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Populating sociology: Carr-Saunders and the problem of population

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Research programmes in the social sciences and elsewhere can be seen as ‘set-ups’ which combine inscription devices and thought styles. The history of inscription devices without consideration of changing and often discontinuous thought styles effectively takes the historical dimension out of the history of thought. Perhaps thought styles are actually more important than the techniques of inscription that arise from them. The social sciences have relied upon multiple modes of inscription, often using, adapting or extending those invented for other purposes, such as the census. But the strategic prioritisation and deployment of specific inscriptions in analysis and argument has inescapably been dependent on particular thought styles; of which by far the most significant over the course of the first half of the twentieth century was eugenics with its specific problem of ‘population’. This paper describes the way that Alexander Carr-Saunders took up the problem of population within early attempts to develop sociology. We ask whether Carr-Saunders can be considered a ‘precursor’ of a sociologist. The history of British sociology takes different shapes – as indeed does the very idea of a history of sociology – depending on how one answers this question.

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