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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.

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Edward A. Ross on Urbanization and the “Country Soul” January 19, 2012

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, Uncategorized.
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Edward A. Ross

Edward A. Ross

Edward Alsworth Ross (December 12, 1866–July 22, 1951) was a professor at Stanford and University of Wisconsin, founder of the sociology of “social control,” and a forefather of the sociology of deviance and criminality systematized by Robert K. Merton. Ross was also an important author of sociological introductions and textbooks, of which Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess’ Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921) and W. I. Thomas’ Source-book for Social Origins (1909) were two important examples.

Although the function of the textbook in the standardization of social scientific knowledge and methodology is an important topic and has, in my opinion, not attracted significant scholarly attention, what I am most concerned with here is what I call the persistence of gemeinschaft in the American social sciences. What I mean by this is the construction of a dichotomous relationship between city and country. Ferdinand Tonnies in the nineteenth century believed peasants and the countryside to be dominated by tradition, kinship, and custom. The cities, on the other hand, were determined by the workings of capitalism and the market. It was in the cities, as Georg Simmel observed later, that individuals achieved an immense individual freedom, but consequently, remained strangers to one another.

This was one of the latent ideas in my post on Robert Redfield and has since become a more important element of my research. The persistence of gemeinschaft also serves to shed a light on the relatively unknown historical presence of rural sociology. As importantly, the the persistence of gemeinschaft concept also dovetails nicely with discussions of “urban selection” among social theorists.

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