Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

genics movement. Readers who were managers , intellectuals , and artisans identified with the range of new professions that evaluated , tested , and classified anyone who was not white and middle-class. Middle-class practices and ideologies were de facto naturalized in magazine discourse; and biological markers of superiority complemented (and could substitute for , if necessary) the material goods that this class traditionally associated with class distinction.

The eventual demise of the eugenics movement is not evidence , however , that the assumptions of the scientific practices and public arguments were forever discredited. Historian Philip Reilly ( 1987) has observed that sterilization laws were on the books long after the eugenics movement ended. Of course , by mentioning the "demise" of eugenics , my point is certainly not to claim that many of the assumptions and problems with eugenics completely disappeared after scientific research entered the mainstream. In fact , it can be argued that the way in which the controversy over eugenics was managed in the mass media with the abstract language of progress , modernism , and democracy allowed many of the assumptions of genetics to be rearticulated in new ways. The successful management of these crises masked the rearticulation , or reinvention , of genetic and biological determinism based on class privilege. To account for this , we need an analysis of eugenics that takes seriously the dominant social order of that time.

Magazine coverage of eugenics in the first decades of this century demonstrates the contingency of biological explanations on class ideology. Diachronic narratives of eugenics are crucial to our understanding of modern genetics , especially given the erasure of our eugenics history from mainstream media. American eugenics needs to be understood as something more than the fascistic fantasies of scientists and their racist advocates in government: It was a movement launched by and in behalf of the middle class and its peculiar ethos of scientific objectivity and expertise. The site of contestation in recent years has shifted from behavior to disease , but the eugenicist reduction of pathology to genes continues today. An understanding of the origins of eugenics as a classist mediation and naturalization of social conflict is central to an ongoing examination of genetics.


Notes
1
Strother 1925, 445.
2
Haller 1984.
3
Ohmann 1996,46.
5
My study contains significant points of departure from Ohmann's , however. First , most of my evidence comes from magazine articles published in the 1910s and 1920s. Although genetics and heredity were topics covered as early as the 1880s , most articles were published in scientific journals or costly monthlies like the Atlantic or Harper's. My sample , then , reflects Progressive and post-Progressive Era economic and political conditions that postdate Ohmann's sample. Second , the PMC by the 1920s was much larger than the

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