From Natural Science to Social Science: Race and the Language of Race Relations in Late Victorian and Edwardian Discourse

Douglas Lorimer

in Lineages of Empire

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780197264393
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734571 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

From Natural Science to Social Science: Race and the Language of Race Relations in Late Victorian and Edwardian Discourse

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This chapter focuses on the emergence of modern racist ideology during the nineteenth century. It examines the role played by the Victorian anatomists and anthropologists who constructed classifications of humans according to racial type, and depicted these types as having distinct and certain characteristics determined by their biological inheritance. This ideology of racism is a racial inequality dependent on a biological determinism based on science. From the 1930s to the 1950s, developments in science, specifically in human genetics and anthropology, led to the retreat from scientific racism and biological determinism. In the aftermath of the Second World War, movements such as the international consensus on human rights and equality, decolonization, and civil rights advancement brought new hope to the eradication of racism. Despite initiatives for the abolition of racism, forms of inequality and discrimination persisted. These persistent forms of racism were largely based on institutional or pragmatic racism and deviated from the theoretical racism backed by biological determinism and scientific racism. They posed a great challenge to the empire. Taking the dominant mode of thinking on race as biological determinism, this chapter aims to reconsider this thinking as it misrepresents the Victorian discourse and misconstrues the nineteenth-century legacy on racism and race relations. What follows is an outline of the fault lines surrounding the disputes over the meaning and significance of race.

Keywords: modern racist ideology; nineteenth century; Victorian anatomists; Victorian anthropologists; classifications of humans; racial type; racism; racial inequality; biological determinism; science

Chapter.  13801 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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