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American Eugenics

Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism

2003
Author:

Nancy Ordover

American Eugenics

Traces the history of eugenics ideology in the United States and its ongoing presence in contemporary life

The Nazis may have given eugenics its negative connotations, but the practice—and the “science” that supports it—is still disturbingly alive in America. Tracing the historical roots and persistence of eugenics in the United States, Nancy Ordover explores the political and cultural climate that has endowed these campaigns with mass appeal and scientific legitimacy.

Impressively researched, clearly written and passionately argued, American Eugenics is an important critique of biological arguments in the arenas of race, sexuality and reproduction that forges crucial links, and expands the possibilities for progressive interventions across a broad field of interrelated but commonly isolated issues.

Lisa Duggan, author of Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence and American Modernity

The Nazis may have given eugenics its negative connotations, but the practice—and the “science” that supports it—is still disturbingly alive in America in anti-immigration initiatives, the quest for a “gay gene,” and theories of collective intelligence. Tracing the historical roots and persistence of eugenics in the United States, Nancy Ordover explores the political and cultural climate that has endowed these campaigns with mass appeal and scientific legitimacy.

American Eugenics demonstrates how biological theories of race, gender, and sexuality are crucially linked through a concern with regulating the “unfit.” These links emerge in Ordover’s examination of three separate but ultimately related American eugenics campaigns: early twentieth-century anti-immigration crusades; medical models and interventions imposed on (and sometimes embraced by) lesbians, gays, transgendered people, and bisexuals; and the compulsory sterilization of poor women and women of color. Throughout, her work reveals how constructed notions of race, gender, sexuality, and nation are put to ideological uses and how “faith in science” can undermine progressive social movements, drawing liberals and conservatives alike into eugenics-based discourse and policies.


American Eugenics

Nancy Ordover is an independent scholar who lives in New York City.

American Eugenics

Impressively researched, clearly written and passionately argued, American Eugenics is an important critique of biological arguments in the arenas of race, sexuality and reproduction that forges crucial links, and expands the possibilities for progressive interventions across a broad field of interrelated but commonly isolated issues.

Lisa Duggan, author of Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence and American Modernity

Reveals how constructed notions of race, gender, sexuality, and nation are put to ideological uses and how ‘faith in science’ can undermine progressive social movements, drawing liberals and conservatives alike into eugenics-based discourse and policies.

Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society

A suggestive and provocative analysis of intellectual alliances. Wide ranging and provocative. [Ordover] has undeniably demonstrated the importance of considering eugenic ideology and its pervasiveness in the twentieth century.

Isis

In this compact, far-ranging cultural critique, Ordover invites us to make connections between anti-immigrant panics, sterilization campaigns and the search for the genetic roots of sexual desire. Eugenics, she argues, is like a ‘scavenger’ that collects and exploits anxieties about national identity, consigning the politically disenfranchised to the garbage dump. It uses the value-free language of ‘science’ and ‘public health’ to mask its political agenda.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Ordover examines our national obsession with purity and domination, which is something like that of the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter’s nemesis, who subverts the power of magic (what wizards have instead of technology) to attain his end of world domination and the reinstatement of a pure-blood wizard community.

Women’s Review of Books

Ordover illustrates the disturbing continuities between past and present medical-juridical exclusions and abuses. Her discussion of the complicated relationship between homo-sexology and science and of liberal justifications for forced sterilization and birth control is original and provocative.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

In this original and provocative study, Nancy Ordover traces the history of eugenics in the United States. Her book is an important study, one that shows, rather startlingly, that eugenics has left an indelible mark on American politics and culture.

American Historical Review

Ordover’s analysis achieves a powerful synthesis of seemingly disparate phenomena. The book’s strength lies in Ordover’s extensive archival research and skillful synthesis of her findings. She is attuned to the rhetorics of eugenics, in whatever form they have appeared, and her immersion in the topic shows.

GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

American Eugenics

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

I National Hygiene:Twentieth-Century Immigration and the Eugenics Lobby

ImagiNation
Calculating Hysteria
The Immigrant Within
The Pioneer Fund: Scientific Racism and the Eugenic Endowment
“Indiscriminate Kindness”and “Maudlin Sentimentalism”: Fighting the “Philanthropic”Impulse
The Abiding Panic

II Queer Anatomy:One Hundred Years of Diagnosis,Dissection,and Political Strategy

Science as Savior
Delineating Deviance:Moral Imperatives,Hereditarian Hypotheses, and the Letter of the Law Biological Apologists:Appeals and Miscalculations
Gender,Race,and the Strategy of Metaphor
Homosexuality and the Bio/Psych Merge:An Additive Model of Causation Theories
AIDS,Backlash,and the Myth of Liberatory Biologism

III Sterilization and Beyond:The Liberal Appeal of the Technofix

Liberal Loopholes
Buck v.Belland Before
Margaret Sanger and the Eugenic Compact
Physical Fallout:Racism,Eugenics,and Liberal Accomplices after World War II
New Technologies,Old Politics: Norplant and Beyond
Disability and Eugenics:The Constant Consensus
Quinacrine,the Next Wave

Conclusion

Notes
Index