UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The struggle for coexistence : Peter Kropotkin and the social ecology of science in Russia, Europe, and England, 1859-1922 Johnson, Eric M.


This dissertation critically examines the transnational history of evolutionary sociology during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Tracing the efforts of natural philosophers and political theorists, this dissertation explores competing frameworks at the intersection between the natural and human sciences – Social Darwinism at one pole and Socialist Darwinism at the other, the latter best articulated by Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin’s Darwinian theory of mutual aid. These frameworks were conceptualized within different scientific cultures during a contentious period both in the life sciences as well as the sociopolitical environments of Russia, Europe, and England. This cross-pollination of scientific and sociopolitical discourse contributed to competing frameworks of knowledge construction in both the natural and human sciences. I argue that the dominant theoretical framework that emerged in evolutionary sociology – what would become known as Social Darwinism – was an outcome in opposition to Socialist Darwinism rather than one that emerged through empirical evidence. The widespread rejection of Kropotkin’s Darwinian theory of mutual aid in England should be understood within this larger discursive context. As such, my project offers a reconceptualization of scientific knowledge construction by emphasizing the sociopolitical networks upon which consensus is achieved in the public sphere. This dissertation is divided into five chapters beginning with the macroscopic lens of anthropology in the context of Empire before progressing forwards in time but inwards in scope to examine the European socialists’ articulation of Darwinian science as a theory of social change, to the conflict between Social Darwinism and Socialist Darwinism, to the evolutionary mechanisms of cooperation in nature, and finally to the debate over the modes of biological inheritance.

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