Emeritus Professor Peter Cryle & Dr Elizabeth Stephens (University of Queensland): 'Normality: measuring practices and devices'

Normality: Measuring Practices and Devices

Peter Cryle, “Clothing Sizes and Anthropometry in the Nineteenth Century”

Elizabeth Stephens, “On Body Measurement Practices: Standardisation versus Adaptation”

Peter Cryle is an Emeritus Professor. Elizabeth Stephens is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. They hold positions in Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Queensland.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there emerged a set of practices that served to produce knowledge about populations. One of the key ways in which this was done was by measuring human bodies. That is how, before engaging in battle, conscripts to Napoleon’s army made a contribution to the state by the compulsory provision of their measurements, as they effectively became, not just cannon fodder, but fodder for statistical knowledge. Once aggregated and averaged, their measurements could serve a range of governmental purposes, including the study of regional differences in nutrition and hygiene, as well as hypotheses about “racial” differences within and between regions. A version of this general story of governmental normalisation can be found in the work of Michel Foucault. But summary accounts of normalisation indebted to Foucault tend to neglect what he saw as a double movement whereby a dynamic of homogenisation was accompanied by a dynamic of individuation and differentiation. A conceptual bridge between these two kinds of normalisation, and a way of understanding their interdependence, can be provided by studying the historical emergence of standard clothing sizes, which served both to produce and to manage individuality.