Eugenics

Welcome to my favorite research topic: Eugenics – both its history and contemporary practices with eugenical roots and rationale. This page will always be under construction.  The format follows my “Eugenics…It’s still a thing” workshop outline.

About my interest in Eugenics Based Practices

I used to tell people, “Eugenics is my thing,” until a classmate at Widener stopped me and asked me to clarify – was I studying eugenics or was I interested in practicing it. The short answer is I study both eugenics and the social context & rationale of those who support eugenics as a practice.

It is much easier to look at the past and identify the times where eugenics and eugenics based practices were employed. As we grow in our understanding of genetics, social determinates of health, and which attributes belong to nature, nurture, or random chance it is going to be harder to identify eugenics as it happened. 

For example, in the early 20th Century, people thought alcoholism could be avoided through selective breeding and controlling the reproduction of people who were viewed not only as alcoholics – but all of the people who shared their bloodline. Then we learned that many other factors, like experience, trauma, and physiology have more of an impact on the likelihood to become an alcoholic than family history (although that is one of the risk-elevating factors). Now we know all of those things – and that some people are genetically predisposed to developing alcoholism.

In looking at contemporary practices, we don’t have the luxury of looking at impact over history as we can with the Holocaust or Mississippi Appendectomy.*  Instead, we have to examine the scientific grounding, social context, intent, and immediate outcomes of questionable policies, practices, and attitudes. Currently, I am working on the Eugenics-Based Practices framework as a way to examine tools of oppression. 

*The Holocaust during WWII was the genocide of all people deemed by the Third Reich to be “unfit.” I do not generally talk about the Holocaust during discussions of eugenics because it overshadows the eugenics practices in the US – which served as a model for Hitler and the Third Reich in their movement to torture, experiment on, and ultimately murder  11 million citizens including (primarily) European Jews, those of Slavic and Roma descent, political and religious opponents, queer and trans folks, and the “incurably sick” – meaning those with varied disabilities and medical conditions. 

Eugenics – Some Definitions

  • The science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable [heritable] characteristics. – Oxford English Dictionary
  • Eugenics in most western countries in the first four decades of the 20th century was based on the idea that genes control most human phenotypic traits, everything from physical features such as polydactyly and eye colour to physiological conditions such as the A-B-O blood groups to mental and personality traits such as “feeblemindedness,” alcoholism and pauperism.  (Allen, 2011)
  • Eugenics, a twentieth-century form of social control masquerading as science, was built from the classificatory disciplines of nineteenth-century anthropology, natural and biological sciences, and sexology.  (Cohler, 2014)

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(Contents of these folders are for educational use only – and they typically don’t align with my beliefs about eugenics based practices.)