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The Definition of a Profession

The Definition of a Profession: The Authority of Metaphor in the History of Intelligence Testing, 1890-1930

JoAnne Brown
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    The Definition of a Profession
    Book Description:

    In the early twentieth century, a small group of psychologists built a profession upon the new social technology of intelligence testing. They imagined the human mind as quantifiable, defining their new enterprise through analogies to the better established scientific professions of medicine and engineering. Offering a fresh interpretation of this controversial movement, JoAnne Brown reveals how this group created their professional sphere by semantically linking it to historical systems of cultural authority. She maintains that at the same time psychologists participated in a form of Progressivism, which she defines as a political culture founded on the technical exploitation of human intelligence as a "new" natural resource. This book addresses the early days of the mental testing enterprise, including its introduction into the educational system. Moreover, it examines the processes of social change that construct, and are constructed by, shared and contested cultural vocabularies. Brown argues that language is an integral part of social and political experience, and its forms and uses can be specified historically. The historical and theoretical implications will interest scholars in the fields of history, politics, psychology, sociology of knowledge, history and philosophy of social science, and sociolinguistics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2078-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-17)

    At the International Congress of Arts and Sciences, held in conjunction with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, Americans lined up to have their mental and physical capacities measured by the latest scientific techniques. In celebration of the occasion, psychology’s entrepreneur James McKeen Cattell set forth his vision of the fledgling profession in an address on “The Conceptions and Methods of Psychology.” “Control of the physical world is secondary to the control of ourselves and our fellow man,” he proclaimed, at length concluding, “If I did not believe that psychology affected conduct and could be applied in useful ways, I...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Semantics of Profession: A THEORY
    (pp. 18-34)

    The earliest meaning of the termprofessionwas religious, and referred to a proclamation of faith. A great “professor” was one whose religious devotion was unimpeachable: during the Salem witchcraft trials, Goody Nurse was termed an “old professor” in her defense, for she had long professed her devotion to God.¹ By 1675, the term had acquired secular significance, meaning “having claim to due qualifications.” The newer professions drew sustenance from the old: medics and lawyers drew authority from the clergy, and both medical and legal practices were, until fairly recently, the province of clerics.²

    The shift in the connotations of the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Psychology as a Science
    (pp. 35-45)

    The termpsychologydates at least from the seventeenth century, when it was used to divide the study of Man—Anthropology—into three disciplines: Psychology, the study of the soul; Somatology, the study of the body, and Hematology, the study of the blood.¹ It was the nineteenth century, however, that yielded the notion that the study of the “thoughts, feelings and actions of sentient beings” could be pursued in like manner to the study of inanimate and insensate phenomena.²

    The very premise of a scientific psychological discipline was denied by positivist philosophers. Mill’s and James’s common conviction of the possibility...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Education as a Profession
    (pp. 46-61)

    Among the social institutions where psychologists successfully implemented mental tests were the public schools. Although it may be argued that special schools for the feebleminded, juvenile courts, and asylums adopted mental tests more readily and that the tests had an even greater impact on the organization and routines of these institutions, it was in the public schools that the tests reached the widest population and posed the greatest contemporary philosophical problems. It was their implementation in public schools, following the mass testing of army recruits during World War I, that stimulated the intense (but largely ineffectual) criticism of testing during...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Biographical Referents of Metaphor
    (pp. 62-75)

    The primary lexicon of intelligence testing is medical. Psychologists who measure intelligence speak as physicians, diagnosing, prescribing for, and treating their subjects, often in a clinical setting. So pervasive is medical language in the field of educational psychology that it has lost its metaphorical quality and has become accepted as literal. This was not always the case. Early in the development of the testing enterprise, medical language was a creative device that accomplished many things at once for the young psychologists who used it. Its interest to the historian lies not so much in particular uses of medical language by...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Historical Meanings of Medical Language
    (pp. 76-95)

    The sense of the psychologists’ past medical language must be taken in context, that is, with reference to contemporaneous medical practice. Without its historically specific referents, medical metaphor has only the most crude and vague meaning, and is easily misinterpreted according to commonsensical, ahistorical, or archetypal definitions of medical practice. The best example of this potential problem is in the interpretation of psychologists’ frequent allusion to the IQ test as a clinical thermometer. In our late-twentieth-century experience, the clinical thermometer is the mother’s first resort in the home diagnosis of illness; it is paired in advertising imagery with her dispensing...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Human Engineering
    (pp. 96-108)

    Just as psychologists drew their medical language from their personal and professional experiences with physicians, they drew engineering language in part from their direct contacts with engineers, and in part from the general contemporary ethos of engineering. Though few of the test psychologists aspired to become engineers (and the elaboration of engineering language in psychology was correspondingly weak as compared with medical language), their involvement with engineers after about 1910 was extensive. Some of the most celebrated public figures of the period were engineers: Herbert Spencer, Charles Steinmetz, Michael Pupin, Morris L. Cooke. Schools of engineering grew, and the cumulative...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Great War
    (pp. 109-125)

    America’s entry into the Great War came at a time when psychologists were actively seeking additional research funds in order to develop mental tests that would be useful in large institutions, including the public schools. Two groups of psychologists, whose work had intersected only minimally before the war, came into direct contact and sharp conflict with one another during the war. One group, led by Robert Yerkes and including Lewis Terman, Henry Herbert Goddard, Robert Woodworth, and others, formed the Psychology Committee of the National Research Council.¹ Yerkes’s group were commissioned in the Sanitary Corps and devoted themselves to measuring...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Lingua Franca of Progressivism
    (pp. 126-140)

    Professional engineers and physicians during the Progressive Era shared a technical voice that reflected and celebrated their considerable theoretical and practical accomplishments. In addition to adopting the language of medicine and engineering, psychologists adopted this cool, impersonal technical style as their own. Their style implied, syntactically, that the research results and policy recommendations growing out of psychological testing were purely factual, matters of wide consensus, or even facts of nature, and unrelated to the political interests of the researchers. As several historians of progressivism have noted, this language of politically neutral efficiency came out of the ubiquitous scientific laboratory.¹


  13. Notes
    (pp. 141-190)
  14. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 191-204)
  15. Index
    (pp. 205-214)