• Silence and Selection: the "trick cyclist" at the War Office Selection Boards

    Alice White (see profile)
    British History, War Studies
    Great Britain, History, Science, Military history
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    20th Century, psychoanalysis, Psychology, British history, History of science
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    In 1939, psychiatrists wrote to the War Office of Britain to offer up their services in the likely event of war. The response? A resounding silence. This unpromising start marked the first words (and the first silence) in a discussion of psychological science that would span the war. The " trick cyclist " , or psychiatrist, was a controversial figure during World War II. At War Office Selection Boards, psychiatrists sought a voice to speak not only of the deviant populations that they conventionally studied, but also to discuss normal and even superior members of society. Winston Churchill, amongst others, was not at all sure about this, noting the 'immense amount of harm' they might do. Suspicions of 'these gentlemen' and their affiliation with taboos such as sex, resulted in a number of enquiries into, and limitations upon, their work at Selection Boards during the war (Churchill, 2010, p.815). The most contentious site of such negotiation and contention was the psychiatric interview, where psychiatrists assessed soldiers put forward for commission. This chapter analyses the the technique of the psychiatric interview at the War Office Selection Board as the point of intersection between Army authorities, soldiers, and psychiatrists: those commissioning science, those subject to the gaze of science, and those practicing science.
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    7 years ago
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