NIH Research Festival
Psychological thought in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain and America was greatly influenced by evolutionary thought, and depended upon racialized hierarchies of age, ‚Äúprimitivity‚Äù, and animality. Such hierarchies did not simply embody generalized racist and ableist prejudices of the time or exist as subjective inconsistencies interfering with objective scientific inquiries. Rather, they ‚Äì and the categories and categorization they depended upon ‚Äì were central to the development of psychological science.
Children were central to psychology and its narrative project of modernity (with its evolutionary underpinnings), in their unique casting as beings who in the course of their development elided an epistemic gap, both by recapitulating the evolution of the human mind, and through their malleability in response to education and training. Such discussions around children and their character also hinted at barely-disguised fear that progress and civilization were merely veneers, and that primal sexuality, criminality, animality and atavism truly existed outside of the fiction, memoir and popular writing of the period.
The conceptual and practical interdependency of evolutionary hierarchies were laid bare in psychological discussions of communication, which placed written English and its systems of grammar and syntax at the peak of a ladder extending down past spoken English, less ‚Äúperfect‚Äù spoken languages, written symbols, mere sounds, and signed language. Critical exploration of such texts establishes the fundamental significance of the developing child as the lynchpin of this framework.
Scientific Focus Area: Social and Behavioral Sciences
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