Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

 

Second nature : domestication as experiment and metaphor in 20th century American psychobiology Public Deposited

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  • By 1900 domestication was a promising, if somewhat vexed, subject in biology. Volumes had been written about domestication, but little serious scientific inquiry was directed toward the phenomenon. Expertise lay with practical men, primarily breeders and fanciers. The bulk of scientific commentary on domestication came from anthropologists who derived theories about man’s evolutionary past and future prospects based on an analogy with domesticated creatures. To an experimental ethos emerging near the turn of the 20th century, one increasingly dependent upon animals kept and bred in the laboratory, the available knowledge of domestication seemed inadequate, with its practical orientation and use of metaphor, analogy, and speculation. A small number of researchers working at various points along the fluid border between biology and psychology sought to reestablish the scientific understanding of domestication on the basis of experimental results. I examine these latter efforts to determine how these investigators constructed new experimental understandings of domestication from the point of planning the experiments to interpreting the results and how these conceptions coincided with the widespread cultural resonances of domestication. Historians of science frequently correlate the experimental turn in biology and psychology not only with new standards of evidence, but also with new claims about disciplinary identity, expertise, and objectivity. Domestication researchers, however, failed to produce a substantially new, clear, objective, and widely accepted explanation of the phenomenon by midcentury. I argue that these efforts did not achieve the purported goals of experimental research, generally, not for any failure in the design of the experiments themselves, but for the continued cultural relevance of domestication, expressed in analogies, metaphors, and the wisdom of experience with domesticated animals, that corresponded with the values, social preoccupations, and professional circumstances of individual investigators. I argue, further, that the experience of domestication researchers demands a reevaluation of the impact of the experimental turn in biobehavioral research in the early years of the 20th century. This extends a recent historiogaphic tradition that recognizes continuities between pre-experimental and experimental work to include the relations of experimental scientists and nonscientific experts, the value of experience, and the use of analogy within the laboratory and without.
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