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Africa as a Living LaboratoryEmpire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950$
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Helen Tilley

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780226803463

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226803487.001.0001

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A Racial Laboratory

A Racial Laboratory

Imperial Politics, Race Prejudice, and Mental Capacity

Chapter:
(p.217) Chapter Five A Racial Laboratory
Source:
Africa as a Living Laboratory
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226803487.003.0006

This chapter investigates the mixed fortunes of racial politics and racial science, and illustrates just how ambivalent imperial authorities were about privileging race as a primary prism for settling colonial questions. It specifically reviews the history of racial science in British Africa in the wider context of imperial and transnational research priorities. It is found that people could, and usually did, find support from legitimate scientific sources for whatever position they wished to uphold. The issue of “racial discrimination” had become an explicit factor in inter-imperial decision making. Moreover, there were concerns over racial degeneration and “social decay” in both Europe and Africa. As racial science was increasingly discredited and marginalized, the conceptual foundations of racial states also came to be more unstable. The recalibration of racial politics around the world combined with the uncertainties surrounding racial science successfully sabotaged justifications of imperial rule on racial grounds.

Keywords:   racial politics, racial science, imperial authorities, race, British Africa, racial degeneration, social decay, imperial rule

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