Defining "normal" in their own image: psychological professionals, middle-class normativity, and the postwar popularization of psychology
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This dissertation examines the relationship between the growth and popularization of psychology in American life in the postwar period and Americans’ belief that theirs is a “classless,” or overwhelmingly middle-class, society. I argue that psychology has, until recently, inadvertently naturalized middle-class norms of self-perception, communication, aspirations, and subjectivity. From the 1950s on, the United States has been what observers call a “therapeutic culture.” Psychological ideas have infused the major arenas of American life, including the educational, judicial, commercial, political, personal, and interpersonal realms. This project examines the origins and development of psychological professionals’ views of class, highlighting the professional, economic, disciplinary, and cultural factors that combined to form those views. I analyze a small but persistent thread of dialogue in the professional literature of the period that questioned mainstream psychological assumptions about class, and I explore how that impulse developed into major mental health policy initiatives in the 1960s, then was undermined by political and social conflicts. I also develop a case history of one mental health project that attempted to transcend psychology’s class biases, only to be contained by structural and disciplinary factors. After examining psychological professionals’ views of various publics, this project investigates a series of publics’ views of psychological practitioners. I draw on popular portrayals of postwar psychological practitioners across various media, including one particular working-class medium, postwar men’s adventure magazines, and employ classic cultural studies readings to analyze the significant differences in the portrayals.