Race, Racism, and Psychology: Towards a Reflexive History

By Graham Richards | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

'Race' in European Psychology to 1940: I. Primitive minds and Aryan supermen

INTRODUCTION

Prior to the 1930s, such explicit attention as post-Victorian European academic Psychology paid to race issues was scattered and disparate. Even after 1930 only the Nazi psychologists-plus a few Italian, Dutch and East European sympathisers-tackled it systematically. In this chapter we consider two mainland European developments in the Psychological treatment of race, first examining a significant transformation of the terms in which 'primitive' psychology was conceptualised, notably by the French anthropologist-philosopher Lévy-Bruhl, and by Carl Jung and Freud. Secondly the most extreme manifestation of racist thought in Psychology, its treatment by avowedly Nazi psychologists, will be tackled.

Regarding non-Europeans, concern with 'race' took the form of a heightened anthropological interest in the subject cultures of Europe's colonies, but was of little domestic interest. The new professional anthropologists' role in this was ambiguous. Theoretically they had abandoned Scientific Racism, and more extended contact with the peoples they studied enhanced their ability to identify with them and appreciate both the complexities of their cultures and the difficulties (theoretical, linguistic and methodological) faced in doing them justice. But they were also representatives and agents of the ruling white authorities, with whose broad interests they also largely identified, and with which they had to collaborate. For these authorities the anthropologist's role was primarily to facilitate relationships between the 'natives' and themselves. An understanding of traditional 'native' institutions, ways of thinking and motivation, such as they could provide, would hopefully enhance both the efficiency and the efficacy of paternalistic colonial administration. 1


EXPLORING THE 'PRIMITIVE MIND'

If the new generation of anthropologists no longer framed their projects in evolutionary terms, no longer saw their subjects as occupying lower rungs on the ladder of a unidirectional social evolution, they entertained few doubts about the objective superiority and 'advanced' status of European culture.

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