Historicizing intelligence 3

Defining normality, diagnosing intellectual disability and allocating individual rights

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Participants: Linda Gröning, Svein Atle Skålevåg, Per Haave

This workpackage explores two main topics, IQ and eugenics and IQ and criminal law, and deals specifically with the role of IQ testing in the definition and handling of people diagnosed as intellectually disabled. Intellectual disability is today diagnosed according to mainly two criteria; the reduced ability to cope with daily life and impaired cognitive abilities as measured by IQ. IQ is thus a key criterion for diagnosing intellectual disability and grading it into levels of severity. Historically, this diagnosis has had, and still has, important implications for many aspects of the legal status of the diagnosed individual.

IQ and eugenics (Haave)

We will trace the role of eugenics in the history of intelligence testing, and the role of a eugenic understanding of intelligence in the histories of psychiatry, mental deficiency policy and sterilization practice between the 1920s and the 1960s. In Norway, these decades cover the ‘rise and fall’ of the idea and practice of ‘negative eugenics’ (e.g. segregation and sterilization), in which psychometric tests and the invention of ‘mental age’ and IQ justified bodily control and an exclusionary understanding of citizenship.

Two studies address the topic of IQ and eugenics
  • The first explore the changing understandings of intelligence and intelligence testing within Norwegian psychiatry and mental deficiency policy. In particular, the study will explore the making (1920s–1930s) and unmaking (1960s) of the eugenic understanding of intelligence, which made intelligence a criteria to determine who were biologically and socially ‘unfit’, and, hence, should be deprived their reproductive capacity by means of ‘negative eugenics’. The study will be based on text analysis of policy documents, public reports, professional publications and published minutes of professional meetings.
  • The second turns the attention to the application of the Norwegian sterilization law of 1934. Based on existing literature and new readings of previously collected, anonymized medical records from the Norwegian so-called sterilization archive in the National Archives of Norway (Riksarkivet), the study will explore the use of intelligence testing and its practical implications for those (mostly women) who were deemed ‘unfit’ to reproduce. Besides paying attention to the gendered sterilization practice, the study will explore the fact that the post-war sterilization of ‘high-grade defective’ and ‘near-normal intelligent’ women gradually outnumbered the sterilization of ‘low-grade defective’ women.
IQ and the criminal law (Gröning og Skålevåg)

The second topic concerns the significance of IQ in the criminal law. It consists of three studies (see below) that explore IQ as a criterion for identifying those intellectually disabled offenders that are considered to lack criminal capacity, and therefore be exempted from criminal responsibility and from punishment. The studies start out from the introduction of IQ as an assessment criterion in Norwegian criminal law in the early twentieth century and explores its significance until the most recent legal reform that took place in 2020. When, why and how was the IQ-test introduced in the criminal law and criminal proceedings, and how and to what extent has it influenced legal decisions about individual’s criminal responsibility?

The three studies in this topic are interrelated and they will together provide a comprehensive understanding of the understanding and relevance of IQ-testing in criminal law and legal practice:

  • The first focuses on the understanding embedded in the legislative level, of intellectual disability as grounds for defining offenders as criminal irresponsible. Based on text analysis of policy documents, this study explores how this understanding has changed through the different legal reforms that has taken place since 1902, until today (in 1902, 1929, 1974, 1990 and 2020).
  • The second turns the attention to the level of legal practice and the introduction of IQ-tests in Norwegian criminal law courts. This study includes an analysis of court rulings and expert reports written by forensic psychiatrists, from ca. 1910 until the Second World War. It seeks to map the early occurrences of intelligence testing, the primary actors behind its introduction and its legal consequences.
  • The third focuses on the changes that has occurred in Norwegian law the last years, since the recent law reform in 2020. Through this reform, it seems like the significance of IQ-testing for identifying criminal incapable offenders has been down-played, in favor of a larger judicial discretion. In addition, the IQ threshold that may indicate criminal incapacity has been raised from 55 to 60. Based on analysis of policy documents, this study will explore the rationale behind this reform, including its possible consequences. The study will also draw from the second study and include analysis of how the legal reform affect the reasoning of judges and experts in criminal cases.
Participating researchers

Historian Per Haave is a key contributor to the history of psychiatry and medicine in Norway and the leading expert on the history of eugenics and eugenic sterilizations in Norway. Professors of law and history Linda Gröning and Sven Atle Skålevåg respectively are recognised experts on criminal (in)capacity. Gröning has profound legal and interdisciplinary knowledge about the rules and practices where IQ plays a role for criminal responsibility. Skålevåg has thorough historical knowledge about these rules and how they have developed in the intersection between law and psychiatry and significant methodological historical skills.

Publisert 25. jan. 2022 14:49 - Sist endret 14. nov. 2022 14:31