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Past Futures: On the Conceptual History of Eugenics—a Social Technology of the Past

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Based on an introduction to the conceptual history of Reinhart Koselleck, this paper traces the historical development of ‘eugenics' as a concept. This concept has been immensely influential in shaping the debate on the regulation of human genetic and reproductive technologies. At the beginning of the 20th century eugenics was cast as a social technology associated with strong, almost utopian technological expectations for the future. By the end of the century it was by contrast seen as a dangerous threat, a potential repetition of the past strongly connected to notions of compulsion, ethnic cleansing and crime. In between these two points lies a historical development, traced here through the development of the concept of eugenics as rendered in Scandinavian encyclopaedias throughout the 20th century. In this process a larger and more complex semantic framework emerges illustrating the shifting relationship between experience and expectations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Health Services Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: 2006-07-01

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