Analyzing the Human Factor in British Industrial Psychology, 1919-1939
Picard, Danielle Renae
This dissertation examines the role that various publics have played in the creation and transmission of scientific knowledge of the human body at work. It focuses on the early development of industrial psychology as a way to explore how applied sciences developed outside the bounds of the university during interwar Britain. By examining the political and social landscape in which the National Institute of Industrial Psychology (NIIP) developed, this project shows how researchers gained and lost scientific credibility through their interactions with a diverse array of scientists, politicians, industry leaders, advocacy groups, and the broader public. I argue that the NIIP’s science was affected by several vectors of influence including popular culture, labor disputes, funding for science, disability rights movements, and the beginnings of the British welfare state. “Analyzing the Human Factor” explores the social aspects inherent in the knowledge-making process. Although mechanization and industrialization were of great interest in British society, the researchers who studied its psychological effects had difficulties acquiring funding and support for their research. Through its efforts to connect to contemporary discourses about the robotization of the workforce, unemployment, social welfare, and eugenics, the Institute was able to attract interest from across the political and socioeconomic spectrum. However, these publics had profound influences on the types of research the Institute produced and how it was disseminated. My research contributes new understandings on the nature of science communication and the importance of scientific publics in the development of psychology. In contrast to scholarship that has emphasized psychologists’ direct access to their audiences, my work demonstrates how socially and politically powerful groups have moderated the information various publics received about the mind and body at work. Finally, my research rescues from obscurity an institution that positioned itself at the intersection of broad social concerns and economic challenges. Contrary to narratives that have emphasized the Institute’s failures, my work follows an ambitious scientific project that cut across many layers of interwar British society.