Carolyn Burdett and Angelique Richardson are seeking contributions for a Special Issue of the journal New Formations on “Eugenics”.
The term eugenics was coined in the latter part of the nineteenth century by Francis Galton, to describe an idea and an aspiration. The idea concerned Galton¹s conviction that characteristics such as bodily health, mental aptitude and moral quality are inherited. The aspiration was that a modern, civilised society might and must find ways of regulating the processes of reproduction in order to manage and improve the nation. If the impact of eugenics on social policy during the first half of the twentieth century was regarded by enthusiasts as disappointingly limited, eugenic thinking, with its associated ideas of degeneration, was nevertheless pervasive in the culture.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, in 1997, investigative journalism sparked controversy about the persistence of eugenic practice long after its supposed demise with the defeat of Nazism. Sweden, a state seen by many as exemplary for its socialistic welfare arrangements, had carried out programmes of coercive sterilization for 40 years, ending only in 1976. The Swedish women who had undergone sterilization as a condition of gaining welfare, or to avoid prison, were not unique targets of such state intervention, however. Evidence of similar coercive sterilization regimes emerged in Austria, France, Finland, Norway and Switzerland; in Virginia, USA, the Lynchburg colony made famous for its test-case sterilizations based on law passed in the 1920s, continued its work until the 1970s.
While the outcry occasioned by the revelations about Sweden, for example, suggests that the image of a state-organised eugenics was not generally acceptable by the end of the twentieth century, eugenic ideas nonetheless persist and find new forms. This is most striking in the technical revolutions associated with reproductive technologies, where eugenics is often couched in the language of rights. In recent years, a Œnew eugenics¹ has emerged as a central part of health and commodity culture in the form of human biotechnology, including donor insemination, prenatal diagnosis of genetic diseases and disorders, in vitro fertilization, cloning, and genetic engineering. Michel Foucault deemed eugenics one of Œthe two great innovations in the technology of sex of the second half of the nineteenth century¹; it was – and remains, after Watson and Crick, – a peculiarly significant language of modernity.
This Special Issue seeks to explore the development and continuing importance of eugenics from its inception in the latter part of the nineteenth century to today. It aims specifically to analyse and explore the cultural forms eugenic thinking takes and the cultural impact it makes. The editors aim to produce an inter- and multi-disciplinary discussion about eugenics and thus welcome contributions from a range of disciplinary areas, including literature, film, cultural studies, visual culture, history of science, and the social sciences. Contributions may take the form of short pieces (2-3,500 words) or more substantial essays (to a maximum of 7,000 words).
Possible topics may include: discourses on the natural; reproductive technologies; the language of rights; commodity culture and the human body; eugenics and the individual.
On New Formations New Formations has established a reputation nationally and internationally as Britain’s most significant interdisciplinary journal of culture, politics and theory. It brings new and challenging perspectives of cultural analysis to bear on the cutting edge of politics. Always at the forefront of intellectual debate, New Formations has covered issues ranging from the seduction of perversity to questions of nationalism and postcolonialism. New Formations brings together both established and new writers from many walks of critical life. Previous contributors include: Parveen Adams, Ien Ang, Susan Buck-Morss, Homi Bhabha, Victor Burgin, Iain Chambers, Joan Copjec, Jacques Derrida, Simon Frith, Paul Gilroy, Sue Golding, Doreen Massey, Kobena Mercer, Meaghan Morris, Christopher Norris, John Rajchman, Kevin Robins, Gillian Rose, Jacqueline Rose, Lynne Segal, Robert Young, and Slavoj Zizek.