Historicizing Intelligence

Tests, metrics and the shaping of contemporary society

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      The purpose of this project is to study the historical development of intelligence tests, IQ-scales and concepts of intelligence that such tests are based on, and have helped to produce. It deals with how the scientific research object “intelligence” has arisen and developed, how it has acquired its various roles and functions in today's Norway, and addresses the values and relations of authority and legitimacy into which intelligence measurements are woven.

      The project includes a series of case studies that address ongoing debates and processes around IQ testing, explore the long history behind the rise of the tests and IQ-scales and examine what kind of work IQ tests and related test-technologies have done and are doing in our society. We focus in on the school system and testing of school children, IQ as a diagnostic tool for mental disability, the use of IQ tests for assessments of criminal responsibility in the judicial system, and the role of intelligence measurements in eugenic thinking and sterilization practice in Norway. Based on these sub-studies, the project aims to write a synthesizing account of the development of IQ tests in Norway, from around 1900 to the present, situated in an international and transnational context.

      With Norway as a starting point, we will explore the transnational contexts, processes and actors that have shaped local developments, including the transnational companies that own and market the tests, and the international organizations, professions and professional networks involved in creating, evaluating, translating, adapting and approving tests and measurement scales. By examining the historical conditions that have given rise to test methods, measuring scales and concepts of intelligence, we aim to produce new insights into what these technologies, practices and concepts are and what kind of social role they have and should have.

      The project is organized into five work packages

      1. Translation and adaptation of IQ-tests, and their usage as diagnostic tools, 1990–present
      2. Intelligence and mental ability testing in Norway ca 1900 to the present: A long-term perspective on knowledge, objects and practices
      3. Defining normality, diagnosing intellectual disability and allocating individual rights
      4. Psychometrics in Education 1945-2020: Subjection and/or liberation of the subject?
      5. Comparing and synthesizing intelligence measuring in a transnational space

      Collaborating projects

      Historicizing educational testing is an archiving project at the Department of Education, University of Oslo. It aims to arrange and catalogue and make available instruments, tests, published and archival sources that is stored in the basement of the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Oslo and that can be linked to the emergence of standardized tests, intelligence tests, tests and exams in Norway from 1900 to today. The project is a collaboration between our project, the Department of Education, the research project Transnational Trends and Contesting Concepts for Measuring Merit in the Nordic Countries, and the project Spesialsamlinger og databaser at the University of Oslo Library.

      Solveig Marie Siem is in charge of the practical implementation of the project.