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Social Stratification, Hereditarianism, and Eugenics. A Harvard Tale

Luca Fiorito

A chapter in Including a Symposium on Robert Heilbroner at 100, 2019, vol. 37C, pp 99-143 from Emerald Publishing Ltd

Abstract: Abstract This chapter documents how eugenics, scientific racism, and hereditarianism survived at Harvard well into the interwar years. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Thomas Nixon Carver and Frank W. Taussig published works in which they established a close nexus between an individual’s economic position and his biological fitness. Carver, writing in 1929, argued that social class rigidities are attributable to the inheritance of superior and inferior abilities on the respective social class levels and proposed an “economic test of fitness” as a eugenic criterion to distinguish worthy from unworthy individuals. In 1932, Taussig, together with Carl Smith Joslyn, published American Business Leaders – a study that showed how groups with superior social status are proportionately much more productive of professional and business leaders than are the groups with inferior social status. Like Carver, Taussig and Joslyn attributed this circumstance primarily to hereditary rather than environmental factors. Taussig, Joslyn, and Carver are not the only protagonists of our story. The Russian-born sociologists Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin, who joined the newly established Department of Sociology at Harvard in 1930, also played a crucial role. His book Social Mobility (1927) exercised a major influence on both Taussig and Carver and contributed decisively to the survival of eugenic and hereditarian ideas at Harvard in the 1930s.

Keywords: Eeugenics; social mobility; hereditarianism; Harvard; Taussig; Frank W.; Carver; Thomas N (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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