James Hunt, Robert Knox, and the Feelings of Empirical Race Science

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This paper argues that in the mid-nineteenth century, practitioners of the nascent discipline of racial science sought to create an empiricist praxis that was divorced from feelings to describe the so-called facts of race. And yet, while scientific race was framed as a taxonomic system that might label, order, and know what race is, this knowledge system depended upon an understanding of how certain races feel. This paper examines the works of James Hunt and Robert Knox, prominent race scientists whose writings suggest a future of empirical mastery over the racialized and their allegedly chaotic affects. Unruly racial feeling, however, is also essential to the structure of this ostensibly empirical discipline. While race science suggests the eventual containment of disruptive racial feeling, this promise is forever deferred because the foundation of the praxis relies on the very emotion it disavows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)554-560
Number of pages7
JournalVictorian Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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