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Fellow Seminar

06 April 2017

Dr. Victoria Shmidt will present her research proposal on the topic: "Eugenic Thinking in the CEE Countries: Never-ending Story of Root Metaphors?" on 6 April 2017 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS Conference Hall.



The very recent interest to eugenics grapples with the dilemma of narrowly contextual or hyperlocal historicity vs. transhistorical self-deconstructive constructivism. Limited ability to solve this dilemma remains a core issue when attempting to explore eugenics in CEE countries. The relativist intention either to label any type of biopolitical speculation as eugenic or reject its specifics in favor of transhistorical notions regarding modernity ignores the contexts of CEE countries. The reluctance of CEE social scholars to engage with master narratives about eugenics resonates with extremely narrow range of contexts regarding timeline and the sphere of eugenics' influence provided by the historians of eugenics in CEE countries. In my study, I aim to elaborate the arguments in favor of recognizing eugenics as a specific epistemic community which was simultaneously a driving force of building the nations and also was shaped by the various compositions of factors. Particularly, I focus on inter-country cooperation between eugenicists (or eugenically thinking scholars) as a specific realm of transferring and legitimizing produced knowledge and offered treatments.


Space The project focuses on that CEE countries with the historical background of turning from the status of political subjects as subalterns (Bulgaria, Czech lands, and former Yugoslavia) to independent state with intensive building of its own nation. Eugenics was an indispensable part of this process. While national geography established the borders, national history selected the heroic events of the past for building the national glory, eugenicists shaped the ideal of male and female citizen, focusing on their "production", both from a biological (various concepts regarding heredity and breeding) and a social (healthy mode of life) strategy. Obviously, the countries varied in terms of the ‘mainstream vehicles' of building the nation, and this specific will maps the comparative historical analysis regarding the commonalities and specifics in shaping "we", "they" and the interrelation "we-they".

Timeline the role of inter-country communication of epistemic communities in (re)producing eugenic thinking is traced mainly regarding the continuity between the interwar and socialist periods. Also, these periods are not seen as homogeneous - especially in terms of eugenics development. The renaissance of eugenic thinking within massive reforms of demographic policy (including the policies around ethnic minorities) orchestrated the intensive formation of sociology, psychology and anthropology in the 1960s-1970s. This kind of long-term explanation requires to consider ideas, institution, and politics over significant periods of time, both within the history of particular countries and across it. The "across" is important due to indispensable role of epistemic communities ever applying international cooperation in favor of their own legitimation.

Time-space compression The main methodological approach proposed here is the exploration of scientific metaphors about the health, nations, and ethnic minorities. Root or interactive metaphor operates as powerful scientific analogies which used one type of difference to explaining other and vice versa. For instance, the consistent comparison of the Roma with children introduced by Heinrich Moritz Gottlieb Grellmann in the end of the 18th century remains a core vehicle for producing the knowledge about the intractability of the Roma's primitivism in favor of segregation against them in the anthropological surveys in different countries over last two centuries. I discuss as collective as individual narratives of eugenics in terms of the career of the metaphors regarding hybridization, purity and interconnection between them - developing from single and often hypothetical ideas to a network of related conventional and well-defined analogies within the region and over the last century.


Mapping eugenics as epistemic communities: middle class elites in fighting

The dichotomy of hybridization vs. purity as a source of producing scientific metaphors can be seen as the grounds for eugenics as an epistemic community in the CEE countries. German racial hygiene and the Czech eugenics presented two extreme approaches to solving this dichotomy. While German scholars extoled purity as the most desirable option for Aryans and prescribed to hybridization the decisive role in degeneration, the Czech eugenicists put forward hybridization as the only one possible way to developing healthy nation and identified biological isolation or "remaining unhealthy pure" as the main source of degeneration among such ethnic groups as Rusyns and Roma. Though German and the Czech eugenicists approached to the causes of degeneration in different ways, opposing purity and hybridization as two scenarios either healthy or unhealthy development of nation produced intractable borders between fit population and those who were seen as unfit. Thus, the difference between ‘we', the people either German or Czechoslovak and ‘they', aliens or foreigners, achieved maximum. By solving the task to legitimize synthetic, Yugoslavian, nation, the Slovenian and Croatian eugenicists operated in the way comparable with the Czech eugenics, but also they specified the process of hybridization towards differentiating healthy and unhealthy hybrids. Bulgarian eugenics started from sharing the German profile of eugenic thinking, but it was modified under the direct influence by Yugoslavian eugenic thinking between the late 1950s and 1970s.

Obviously, eugenics was survived during the socialist period, because the project of building the nations was continued. But also, consistently subordinating humanist values under the interests of national state, eugenicists represented the patterns of "we-and-they-feelings" and strongly opposed healthy even only potentially healthy ‘we' to currently degraded ‘them': unfit inferior minorities. Reproducing this pattern described by Elias as decisive axis of tension in favor of definite set of social power relationships inclines to explore the development of eugenics as a manifestation of new middle class elites who started to fight for their power during interwar period and won as a socialist academics.

Framing the knowledge about eugenics

To be communicated, negotiated and conventionalized, the scientific metaphors have to be used in actual texts. The project's starting point is to map contemporary studies aimed at deconstructing the history of eugenics as well as exploring the background of practices and discourses regarding ethnic minorities - core targets of eugenics. Exploring contemporary researches recognizes the range of approaches to solve the dilemma of continuities vs. ruptures regarding eugenics history as well as the history of policies around ethnic minorities. Also, the pool of contemporary scientific publications will be explored in terms of either reproducing violence of knowledge against ethnic minorities or emancipating from producing epistemic injustice in favour of overcoming previous objectification of ethnic minorities. Special attention will be done to that studies which aim to recognize the continuities in reproducing violence of knowledge. By juxtaposing these two criteria,

(1) the degree of revising previous violence of knowledge in the studies about ethnic minorities;

(2) approaches to solve the dilemma of continuity vs. ruptures regarding the history of eugenics

this project will provide the range of scenarios to solve the dilemma, theoretization vs. historization, in the studies about different CEE countries.

Interpellating: untold collective and individual narratives of eugenics

The cross-country comparison aims to charge the collective narratives of eugenics in different countries by the exploration of the role of international cooperation in favor for redefining the continuities and ruptures in reproducing eugenic thinking. Recognizing the continuities and discontinuities in implications of eugenic thinking in the wide range of welfare practices aimes to explore the role of eugenics in establishing the surveillance under ethnic minorities.

In order to explore eugenics as agency of political and social changes, the project focuses on the narratives of particular scientists who were prominent figures in the history of eugenics. They not only produced main ideas around ethnic minorities, obtained top-positions relevant for intensive dissemination of eugenic thinking but also played key role in connecting different cohorts of eugenically thinking scientists and relevant epistemic communities in different countries within and beyond the region of CEE countries. In the Czech lands the project focuses on Jiři Malý (1899-1950), Jaroslav Suchý (1926-1975), Vojtěch Suk (1879-1967), Helena Malá (1935-2013), František Štampach (1895-1969), Bohumil Sekla (1901-1987) and Vojtěch Fetter (1905-1971); in Yugoslavia on Vladimir Stanojević (1886-1978), Avgust Munda (1886-1971), Božo Škerlj (1908-1961) Andrija Štampar (1888 -1958); in Bulgaria on Milko Balan (1888-1973), Nikola Saranov (1895-1974), Asen Ivanov Hadžiolov (1903-1994), Dragomir Mateev (1902-1971), Konstantin Pašev (1873-1961), Peter Boev (1920 - 1994).


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