Are you an introvert or an extravert? Do you prefer detail-oriented work or big-picture thinking? Are you motivated to work by a desire for meaning or for financial well-being? What’s your personality type? Such questions appear on workplace personality tests, encountered in management training seminars or in self-help books and business blogs.
My research is animated by an inquiry into how psychological knowledge circulates in society, beyond university or laboratory settings, through personality tests such as these, in order to become a part of people’s own identity. My dissertation, “Personality Incorporated,” narrates how management consultants and psychologists developed psychological testing and training techniques to measure, and elicit, psychological skills amongst an emerging post-war management class. These management practitioners claimed that cultivating the psychological capacities of corporate workers—their capacity to motivate themselves, think intuitively, and work in teams—would garner economic returns for the corporations, and emotional fulfillment for the worker.
As an interdisciplinary historian of psychology and management, I draw on a broad body of scholarly work, including feminist science studies, critical management studies, and critical theory, to show how this nexus of psychology and management is a key site for understanding how psychological knowledge circulates, economic value accrues, and identity is formed.