Race, Racism, and Psychology: Towards a Reflexive History

By Graham Richards | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

An imperial interlude: the Cambridge Torres Straits Expedition and its aftermath

In March 1898 the Australia-bound S.S. Duke of Westminster slipped its moorings in London's Royal Albert Docks. Along with a party of clergymen, including the Bishop of North Queensland, Dr Barlow (who would give Sunday sermons throughout the voyage), the passengers included a group of anthropologists and psychologists (whose leader, Arthur C. Haddon, would often follow these with a talk on some ethnographic topic such as the aborigine bull-roarer). 1 This latter group comprised the Cambridge Torres Straits Expedition, 2 its other six members being W.H.R. Rivers (who had only decided to come at the last moment), his students C.S. Myers and William McDougall, the anthropologist C.G. Seligman, the linguist Sidney H. Ray, 3 and A. Wilken, an archaeologist, anthropologist and photographer. 4 This was the most ambitious and scientifically equipped anthropological field expedition yet mounted, and its researches were to include psychological as well as anthropological matters. Its consequences would extend way beyond the five volumes of Reports which appeared between 1901 and 1912. 5

How far did the expedition move beyond the prevailing Scientific Racism orthodoxy? What impact did it have on Psychology's treatment of the race issue? The usual anthropological view of the episode is as a major step towards more rigorous and scientific field-work methodology and, via its conversion of Rivers to a passionate interest in anthropology, 6 a leading factor in the emergence of the British 'functionalist' school of Radcliffe-Brown and Evans-Pritchard. 7 From Psychology's side it is seen as the foundation, or more accurately an anticipation, of what would later be called Cross-cultural Psychology, as well as having ancillary significance both for methodology and within the intellectual biographies of Rivers, McDougall, and Myers. While historians of anthropology (such as Henrika Kuklick, Ian Langham, G.W. Stocking, and James Urry) have frequently discussed the episode, Psychology's historians have been relatively less interested, partly because they have mostly been US-centred, 8 and partly because, since the Psychological research was not subsequently followed up on a signicant scale, it remains somewhat isolated as a one-off event. 9 Haddon, (in whom, being an anthropologist, historians of Psychology have little interest) was the expedition's prime mover and his position on 'race' must be considered first.

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