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Shields%20and%20Bhatia%202009

Shields%20and%20Bhatia%202009 - Darwin on Race Gender and...

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Darwin on Race, Gender, and Culture Stephanie A. Shields Pennsylvania State University Sunil Bhatia Connecticut College Darwin’s theories of natural selection and sexual selection are significant scientific achievements, although his under- standing of race and gender was defined and limited by his own life circumstances and the sociohistorical context within which he worked. This article considers the ways in which race, gender, and culture were represented and explained by Darwin and the ways in which his observa- tions and opinions on gender and race were taken up by others and, more often than not, misapplied. Whereas the challenge of race (for Darwin) was to demonstrate the fundamental similarity and, hence, the common origin, of human races, the challenge of gender (for Darwin) was to identify a mechanism that could account for differences between women and men that, to him, were obvious, fun- damental, and significant. The article concludes by consid- ering the implications of Darwin’s views for contemporary scientific psychology. Keywords: evolutionary theory, Darwinism, intersectional- ity, colonialism, evolutionary psychology C harles Darwin’s theories provide a framework for understanding three important facets of human so- cial organization. These are (a) the evolution of gender differences, (b) variations between cultures, and (c) the delineation of races. An analysis of Darwin’s body of scholarship allows us to demonstrate the forcefulness of his ideas for the present moment. The misapplication of Dar- win’s ideas makes available to us some cautionary tales about how we both frame and approach the language of current debates on race, culture, and gender. Darwin grappled with race, gender, and culture in the course of dealing with a core problem that each presented for the foundational tenets of his views on human evolu- tion. His primary sources of evidence regarding race and gender were reports of anthropologists and other travelers and his own and others’ personal observations. Darwin’s conclusions from those data invariably supported what he already “knew” to be true about racial differences and the differences between women and men. In this article we consider the ways in which race and gender were represented and explained by Darwin and the ways in which his observations and opinions on gender and race were taken up by others and, more often than not, misapplied. We begin by outlining the foundations for Darwin’s scientific views on race and gender as they are put forward in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (Darwin, 1871), and we then consider race and gender in separate sections. For each, we outline a problem that requires reconciliation between Darwin’s view of natural selection and his perception of the facts of race and gender. We also briefly consider for each the (mis)application of Darwin’s views by his contemporaries.
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