Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History and Sociology of Science

First Advisor

John Tresch

Abstract

This dissertation explores the creation, distribution, and use of five personality tests found extensively in corporate America from the mid-1940s to the end of the 20th century. The management techniques in which these tests—the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, California Psychological Inventory, Thematic Apperception Test, Maslach Burnout Inventory, and Stanford Shyness Survey—were embedded helped create a corporate environment that seemed at once more considerate of individual differences in personality and behavior and yet somehow also more constraining in the ways people were encouraged to live and work both inside and outside the office. In light of this tension, the problem my dissertation seeks to answer is: how and why did many come to see self-discovery and self-actualization as best achieved through self-management, self-discipline, and, in many cases, the narrowing of the possibilities of the self? This dissertation argues that the use of personality tests and self-assessments—alongside the rise of both humanistic psychology and new forms of neoliberal capitalism—carried with it a very particular rhetoric of personal freedom and individual liberation, one that had in fact been carefully crafted by psychologists and corporate managers in order to predict and control the behavior of the groups under their care. On top of this, self-assessments anchored a sociotechnical system that looked as if it illuminated unique parts of the individual, but which was in fact made up of routinized techniques for creating more efficient, productive, and perhaps more importantly, more profitable workers. By following these five tests from conception to development to their eventual use in corporate management, the power and influence of overlapping networks of researchers, universities, funding sources, publishers, and companies are seen in greater relief, and the outsized influence of Silicon Valley on postwar social scientific knowledge and management practice is made evident.

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