Skip to main content

Localization and Its Discontents

A Genealogy of Psychoanalysis and the Neuro Disciplines

Psychoanalysis and neurological medicine have promoted contrasting and seemingly irreconcilable notions of the modern self. Since Freud, psychoanalysts have relied on the spoken word in a therapeutic practice that has revolutionized our understanding of the mind. Neurologists and neurosurgeons, meanwhile, have used material apparatus—the scalpel, the electrode—to probe the workings of the nervous system, and in so doing have radically reshaped our understanding of the brain. Both operate in vastly different institutional and cultural contexts.

Given these differences, it is remarkable that both fields found resources for their development in the same tradition of late nineteenth-century German medicine: neuropsychiatry. In Localization and Its Discontents, Katja Guenther investigates the significance of this common history, drawing on extensive archival research in seven countries, institutional analysis, and close examination of the practical conditions of scientific and clinical work. Her remarkable accomplishment not only reframes the history of psychoanalysis and the neuro disciplines, but also offers us new ways of thinking about their future.

296 pages | 57 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Cognitive Science: Neuroscience

History: History of Technology

History of Science


Psychology: General Psychology


"An engaging read."

Times Higher Education

"As one of the more compelling contributions in the emerging genre of  ‘the genealogy of the present’, Katja Guenther’s book not only diagnoses the past development of psychoanalysis and the neuro disciplines – including the ruptures that took place within, across and between them – while offering a state-of-theart overview of the current debate, but it also aims to make a distinctive intervention with an eye towards actively shaping the future of the
relationship between the fields. By shifting the conversation away from the more popular, at times vulgar, interpretation that reduces psychoanalysis’s
object of research to the metaphysical psyche and neuroscience’s object of study to that of soma alone, Guenther proposes an alternative construct
that one might use in thinking about the two fields."

Psychoanalysis and History

“By restoring the reflex to the histories of both the neurosciences and psychoanalysis, Guenther effectively links their disconnected histories, and suggests productive new lines of inquiry for historians of the brain and mind sciences beyond the simple division of psyche and soma. Likewise, for those interested in rethinking the categories of analysis within the history of the human sciences, Localization and Its Discontents will prove to be indispensable reading.”

British Journal for the History of Science

"In a series of dazzlingly concise case histories, Guenther then shows how variations on the Meynert–Wernicke model of the brain – sensory input, complex associations, motor output – informed the clinical practices of Carl Wernicke, Sigmund Freud, Otfrid Foerster, Paul Schilder and Wilder Penfield....By analytically uniting this cast of characters, Guenther has sharpened our understanding of the individual practitioners and deepened our sense of the context in which they worked. Along the way, the tensions, contradictions and potentials of contemporary neuroscience are supplied with a most illuminating prehistory."

Medical History

"Günter’s achievement is to use the latest in science historiography, historical epistemology, institutional, visual, and spatial studies to work esoteric primary sources into a powerful narrative."

Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

"Painstakingly researched and well written, brimming with significant new insights into the common origins of psychiatry, neurology, psychoanalysis, and neurosurgery. Guenther skillfully relates compelling evidence to sophisticated arguments, integrating historical methods to evaluate the significance of a single phenomenon—critiques of localization by means of the connective principle—at work in the formation of disciplines often portrayed as fundamentally opposed. The detailed analyses of the German scientific texts and culture at the heart of these origins, lucid explanations of six major figures’ theoretical manipulations of reflex physiology, and comprehensive reference material make this an exceptionally valuable resource."

Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Localization and its Discontents reframes the history of psychoanalysis and the neuro disciplines, revealing that the correlation between them is much deeper than hitherto thought. The chapters are easy to follow, the translation of original German phrases is provided in a consistent manner, and the author's careful organisation of the book enables the reader to perceive a meaningful sequence in the order of different sections."

The British Society for Literature and Science

"This is a very impressive work, offering a profound argument backed by judiciousness and sureness of touch in its handling of often technical and esoteric original sources. In my many years in this field I have never seen anyone focus so clearsightedly on the fundamental tension between the two paradigms of neurology: localization and connectionism. From this fundamental tension emerged the field of psychoanalysis and a range of other important developments within modern neurology."

John Forrester, editor of the journal Psychoanalysis and History

"Localization and Its Discontents is a brilliant new account of the intellectual formation and basic problems of neuroscience, incorporating contributors to the field as diverse as Sigmund Freud and Wilder Penfield. Guenther’s intervention into the mind-body problem challenges historians of science, medicine, and philosophy as well as current laboratory investigators of nervous system functioning. A fresh description of the framing of neuroscience, superbly researched and powerfully argued."

John C. Burnham, Ohio State University

"This thoughtful and deeply researched volume casts a new light on the modern history of scientific and clinical approaches to the mind/body relationship. Guenther explores an underlying theme—the tension between “localizing” and “connective” traditions—that unites and illuminates the work of such key figures as pathological anatomist Theodor Meynert, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. Combining a subtle reading of texts, practices, individuals, and contexts, she illuminates an important dimension of the history of physiology, psychology, and psychiatry; and, in so doing, provides a revealing perspective on the neurosciences today."

Daniel Todes, Johns Hopkins University

"One of the most exciting contributions of Katja Guenther’s Localization and Its Discontents: A Genealogy of Psychoanalysis and the Neuro Disciplines is that it turns this opposition between nature and culture on its head and shows how, in fact, the history of psychiatry is more complicated and how these two fields are actually quite porous. . . . This is an important and stimulating book that puts into perspective the supposed triumph of neuroscience and that challenges some of the most commonly held assumptions that have governed the history of medicine and the history of psychoanalysis, but also our basic understanding of science, subjectivity, and self."

American Historical Review

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. In the Morgue: Theodor Meynert, Pathological Anatomy, and the Social Structure of Dissection

Chapter 2. In the Lecture Theater: Reflex and Diagnosis in Carl Wernicke’s Krankenvorstellungen

Chapter 3. On the Couch: Sigmund Freud, Reflex Therapy, and the Beginnings of Psychoanalysis

Chapter 4. In the Exercise Hall: Otfrid Foerster, Neurological Gymnastics, and the Surgery of Motor Function

Chapter 5. Between Hospital and Psychoanalytic Setting: Paul Schilder and American Psychiatry, or How to Do Psychoanalysis without the

Chapter 6. In the Operating Room: Wilder Penfield’s Stimulation Reports and the Discovery of “Mind”







British Society for the History of Science: Pickstone Prize

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press