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Biometrics and anthropometrics: the twins of Turkish modernity

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In the first half of the twentieth century, eugenic debates and policies revolved around positive (encouraging the reproduction of 'superior' individuals) and negative (preventing the reproduction of 'inferior' individuals) applications for the purpose of improving hereditary characteristics and preventing social problems. However, their particular manifestations varied because eugenic agendas responded differently to putative social problems in different local contexts. Despite the wealth of scholarly studies on eugenics, particularly in Germany and the United States, eugenic debates in Turkey have so far not received any attention. The significance of eugenics in the Turkish context stems from its conflation with republican modernization efforts. While Turkish republican reformers were diligently searching for anthropometric proof of the whiteness, Europeanness and ancientness of Turks, they also supported biometric scholarship that proposed eugenic measures to protect and improve recently 'discovered' historical essences. At a time when western eugenicists were classifying non-western peoples as inferior, Turkish reformers creatively adopted the methods and vocabulary of race science to establish the Turks' innate ability to modernize. In order to demonstrate the wide appeal of eugenics in the Turkish context, Ergin presents findings from a content analysis of educational conferences organized by the government between 1938 and 1941, and argues that the future-oriented project of biometrics was as important as the past-oriented project of anthropometrics for the formulation of Turkishness in negotiation with race and modernity.
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Keywords: Turkey; anthropometrics; biometrics; early republican Turkey; eugenics; modernity; race; race science; scholarship

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 July 2008

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