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Christopher Donohue at Imperial College London on Thursday January 6, 2013

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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University of Maryland PhD student and Ether Wave Propaganda contributor Christopher Donohue has been spending time this academic year in Moscow, at the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities, which is part of the National Research University Higher School of Economics. This week, he will be passing through London, and on Thursday, 10 January, he will be speaking at Imperial College London’s CHoSTM seminar. The seminar will be held, as usual, from 4 to 6pm at the Seminar and Learning Centre (SALC) on the 5th floor of the Sherfield Building in South Kensington. His talk is titled:

From ‘Natural Selection’ to ‘Social Selection’: The Differentiation and Career of a Concept in Early Twentieth-Century Social Thought.

Abstract below the fold

Building on the work of the ethnologist Paul Broca, Georges Vacher de Lapouge in “Les Sélections Sociales” (1896) argued that while “natural selection” was most important in determining the fitness of animals in nature, the “fitness” of human beings, due to the existence of civilization, was determined by fundamentally different factors. Rather than physical strength, resistance to disease, or the ability to obtain food or a mate, the “fitness” of human beings was defined by such diverse elements as marriage customs, legal institutions, occupations, social class, war, and residency within the urban city as opposed to the country.

Lapouge’s work inaugurated a decades-long debate among social theorists in Britain, the United States, France, and Germany, which included figures as diverse as the sociologists Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Edward Ross, and the economist William Ripley over the exact scope, power, and mechanisms of “social selection.”  Discussions of “social selection” refined detailed debates over the nature of civilization, the role of institutions in the development of individual and group psychology, and the divide between the animal and the human among numerous and important social theorists of the time.

The presentation will describe how social theorists in Europe and America used the concepts “natural selection” as well as “social selection” to determine the critical divide between the “natural” and the “social” from the beginning of the twentieth century to the years leading up to the inter-war period.  The presentation will also depict how the debate over “social selection” and “natural selection” greatly helped to define the subject matter of the rapidly developing social sciences in the first decades of the twentieth century.  Finally, the presentation will end with a consideration of how the terms “social selection” and “natural selection” continue to characterize discussions of “social evolution” and the relationship between “culture” and biology in the work of Walter G. Runciman, Gray Dorsey, and Marvin Harris.

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