Contributed Papers

Darwin and Darwinism

Presenter 1

To Be Esteemed by My Fellow Scientists: Examining the "Professional Man's" Rhetoric in the Origin of Species

Arya Mohan

The English and Foreign Languages University, India


Though Charles Darwin's personal struggles as having influenced his science and rhetoric has already been explored, most of them are centered on the blasphemous connotations of his theory and the ensuing moral crisis. An often overlooked struggle of a Victorian scientist is born out of professional anxieties due to the priority disputes and reward system that shape the scientific discourse. In fact, the reward system is so deeply entrenched that Thomas Kuhn suggested that owing to the immense prestige conferred on scientists making significant discoveries the latter are presented as linearly progressing events, thus strengthening the positivist dimension of science. R.K Merton located the reasons for priority disputes in the practice of conferring rewards on scientists which encourages them to perceive each discovery as an intellectual property of the discoverer. Interestingly, Samuel Butler noted at least 45 instances in which the word 'my' before theory was deleted between 1859 and the final edition of the Origin. Also, Darwin ended his twenty year long delay and set out to write the Origin which he called "an abstract to that one long argument" in the anxiety spurred by Alfred Wallace's letter announcing his discovery of the same theory. This paper examines the "professional man's" (to use a phrase from Virginia Woolf) rhetoric along with its social and ethical implications, underlying the Origin focusing on Darwin's dilemma of paying homage to his scientific predecessors while asserting the uniqueness of his argument.


Presenter 2

Beyond Sexual Selection: Darwin on Sex outside The Descent of Man

Greg Priest

Stanford University


If natural selection is Charles Darwin's most often-studied theoretical innovation, sexual selection is surely the runner up. A common theme of the literature on this subject is how Darwin's theory of sexual selection, which he articulated most fully in the Descent of Man, naturalized Victorian norms of human sexual behavior: all through nature, males "battle" for sexual "control" over females, or "eager" males display, while "coy" females choose the "superior" male to mate with.
This interpretation of the Descent isn't wrong. But it is incomplete. In the Descent, Darwin also examined cases in which females battle for sexual control over males and in which eager females display for coy males. Moreover, as we watch Darwin reaching beyond sexual selection in his more technical studies on plants and invertebrate animals, we are led into a sexual world far less conventional than the one suggested by the Descent. We learn of orchids and butterflies with three or more different sexual forms. We see primroses where the same flower acts as the "male" at one season and the "female" at another. We see corals with such a wide variety of sexual forms that no definitive characterization of their sexual system is even possible.
Reading beyond the Descent of Man reveals a Darwin with a far more multivalent conception of sexual structure and behavior than the Victorian gentleman with whom we are so familiar. Darwin's thinking on sex is also revealing as a case study of how he conceived that science should be practiced from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary change involves a tangled interplay among law-like principles such as natural and sexual selection, the vagaries of history, and the agency of evolving organisms. Darwin's work on sex opens a window onto how he thought scientific questions should be framed, experiments designed, and observations conducted in order best to enable us to gain an understanding of such complex phenomena.


Presenter 3

A Darwinian Murder: The Role of the Barré-Lebiez Affair in the Diffusion of Darwinism in 19th-Century France

Liv Grjebine

Harvard University ; Institut d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine (Université Paris 1-Panthéon La Sorbonne and l'Ecole Normale supérieure)


The argument at the center of my work is that history of science has typically focused on "public understanding of science", which is tantamount to asking to what extent the general public understands and accepts the discourse of science on the world. My work raises the opposite question: how has public debate, in its different forms, paved the way for the legitimization of Darwinian theory in France?
Most studies on the reception of Darwinism in France focus on the scientific community. This presentation investigates the popular press. On The Origin of Species was published in 1859 and translated into French in 1862. During the two decades following its publication, some attempts were made to understand the implications of Darwinian theory on the place of men in the world and the future of society. Yet the debate took a different turn in 1878. By placing Darwin in the dock of the accused, the Barré-Lebiez case initiated a public controversy that crystallized political and scientific issues. Darwinism was then widely discussed in French newspapers in connection with this sensational murder case in which two well-educated young men, Barré and Lebiez, killed an elderly woman. Before his arrest Lebiez had given a public lecture on the Darwinian "struggle for life". Competing factions of the press linked the case explicitly with Darwinism to advance either conservative or republican political agendas and brought Darwinism into the public eye. This presentation analyses the wider political context of French evolutionism in the 1870s specifically in the light of the public response to an extraordinary murder case brought to trial in 1878. It is fair to argue that the public reactions to the Barré-Lebiez case constitute a turning point for the diffusion of Darwin's theory in France.


Presenter 4

Inequality and Prejudice: The Popular Visual Culture of Human Evolution in Mexico (1970-2018)

Erica Torrens

National University of Mexico


This paper aims at exploring two deeply interrelated aspects of the teaching of biological evolution from a dimension of women's studies. I will explore the genesis and social life of the scientific visual representations of human evolution currently used in Mexican educational materials. I will then analyze the way gender roles are visually represented in these materials and to what extent it has to do with ideological reminiscences of the time when the materials were created or with biological programmes such as sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, which originally aimed at the development and construction of normative perspectives on sexes differences.
This paper will focus on the treatment of gender and exposed sexism in Mexican visual culture (the term culture intends to remind the readers of the political stakes inherent of the visual in pedagogy) to understand and contextualize the changes that have occurred in the representation of women and gender roles in Mexican educational materials (the three generations of textbooks for basic education that contemplate biological evolution (1974-1993; 1993-2009; 2009-2018), the most representative secondary school books (by number of editions and publishing houses) and school monographs currently in use). I will reflect on the multiple ways in which theories of human origins and their visual display circulated in a more global framework and how some of these representations became widely accepted, used and even normalized in many Western textbooks even when it is clear that there is a persistence of visual regimes that reproduce gender biases due to hegemonic ideologies of class, race, and gender.