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Research Project by Dr. Susanne Schregel

“Intelligent/Unintelligent. A History of Intelligence as a Socio-political Distinction (Germany and Great Britain, ca. 1880–1990)”

The project aims to write a history of ‘intelligence’ as a socio-political distinction (in Germany and Great Britain, ca. 1880 to 1990). It seeks to show how debates about cognitive capacities, being intelligent or being unintelligent shaped fundamental differentiations which contributed to social stratification in modern society and partially legitimized or challenged its socio-political order. The project is based on the hypothesis that the appeal to intelligence facilitated historically flexible differentiations between entities that were understood as more or less intelligent and helped to establish interrelations of superiority and inferiority between them.
This did not just affect the relative position of human individuals, but also of other entities which were rated as ‘intelligent’, for instance animals and machines. The example of intelligence therefore offers a methodological opportunity to progress from a history of social inequality between persons into the broader history of social practices surrounding categorisation and hierarchy.

The investigation will focus on the concrete discourses and practices which served to assign, maintain or question social positions. As sources, the study will mostly consider popular publications and flyers which illustrate the handling of ‘intelligence’ at the interface between scientific, technical and public political debates – for instance newspaper and journal articles, publications from psychology and education, publications on the testing and advancement of intelligence for a general public, or political leaflets and pamphlets.