Race, science and medicine 1700-1960
Ernst, Waultraud and Harris, Bernard (eds.) (1999) Race, science and medicine 1700-1960, London, UK, Routledge, 312pp. (Studies in the Social History of Medicine).
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This is an eclectic collection of essays on the intersections between race, science, and medicine over two-and-one-half centuries. The case studies focus on British imperialism (with one exception, "A Virulent Strain: German Bacteriology as Scientific Racism, 1890-1920," by Paul Weindling).
Waltraud Ernst in an introductory essay presents the papers as a look at the "heterogeneity of racial discourses," "the diversity of thinkers," "the variety of perspectives," "differences in the tenor of scientific debates," and "the different social and political forces" (p. 7). This is all very true. There are good essays in the collection, and readers will find their own favorites. It is harder, however, to find an organizing principle, or an ideal group of readers. The papers address the general theme of the relation of culture to biology and, as Ernst rightly points out, "racial discourses work well not despite their logical inconsistencies, ambiguities and mixing up of premises but because of them [italics in original]" (p. 7). However, the introductory effort to frame general questions, in order to underscore a shared theme for the essays, unfortunately remains only general. (Asking the "important question as to whether binary distinctions . . . can legitimately be sustained" [p. 6] seems to me to elicit only one possible answer, an answer that became the consensus long ago.) In publishing the book in a library edition (at $90) Routledge ensures it a selected readership.
The first essay by Norris Saakwa-Mante, "Western Medicine and Racial Constitutions: [End Page 150] Surgeon John Atkins' Theory of Polygenism and Sleepy Distemper in the 1730s," underscores the racialization of disease in the eighteenth century. This was in part a result of technological changes (the development of global travel) and the initial understanding of early epidemiology. Race theory is shown to have been closely related to the understanding of sleeping sickness, as well as to the development of polygenism and later to studies of craniometry. From there on the collection follows a rough chronological order, tracing the invention of the term Caucasian and relating it to an improbable biblical exegesis as a source of scientific data (H. F. Augstein), followed by essays on colonial psychiatry in India (Waltraud Ernst) and Africa (Harriet Deacon). These are all informative essays, which add to our understanding of the particular cases.
One interesting question that appears more or less explicit in various essays is the issue of hybridity, a concept that has become very popular in postcolonial studies. Here it is explored as the blurring of not only racial but also class categories: wealth has diminished racial distance, while poverty has increased it. This is analyzed interestingly by David Arnold in an essay on Bengal, "'An Ancient Race Outworn': Malaria and Race in Colonial India, 1860-1930." Arnold concludes that race was shaped by social class; thus inferiority ranking could either be reinforced or challenged depending on the correlation of race and class. Deacon, analogously, shows that the African asylum could be a place where racial stereotypes were as likely to be (somewhat) challenged as enforced.
Mark Jackson writing on Down syndrome, Michael Worboys on tuberculosis, and Paul Weindling on German bacteriology inject race into relatively known stories to examine how these histories change as a result. Worboys shows that TB research in part did not support the rejection of scientific racism between the two world wars, though it did open research avenues--in particular with regard to the immune system--that challenged racial distinctions and emphasized environmental changes. Weindling begins with the racial imperialist bacteriology of the turn of the century (1900) and the support by Koch and his followers for racial science. Yet from the 1890s up to the First World War the racist construction of bacteriology was relatively benign, compared with the later developments of "virulent hostility."
Mathew Thomson traces the decline of interest in racial psychology in Britain between the wars, but claims that the influence of race in alternative modernist social discourses remained important. Those larger discourses are described by Bernard Harris in "Pro-Alienism, Anti-Alienism and the Medical Profession in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain." Harris's aim is to illuminate the pro-alien sentiments, given that anti-immigrationism has been the subject of extensive literature. Especially interesting in this case is the evidence adduced by pro-immigrationists regarding the relative health of the aliens, which often was superior to the English poor, and also the significance of the environment and education in improving health.
|Subjects:||H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)|
|Divisions:||University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Social Sciences > Sociology and Social Policy
|Date Deposited:||06 Feb 2008|
|Last Modified:||02 Mar 2012 13:07|
|Contributors:||Ernst, Waultraud (Editor)
Harris, Bernard (Editor)
|RDF:||RDF+N-Triples, RDF+N3, RDF+XML, Browse.|
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