Determinants of Mental Health, nicknamed the “Space Cadets,” met for two and a half days, twice a year, for twelve years from 1956. The meetings, which were fully transcribed, allow us to examine how diverse scientific and professional communities sought to develop a common language and a degree of unity of purpose in addressing the issues of slum clearance and urban renewal. Many of those involved saw the meetings as having significantly influenced their future research, as John B. Calhoun suggested: “I will leave it to historians to start with the stenotype transcripts of the twenty-three 2½-day sessions and follow them outward.”

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2014

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