The History of Socioenvironmental Studies at the NIMH

John Clausen, Melvin Kohn, Morris Rosenberg, Leonard Pearlin, Erwin Goffman; Social Isolation and Schizophrenia (Kohn & Clausen, 1955), Social Class and Parental Values (Kohn, 1959), Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of the Mental Patient (Goffman, 1961), Society and the Adolescent Self Image (Rosenberg, 1965), Class and Conformity (Kohn, 1969), "The Structure of Coping" (Pearlin and Schooler, 1978), Work and Personality (Kohn & Schooler, 1983). All of these - I believe I can fairly say - illustrious sociologists and their seminally influential sociological works were part of the history of the LSES before the departure from the Laboratory in 1985 of Melvin Kohn, who in 1963 succeeded John Clausen to become the second chief of the LSES. After Kohn's departure—a departure that cannot reasonably be described as happy—the Laboratory was reduced to Section status (SSES), an organizationally significant reduction in status—but one that fortunately, because of other changes in the IRP bureaucratic structure, had essentially no practical consequences. What was essentially left is a one person fiefdom for a tenured intramural scientist. The Section now consists of me—the tenured scientist (half sociologist/half psychologist), a permanent colleague (officially designated as a Staff Scientist - a position that precludes being an independent investigator), a permanent research assistant, a program-assistant/secretary and two fellowship positions, one of which is generally used for a post-doctoral fellow and the other for a recent college graduate planning to go on to graduate school, who serves as a research assistant. There is a steady budget that comfortably covers the costs of data analysis and study planning and what can be seen as a hunting license to pursue sources of revenue that would pay the costs of data gathering (the possibility of extramural NIH funding, however, being legally excluded). In many ways this has been a pretty good sinecure—one that has allowed me to pursue a, I believe generally successful, research course of examining the determinants and effects of complex environments in different types of people in different social-structural and cultural settings. I have followed this course using research approaches ranging from experimental psychology, through sociology to comparative historical analysis. My sinecure does, however, have a couple of pretty big interrelated draw backs. One, is that the quadrennial review process that determines the resources, scope of research and, indeed, the continued existence of the Section is often carried out by people with limited knowledge of, and little interest in, basic sociological or social psychological scientific research (i.e., research whose direct aim is to come to an understanding of the phenomena being investigated by elucidating the rules governing them). A second is that my leaving, voluntary or otherwise, will almost certainly write finis to the role of sociology or of any kind of fairly basic social science research in the NIMH intramural program. It is worth noting that the LSES historically had several noted anthropologists in the program—William Caudill, Eliot Liebow, Melvin Ember—who left without being replaced, so that the presence of this social science in the NIMH intramural program has also been ended.

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