Darwinism and social Darwinism

Winlow, H (2019) 'Darwinism and social Darwinism.' In: Kobayashi, A, ed. International encyclopedia of human geography. 2nd ed. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 149-158. ISBN 9780081022955

Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102295-5.10249-5


From the 1830s, doctrines of creationism were increasingly challenged, initially by geological discoveries and then by evolutionary theories, which were first applied to animal and plant species, and later extended to humanity. Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, introduced in 1859 in The Origin of Species, led to the emergence of the term Darwinism, which was applied to an array of biological theories. Similarly, the label Social Darwinism incorporated a number of sociocultural evolutionary theories, which were often non-Darwinian in outlook. The application of bioevolutionary theories to the social realm naturalized the social order, legitimizing European imperialism and reinforcing class and racial hierarchies as demonstrated through the work of the late 19th- and early 20th-century geographers and other theorists. The metaphor of society as organism was central to the work of Herbert Spencer, Freidrich Ratzel, and Halford Mackinder, and influenced the later development of urban ecology, while racial hierarchies were reinforced through cartographic representation in the work of William Zebina Ripley, Ellsworth Huntington, and Griffith Taylor. The negative associations of Social Darwinism with imperialism, Nazism, and eugenics meant that critical engagement with evolutionary theories was absent from human geography in the latter part of the 20th century—an absence that has begun to receive renewed, but limited, attention since the 1990s. Setting aside the negative misinterpretations of Darwin's work there is space for a fuller engagement with Darwinian themes within contemporary human geography in relation to issues such as climate change and challenges to species diversity, critiques of the nature–culture divide and more than human geographies, and wider ethical concerns.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section
Keywords: ancestry, biology, branching tree metaphor, Darwinism, descent, environment, evolutionary theory, geology, imperialism, natural selection, racial hierarchies, social Darwinism, Spencerianism
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: School of Sciences
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102295-5.10249-5
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Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2019 11:06
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2023 10:04
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/12390
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