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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

Historicizing Intelligence: Tests, metrics and the shaping of contemporary society

Alternative title: I intelligensens tidsalder: Tester og målinger i historisk perspektiv

Awarded: NOK 13.7 mill.

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2021 - 2025


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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 has helped to produce. The project deals with how the scientific research object ?intelligence? has arisen and has developed, how it has acquired the various roles and functions it has in today's Norway, and the values and relations of authority and legitimacy into which intelligence measurements are woven. Projects include 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 the development in Norway, 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 used in Norway 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.

Despite the widespread use of IQ and related mental abilities tests in diverse social settings, there is no consensus on their workings as descriptive/diagnostic devices or on the conceptual apparatus of intelligence-related assumptions that accompanies them. The aim of this project is to study how these tests and varied understandings of intelligence have come-into-being as scientific objects of inquiry and how they perform diverse roles in today’s Norway. Our research will promote an in-depth discussion on the entanglements of science, technology, politics, economy, law and culture that produce knowledge, value and legitimacy related to intelligence testing. It will build on a series of studies, which will a) address the contemporary situation and follow recent debates around IQ-testing, b) situate intelligence testing in a long-term historical perspective by focusing on the tests and scales themselves, c) examine the work that mental abilities testing technologies do in society, with a special emphasis in legal and educational practices, and d) synthesize these diverse empirical case studies into a coherent account of the development of intelligence testing in Norway, viewed through a transnational and comparative lens. By historicizing these technoscientific infrastructures and concepts, our ambition is to advance knowledge about what these technologies, practices and concepts are and what their societal roles are and should be. While directing attention to local and Norwegian situations, our transnational approach aims to address the global material and intellectual networks of interchanges that have shaped these local developments . The project seeks to impact the general public discourse, as well as professional discussions and practices among those who use the tests and will strive to engage groups affected by testing practices.

Publications from Cristin

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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell