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From the Science of Selection to Psychologising Civvy Street: The Tavistock Group, 1939-1948

White, Alice Victoria (2016) From the Science of Selection to Psychologising Civvy Street: The Tavistock Group, 1939-1948. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (KAR id:55057)

Language: English
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The work of psychiatrists affiliated with the Tavistock Clinic and Tavistock Institute has been credited with reshaping how workplaces were managed and with psychologising British society, providing British people with a new psychological language for thinking about problems. This thesis provides a history of the Second World War roots of this work. It examines two projects which emerged from a remarkable collaboration between the Tavistock group and the British Army: the War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs) and Civil Resettlement Units (CRUs). These projects, whose scale was vast and unprecedented in British human science, involved the creation and management of processes to choose leaders and to help communities disrupted by war to return to peace.

As well as exploring how particular psychological programmes, theories, methods and technologies were devised, this work considers the implications of this work for those who were involved in the wartime work. It provides a history of the co-constitution of psychological expertise, military management strategies, technologies of assessment, and therapeutic intervention. This is achieved by reconstructing the complex negotiations that surrounded the WOSBs and CRUs, by tracing the macro-scale social concerns and the micro-scale personal relationships of individuals that shaped the WOSBs and the CRUs. Historiographical approaches such as actor-network theory and S.L. Star’s work on “boundary objects” are used to examine how psychological theories were balanced with military expectations and demands. The thesis highlights the importance of communication strategies, the negotiation of networks, and administrative structures in the production of science and expertise.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Sleigh, Charlotte
Thesis advisor: Nasim, Omar
Uncontrolled keywords: Tavistock war; psychiatry; psychology; psychoanalysis; British Army; science; history; selection; resettlement;
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2016 11:00 UTC
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2022 08:21 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

White, Alice Victoria.

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