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Elizabeth Lunbeck

Chair, Department of the History of Science; Professor of the History of Science in Residence, Harvard University


Elizabeth Lunbeck

Areas of Research: Human Sciences, Medical Humanities, Psychology & Theories of Mind, Women & Gender Studies

Elizabeth Lunbeck is a historian of the human sciences, specializing in the history of psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and psychology. Throughout her career, she has been interested in the conceptual foundations of these disciplines as well as in the social and cultural contexts in which they have taken shape and in the critical role they have played in the making of modernity and the modern self. Her first book, The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America (1994), examines psychiatry’s transformation from a marginalized, asylum-based specialty to a thriving—if contested—discipline endowed with clinical and cultural authority over not only insanity but also normality, as focused on normal persons as on the insane. The book was awarded several prizes, among them the John Hope Franklin Prize and Morris D. Forkosch Prize. With Bennett Simon she published Family Romance, Family Secrets: Case Notes from an American Psychoanalysis, 1912 (2003), a study of early analytic practice. Her latest book, The Americanization of Narcissism (2014) offers a wide-ranging history of the concept, asking why the question of narcissism has become so urgent in our culture. It has been awarded the Courage to Dream Prize of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Lunbeck is also the co-editor of a number of books, among them with Lorraine Daston, Histories of Scientific Observation (Chicago, 2011). She is currently writing a book on the history of psychotherapy: under pressure from the challenges of pandemic-era practice, demands for racial reckoning, and the development of new technologies promising cheaper means of delivery and wider access, this book poses questions about the shape of psychotherapy’s future and the fate of the human in it. She is also working on several smaller projects on the personality disorders. Lunbeck is an academic program graduate of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and holds an MA in Counseling Psychology.