Lukas Held

Dissertationsprojekt: Angst und Antrieb. Verwissenschaftlichung des Willens und Politik der Selbststeuerung in Deutschland und den USA, 1874-1974

The project explores the emergence of will psychology in fin de siècle Germany and its transformation to motivation psychology during the Cold War era. It attempts to show how the philosophically charged concept of will was gradually transformed into an object of empirical research and asks what this meant for our understanding of human nature and our understanding of politics. By linking the scientification of will to well researched discourses of fatigue, alienation, degeneration and wholeness, the project aims to situate „will talk“ around 1900 in a broader cultural context during high modernity just as it tries to link „motivation talk“ since the 1950s to Cold War worries over economic dominance, systemic competition and cultural pluralism. The project focuses both on the production of knowledge about human action (especially by Wilhelm Wundt, Narziß Ach, Kurt Lewin, David McClelland, Heinz Heckhausen) as well as on how the concept of motivation was put into practice by psychologists themselves. While David McClelland in the United States - one of the two protagonists portrayed - became active in developmental politics in the Global South, Heinz Heckhausen - the other case study - tried to influence educational policies in West Germany from pre-school to university. Both were scientific political activists, personally engaged in spreading an entrepreneurial understanding of the self, which at its core was about cultivating a new type of fear as driver to individual and national productivity. The project tries to link the history of science with the history of neoliberal politics by arguing that the emergence of motivation psychology was partly about establishing structures of inequality in the name of „equal opportunity“, „self-realisation“ and „inclusion“.


  • Dezember 2021 Dissertation eingereicht
  • August 2016 - Februar 2017 Forschungsaufenthalt an der George Washington University in Washington, D.C. bei Jamie Cohen-Cole
  • seit Juli 2013 Dissertation bei Prof. Dr. Philipp Sarasin, gefördert durch den Forschungskredit der Universität Zürich und den Schweizer Nationalfonds
  • September 2012 - Juli 2013 Research Assistant bei Prof. Dr. Veronika Lipphardt am Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin
  • 2005 - 2011 Studium der Neueren und Neuesten Geschichte und Literaturwissenschaft an der Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, University of Leicester
  • Magisterarbeit zum Thema: „Die Außenkulturpolitik der BRD und DDR, 1960er und 1970er Jahre. Eine Fallstudie am Beispiel des Goethe-Instituts in Kalkutta“

Forschungs- und Interessengebiete

Geschichte der modernen Humanwissenschaften seit dem späten 19. Jahrhundert, insbesondere Geschichte des psychologischen, wirtschaftlichen und anthropologischen Denkens, Geschichte des Kalten Krieges, Geschichte der USA und Deutschlands im 20. Jahrhundert