Claparède, Édouard (1873-1940)

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Édouard Claparède, a Swiss physician and psychologist, was born March 24, 1873, in Geneva, where he died September 30, 1940. He was born into a Protestant family that left Languedoc after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; his father was a pastor. His precocious interest in natural science, the legacy of his childhood admiration for the paternal uncle whose name he bore, would have repercussions on his future career. Claparède did not feel any religious calling and envisaged a future in the sciences. The individual who had the greatest influence on him was his uncle Théodore Flournoy, nineteen years his senior. It was because of him that Claparède developed an interest in psychology. This interest led him to study medicine, which seemed to him "the best introduction to the study of mankind." He completed his medical studies in Geneva in 1897 after a brief period of study in Leipzig. In 1899 he became a collaborator with Flournoy, who turned over to him the job of running the psychology laboratory in 1904.

Together with his uncle, Claparède founded the Archives de psychologie in 1901, where the first French reviews of Freud's work appeared, together with that of other psychoanalysts. In 1903 they published Théodore Flournoy's review of The Interpretation of Dreams. There were several articles on Freud's work, includingÜber Psychotherpie ("On Psychotherapy"; 1905) and another on Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life ; 1905). It was not long before discussions were underway to make the Archives de psychologie a French-language "psychoanalytic journal." This effort, undertaken by Carl Gustav Jung, was unsuccessful. But the review did publish work by Jung, Alphons Maeder, Charles Baudouin, Charles Odier, Henri Flournoy, and Raymond de Saussure. Every year critical essays on psychoanalytic works appeared, but the psychoanalysis section disappeared from the review in 1930.

In 1912 Claparède founded the Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau, where the psychoanalysts Ernst Schneider (1916-1919) and Charles Baudouin began teaching in 1915. When Sabina Spielrein came to Geneva in 1920, she became his assistant. Oskar Pfister dreamed that the institute would become a place where "teaching psychoanalysts" would be trained. But his project never materialized.

Claparède was responsible for the first French translation of Freud'sÜber Psychoanalyse, Fünf Vorlesungen gehalten zur 20 jährigen Gründungsfeier der Clark University (Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis ). The translation was published in the December 1920 and January and February 1921 issues of the Revue de Genève, with the title "Origine et développement de la psychanalyse." The translator was Yves Le Lay. Claparède added an introduction entitled "Freud et la psychanalyse."

Claparède took part in the Salzburg (1908) and Nuremberg (1910) Congresses. He founded the Cercle Psychanalytique de Genève (Geneva Psychoanalytic Circle) in 1919, of which he became president, but he did not belong to the Société Suisse de Psychanalyse (Swiss Society for Psychoanalysis), created on February 10, 1919. On September 19, 1919, he was invited to join. His correspondence with Freud was published by Carlo Trombetta (1970). He also corresponded with Oskar Pfister.

It can be assumed that Claparède underwent a certain amount of psychoanalysis with Pfister between 1915 and 1918. Was he analyzed by Sabina Spielrein during the twenties? We have no confirmation of this and if he did undergo analysis, it would only have been for a short period of time. Freud spoke of him as a dilettante. An eclectic individual, Claparède never wanted to become too deeply involved in psychoanalysis.

Aside from his essays in Archives de psychologie, Claparède published "Quelques mots sur la définition de l'hystérie" (1907), "De la représentation des personnes inconnues et des lapsus linguae " (1914), "Freud et la psychanalyse" (1920), "Quelques remarques sur le subconscient" (1923), "Freud va avoir quatre-vingt ans" (1936).

Claparède was not, strictly speaking, a psychoanalyst but he favored the diffusion of psychoanalysis in French-speaking Switzerland and, therefore, in France, and he defended psychoanalysis against its detractors. As Freud wrote to him on May 24, 1908, concerning psychoanalysis: Claparède is "in some sense a measure of the international growth to which we aspire."

Mireille Cifali

See also: Archives de psychologie, Les ; Institut Claparède; Société psychanalytique de Genève; Subconscious; Switzerland (French-speaking).


Cifali, Mireille. (1982). "Entre Genève et Paris: Vienne," Bloc-notes de la psychanalyse, 2, 91-127.

. (1991). Notes autour de la première traduction française d'une œuvre de Sigmund Freud. Revue internationale d'histoire de la psychanalyse, 4, 291-305.

Claparède, Edouard. (1920). Freud et la psychanalyse. Revue de Genève, 6, 850-851.

Trombetta, Carlo. (1970). "Claparède e Freud. Con publicazione di inediti," Orientamenti pedagogici, 17,6.

. (1989).Édouard Claparède psicologo. Rome: Armando. Clark University

Claparède, Édouard

views updated May 29 2018

Claparède, Édouard


Édouard Claparède (1873–1940), Swiss psychologist, was born in Geneva. His choice of a career was decisively influenced by his cousin, Theodore Flournoy, also a psychologist, and his uncle, Édouard Claparède, a zoologist. After attending secondary school in Geneva, Claparède studied medicine in Leipzig and Geneva, concluding these studies with a thesis entitled Du sens musculaire à propos de quelques cas d’hémiataxie posthémiplégique (1897). He spent a year in Paris, where he worked with Joseph Déjerine in neurology and became acquainted with Alfred Binet.

