Politics of performance standards in public health and education in Victorian England

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Thursday 22 March
Room 16, Medecroft, King Alfred Campus, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, Hampshire So22 4NR

​The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed an ongoing and highly self-conscious search for standards by which to allocate public resources and to judge the success of government on a national scale – a precursor, perhaps, to today's obsession with performance indicators and measurement. By the turn of the century there was widespread discussion regarding 'standards of life' and 'national minimums'. But what were these standards – and how were they formulated? The aim of this paper is to examine the fractious and sometimes confused search for standards in two fields of governance: public health and education.

Each field possessed peculiar dynamics and tensions: in the case of public health, for instance, standards were formulated statistically as death rates; whereas in education they were presented as a series of national 'Codes' and 'Standards' detailing pupil attainment and how it should be measured. Equally, there are also interesting analogies in terms of the generation, conception and, above all perhaps, contestation of these standards; and it is these analogies which will form the focus of the paper. To some extent both cases attest to a process of administrative 'normalization' (Foucault; Ewald); but what is most striking is the awareness of how provisional and imperfect these standards were, the pragmatism which attended their use, and the continual revision and critique they underwent.

This talk will be given by Dr Tom Crook, Oxford Brookes University.

This event is from the Centre for Medical History. For more information about the centre, click here

To book, email: Kelyn.Passmore@winchester.ac.uk

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