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Testing Temperament at Work: Human Relations, Labour Relations, and Industrial Psychology in Interwar America

Testing Temperament at Work: Human Relations, Labour Relations, and Industrial Psychology in Interwar America
1 Devonshire Place, Room 208N
Time: Oct 30th, 4:00 pm End: Oct 30th, 6:00 pm
Interest Categories: United States Studies, Sociology (FAS), Psychology, Political Science, History (FAS), History & Philosophy of Science & Technology (FAS), Historical Studies (UTM), Historical and Cultural Studies (UTSC), Communications, 2000-, 1950-2000, 1900-1950
Lecture by Kira Lussier, Ph.D. candidate in History & Philosophy of Science and Technology

The Centre for the Study of the United States is pleased to present:

Kira Lussier

Testing Temperament at Work: Human Relations, Labour Relations, and Industrial Psychology in Interwar America

Organized by the CSUS Graduate Student Workshop, University of Toronto.
Industrial psychologists in interwar America sought to convince corporate personnel departments that the insights of the human sciences, applied at work, would result in a more efficient, harmonious, and productive workforce. The defining methodology of these industrial psychologists was the pencil-and-paper psychological test, which they claimed could reveal a worker’s social and emotional disposition to predict behaviour at work. One of the most widely-adopted tests of this kind was the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale, first published in 1935; unlike other psychological instruments, this test was specifically created with industrial use in mind. Its creators—an industrial psychologist and a personnel manager—appealed to extant corporate concerns and drew on the ideology of “human relations,” to market their test as a scientific tool that would result in more harmonious labour relations. This paper argues that the legacy of this temperament testing was to forge a connection between workers’ affective disposition and the large-scale labour relations of the workplace: in selling their test to corporate clients, psychologists claimed that the psychological mal-adjustment of workers was one cause of labour unrest. These assumptions came under increasing attack by cultural critics like Daniel Bell, who identified personality tests as a particularly egregious management strategy to deflect attention from the broader socioeconomic structure of American capitalism. By unpacking this debate between the creators and critics of temperament testing, this paper explores the intersection of the politics of labour, the ideology of human relations and the practice of industrial psychology in interwar America.

Kira Lussier is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, and a Junior Fellow of the Jackman Humanities Institute. With an undergraduate degree in History from McGill University, her research interests lie at the intersection of the history of the human sciences and American social history. Her dissertation traces the history of personality testing and its critics in North American workplaces from the First World War to the Cold War. She has presented her research at the International Congress for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and Cheiron: The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences.
To register for this event, please go to the Munk School of Global Affairs Events registration page: http://munkschool.utoronto.ca/event/14244/register/

For more information, please contact the Centre for the Study of the United States at (416) 946-8972.

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