Up until his death some twenty years ago Stephen Jay Gould was one of the best known popularizers of the life sciences, and in particular, evolution theory in the English speaking world. In addition, Gould was one of the most vocal defenders of a leftist political view of biology and evolution from a practicing scientist – defending the right to teach evolutionary theory in public schools while also launching an extensive critique of scientific racism in the legacy of biology and physical anthropology.
Gould’s star has fallen as of late and he has been increasingly dismissed as ‘too political,’ as a ‘Marxist Charlatan’ and worse. Rather than defending Gould’s legacy for its own sake the aim of this class is to take the deflation of his work and influence as a canary in the coal mine – as a warning sign that biology and evolutionary theory have been moving further and further to the right though often in the name of political neutrality.
To this end we will look at two connected themes in Gould’s work: the material contingency of natural history via evolution and the persistence of eugenics and other forms of scientific racism. Specifically the class will investigate how material and historical accounts of biology are consistently supplanted by a gene-centrism which utilizes ever more elaborate rationalializations to maintain the possibility of eugenics. Gould’s work, and the spirit of his work and his collaborators, is in dire need in a time of ‘left’ hereditarians, alt-right eugenics, and post-genomic racisms.
1- Selections from Wonderful Life - Gould
Recommended: Excerpts from Contingency and Convergence – Rachel Powell
Optional: Morris on Convergent Evolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cbc7XkinfY
2-Chapter 2 from The Mismeasure of Man - Gould
Recommended: “Has Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man really been discredited?” – Simon Whitten
Optional: “Organs of War” from Becoming Human – Zakiyyah Iman Jackson
3-”Stephen Jay Gould as Political Theorist” - David Prindle
Recommended: “More things in Heaven and Earth” - Gould
Optional: Lewontin on Race https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvG1ylKhzoo
Recommended: ‘A Candle in the Dark” from Dawkins vs Gould – Kim Sterleny
Optional: Gould on teaching evolution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pywn_iuF85o
5-Why Gould now?