Anthropology, Colonialism, and Eugenics

Philippa Levine

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780195373141
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199940417 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Anthropology, Colonialism, and Eugenics

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This article traces what catalyzed the ideas of eugenic policies, what gave them weight in an increasingly precise scientific environment. It draws an explicit link between this interest and the development of eugenics. It presents the association between the emergence of anthropology and a growing interest in dying race theory. It provides the basic concepts of the term “savage” as it seems to have become widespread. The idea of the savage fed assumptions that are discussed here under eugenics relate to topics such as reproductive capacity, the idea of generational throwbacks, and crucially what role the environment plays in promoting or preventing development. The article thus reflects an older anxiety about environment rather than heredity, thus destabilizing not only the twin powers of civilization and colonialism, but also the new hereditarian orthodoxy out of which eugenics was born and is growing.

Keywords: eugenic policies; anthropology; savage; colonialism; environment

Article.  8527 words. 

Subjects: Colonialism and Imperialism

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