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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2017
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Book description

The dream of control over human behaviour is an old dream, shared by many cultures. This fascinating account of the histories of human engineering describes how technologies of managing individuals and groups were developed from the nineteenth century to the present day, ranging from brainwashing and mind control to Dale Carnegie's art of dealing with people. Derksen reveals that common to all of them is the perpetual tension between the desire to control people's behaviour and the resistance this provokes. Thus to influence other people successfully, technology had to be combined with tact: with a personal touch, with a subtle hint, or with outright deception, manipulations are made palatable or invisible. Combining psychological history and theory with insights from science and technology studies and rhetorical scholarship, Derksen offers a fresh perspective on human engineering that will appeal to those interested in the history of psychology and the history of technology.


Winner, 2018 Cheiron Book Prize, Cheiron: The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences


'Reflecting his own subtlety, sensitivity and wit, Maarten Derksen crafts a persuasive analysis of the tact and technologies involved in the dealings between people and machines, brains and behaviour. Hard to put down once you’ve started reading!'

Douwe Draaisma - University of Groningen, Netherlands

'Histories of Human Engineering: Tact and Technology delivers a radical and thoroughly appealing approach to understanding the aspirations to effectively control human behavior. Eschewing the time-worn critiques of the manipulation of people and notions of human docility that undergird control technologies, Derksen engages empirical evidence from these technologies to show how they demonstrate the vibrant human presence of resistance, judgment, habit, and indeterminacy.'

Jill Morawski - Wesleyan University, Connecticut

'In this richly impressive work, Derksen shows how the historical projects of psychology re-envisage and re-engineer how the human is managed and resisted. Whilst psychologists will see their discipline in a new and fascinating light, Derksen has also made a significant and compelling intervention into the debate about the emergence of the modern subject.'

Steven Brown - University of Leicester

'Winner of the 2018 Cheiron Book Prize, Maarten Derksen’s (2017) Histories of Human Engineering: Tact and Technology is a deeply‐researched, broad‐ranging study of human engineering in the behavioral, psychological, and social sciences, and beyond.'

Edward K. Morris Source: Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

'In Histories of Human Engineering, Maarten Derksen, a historian of psychology at the University of Groningen, presents a well-informed overview, ranging from Frederick Taylor’s scientific management to the current craze for 'neuromarketing'. … the book teaches an important lesson about the limitations of both human engineering and the human sciences …'

Ruud Abma Source: Isis

‘For historians of social science, the book is innovative in that the interface between social science and technology is investigated rather than presumed or critiqued a priori, and because it addresses the friction between the disciplines of sociology, psychology, and political science without presenting siloed disciplinary histories.’

Bregje F. van Eekelen Source: Technology and Culture

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