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Alexander M. Carr-Saunders on Social Selection, Heredity, and Tradition May 6, 2013

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
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Alexander M. Carr-Saunders (14th January 1886-6th October 1966) was president of the London School of Economics from 1937 to 1956.  When his The Population Problem: A Study in Human Evolution appeared in 1922, it cemented his reputation.  According to his obituary in Population Studies this book has since been viewed as a seminal contribution to “social biology” due to its formulation of the “optimum number.”  Carr-Saunders defined the optimum number as the greatest number of individuals who could be sustained by a given environment.  For Carr-Saunders, moreover, this optimum number “involves the idea of the standard of living,” where in order to reach and to maintain this standard of living, populations, from primitive to civilized, employ practices to either “reduce fertility” or to “cause elimination,” including abortion, abstinence from sexual intercourse, and infanticide, in greater or lesser proportions (214.)

Alexander M. Carr-Saunders

Alexander M. Carr-Saunders

This was not all, however, as the maintenance of the highest standard of living possible required that the  “younger generation must become proficient in the skilled methods which makes this standard possible of attainment, and in particular it is important that young men should not marry unless they are both energetic and skillful.”  In such basic facts “we may see evidence exerted by social conditions and conventions” (224.)

Carr-Saunders has attracted some attention from Hayek scholars due to his influence on Hayek’s notion of cultural evolution.  Erik Angner in Hayek and Natural Law contends, “there is good reason to think that Hayek’s evolutionary thought was significantly inspired by Carr-Saunders and other Oxford zoologists” in particular supplying Hayek’s understanding of the mechanisms of group selection.



Joseph Deniker, Species, and the “Northern Race” (Part 1) May 4, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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Joseph Deniker

Joseph Deniker’s (1852-1915) human geography and ethnography illustrates the eternal persistence of old debates and the various uses of canonical authors, Cuvier and Darwin among them.  There has been in my estimation no satisfactory narrative of the species problem from Cuvier through Prichard, Darwin, and turn of the century anthropologists, ethnologists, and human geographers.  Nor has there been a consistent appraisal of the appropriation of the “canon” of naturalists and ethnologists by late nineteenth and early twentieth century naturalists, ethnologists, and anthropologists.

Historians have generally narrated turn of the century ethnological debates in France, Britain, Germany, and the United States solely in terms of their contributions to eugenics or the rise of statistics.  David Livingston, among others, has written Whiggishly about the development of human geography as a discipline or inquiry.  It is unclear whether any of the authors surveyed at the turn of the century considered themselves as contributing to any kind of discipline. I am certain that any division between a “racial” and “scientific” human geography, emerging in the inter-war period is terribly overdrawn.  Deniker’s work illustrates the live nature of many nineteenth century debates at the turn of the century.  His influence on as diverse figures as Madison Grant, A.C. Haddon, and Julian Huxley, each representative of eugenics, “becoming scientific,” and “post-Boasian” ethnology, respectively, points to the ambiguous uses of turn of the century ethnology and the astonishing breath and depth of the ethnographic canon.


Human Geography and Environmental Determinism: The Arguments of Ellsworth Huntington and Ellen Semple September 17, 2010

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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In the literature detailing the foundation of the discipline of human geography, it is widely argued that the opening decades of the 20th century saw this developing enterprise in the throes of “environmental determinism.”

Ellsworth Huntington

Such determinism, furthermore, developed a series of propositions which defended racial superiority through a utilization of the guise of the objective, scientific geographer.  Thus, David Livingston, in his The Geographical Tradition (1993,)concludes that Huntington, in his Character of the Races (1924) conjoined “ethnic constitution” to “climactic circumstance,” which argued that “racial character was spatially referenced and could thus be presented in cartographic form.”  This “cartographic enterprise” in which the distributions of genius, health, and civilization were conveniently tied to the percepts of “cultural imperialism,” exactly those eschewed by Franz Boas.  In Huntington’s scheme, climate influenced health and energy, which in turn influenced civilization (225-6.)  Mark Blacksell in his Political Geography (2005,) notes that, “For a time in North America, in the first half of the twentieth century, environmental determinism held greater sway, largely through the writings of Ellen Semple and Ellsworth Huntington, but its intellectual dominance there was short-lived, not least because of the racist conclusions the philosophy frequently spawned (140.)