The Production of “Normal Men” in Midcentury America
The notion of “disability” relies on the concept of “normal.” Like disability, normality has a traceable history as an epistemological category. The mobilization of soldiers during World War II and, to a lesser degree, World War I, meant thousands of minds and bodies could be, and were, measured. A curious obsession with defining “normal” took hold, as doctors, scientists, and anthropologists gathered and applied statistical data to try measure “normal” bodies and describe “normal” character. Enlistees were subjected to psychological testing; sexologists used anthropometric methods to map the “normal” American body; and an interdisciplinary team at Harvard launched a longitudinal study of “normal men.” Taken together, such pursuits of “normality” were inextricable from midcentury anxieties about mental health, embodiment, masculinity, and the nation. By illuminating and gendering the “normal,” such forces functioned both to evoke and then exclude “disabled” bodies from the social body.
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