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Eugenics and the social construction of merit, race and disability

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During the first half of the twentieth century, mainstream US eugenicists believed in the overarching importance of heredity in human development. Effective popularizers, they actively worked for legislation that would limit immigration from southern and eastern Europe, sterilize those judged as socially inferior, and segregate the feeble-minded. With the help of like-minded educational leaders, they also influenced school policy and curriculum during this period. Drawing upon Foucault's conception of normalization and Banks' notion of knowledge types, I contend that eugenics is acase example of normalization. The paper outlines one aspect of this process through analyses of the popular eugenic knowledge exhibited at US State fairs and of the mainstream eugenic knowledge found in the work of Leta S. Hollingworth, an early US leader in giftedness education. These knowledge forms added to hegemonic social constructions of merit, race and disability in the US in the 1920s.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2000

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