Race, Racism, and Psychology: Towards a Reflexive History

By Graham Richards | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

'Race' in European Psychology to 1940: II. Its presence and absence in British Psychology

INTRODUCTION

In the received historical image, such as it is, British Psychology from 1913 to 1940 is pervasively racist, 1 primarily because of the deep Galtonian roots and eugenic connections of its strong psychometric tradition. With Britain as the world's greatest imperial power, it is also perhaps taken for granted that most British Psychology must have been implicitly racist. Since the 1898 Cambridge Torres Straits Expedition, which initiated professional Psychological racedifference research, was also British we might again expect a continuing interest in the topic. In this chapter I examine how far the evidence justifies this image. First the presence of racial topics of a psychological kind in the eugenics literature is assessed. Secondly the positions of the Cambridge School psychologists (W.H.R. Rivers, Frederic Bartlett and C.S. Myers) are discussed. Thirdly the positions of William McDougall and R.B. Cattell are considered. Fourthly I identify the main race-related themes tackled in British Psychological journals, text-books and other genres before, finally, addressing the implications of all this.


PSYCHOLOGICAL RACE DIFFERENCES IN BRITISH EUGENICS

That Galton, the founder of eugenics, and his successor Karl Pearson were racist is indisputable. The existence of profound race differences was a central dogma of 19th and early 20th century eugenic and degenerationist thought and Galton himself one of the main architects of Scientific Racism. As we have seen, US eugenics under C.B. Davenport and H.H. Laughlin was adamantly racist and a major force in promoting Race Psychology. Moreover, Galton and Pearson virtually founded the psychometric tradition. By 1913 the value of the eugenic approach to social problems was accepted across the ideological spectrum 2 and the utility of psychometric techniques as an adjunct to this was fast gaining credibility. All this being conceded we might well expect racial issues to maintain a constant, if not necessarily large, presence in British eugenics discourse at least until the mid to late 1930s when Nazism put the topic beyond the pale. Let us then examine the two principal eugenics journals: The Eugenics Review (founded 1909) and Pearson's Annals of Eugenics (founded 1925).

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