Returning to Geneva, where he remained for the rest of his life, Claparède worked in Flournoy’s psychological laboratory and as Privatdozent began giving a course on sensation. At the same time, he continued his work in neurology and became interested in animal psychology. Karl Groos’s book, The Play of Animals, had a decisive influence on Claparede at that time, orienting him toward a functional point of view. In 1901, together with Flournoy, he founded the Archives de psychologie, of which he had charge until his death.

Claparède, in his book L’association des idées (1903), was one of the first to show the shortcomings of the associationism then dominant in the world of psychology. Two or three years before H. J. Watt and N. Ach wrote about the role of instructions and determining tendencies, Claparède realized that the problem of association cannot be solved without taking into account the entire set of attitudes of the subject to whom the inducing word is presented. This led him to consider the functional question of the value of an association for the subject’s immediate situation or of the significance to the subject of the goal that may be attained by an association. He concluded that an “autonomous mechanism of the association of ideas” operates only in the case of fortuitous or purely mechanical associations; associations with relevance for the subject’s situation are determined by the interest or meaning aroused by a particular connection and, hence, by an impelling quality that cannot be explained by association per se. [SeeGestalt theory.]

Next, Claparède published his theory of sleep (1905a), the origin of which he described with some humor. In the course of an improvised lecture, he was rash enough to include sleep in the list of instinctive reactions and on his return home tried to discover whether he had, in fact, said something foolish. He quickly rejected the classical interpretation that sleep is a toxic reaction, suggesting instead that sleep is anticipatory protection against toxicity, or more general protection, as with hibernation. [SeeSleep.]

In 1909, Claparéde served as general secretary of the Sixth International Congress of Psychology, of which Flournoy was president; thereafter he attended all the international congresses of psychology, becoming permanent secretary and so insuring continuity between successive congresses. (Later the International Union of Scientific Psychology was founded, with a permanent secretary general.)

As early as 1906, Claparède had established a seminar in educational psychology, but it was met with hostility from the academic authorities. He also published his Psychologie de I’enfant (1905b), four editions of which were rapidly sold out (even though this was only an introductory volume and the further volumes were, unfortunately, never written). In 1912 he founded the Institut J. J. Rousseau, for the purpose of promoting child psychology and its application to pedagogy. The institute was highly successful, although it was initially organized on a private basis; eventually, in 1947, it became affiliated with the University of Geneva under the name Institut des Sciences de I’Éducation. Claparède had been appointed associate professor of psychology at the university in 1908, and in 1919 he succeeded Flournoy in the chair of experimental psychology.

In the last 25 years of his life Claparède published a whole series of experimental studies. One particularly interesting study, which appeared in 1918, dealt with the child’s awareness of similarity and difference. In it, Claparède showed that although young children can much more readily describe differences between two objects (for example, a bee and a fly) than point out similarities, children do constantly generalize, which means making use of similarities. Accordingly, he formulated his “law of awareness,” which states that the individual is not aware of mechanisms that work smoothly, awareness being aroused only by conflicts, problems, or maladjustments in general. [SeeLearning, article ondiscrimination learning; Perception, article onPerceptualdevelopment.]

Claparède devoted some attention to the field of the growth of intelligence. He maintained that a child’s intelligence develops as he proceeds through a series of trials and errors (tâdtonne) first to handle material objects and then to formulate hypotheses. In an article published in 1933, Claparède studied the formation of these hypotheses. Instead of announcing only the result of the reflections that led to the solution of a problem, his subjects had been trained to think out loud, to produce, as it were, a “spoken reflection.” This procedure indicated that the subjects’ tentative steps were guided, and sometimes preceded, by a kind of insight into “immediate implications”; Claparède gave a number of examples of such insights.

As early as 1929, at the closing session of the International Congress of Psychology at New Haven, Claparède spoke on the possible role that psychologists might play in international understanding, and he returned to this theme in 1937 in Paris, at the end of the Eleventh Congress. In 1928, he participated in the founding of the Bureau International de I’Éducation.

Jean Piaget

[For discussion of the subsequent development of Claparède’s ideas, seeConcept formation; Developmental psychology; Intellectual development; Problem solving.]


1897 Du sens musculaire à propos de quelques cas d’hémiataxie posthémiplégique. Geneva: Eggimann.

1903 L’association des idées. Paris: Doin.

1905a Esquisse d’une théorie biologique du sommeil. Archives de psychologie 4:245–349.

(1905b) 1911 Experimental Pedagogy and the Psychology of the Child. New York: Longmans. → Translated from the 4th edition of Psychologie de I’enfant et pédagogie expérimentale by Mary Louch and Henry Holman.

1918 La conscience de la ressemblance et de la différence chez I’enfant. Archives de psychologie 17:67–78.

(1930) 1961 Autobiography. Volume 1, pages 63–97 in Carl Murchison (editor), A History of Psychology in Autobiography. New York: Russell. → Translated from the French by P. Beineman.

1933 La genèse de I’hypothése: fetude expérimentale. Archives de psychologie 24:1–155.