In the Shadow of Eugenic Thinking: Eugenic Legacies in the UK
Brighton University, May 3rd, 9.30am-5.30pm UK time
This symposium will bring together activists, academics, practitioners, educators and artists to explore the legacy of eugenics in the UK. Although overt forms of eugenic thinking have been officially discredited, some argue that we continue to live in its long shadow. The foundations of many key UK institutions – higher education, healthcare, the welfare state, the criminal justice system, national heritage, as well as the built environment – are situated in varying and complex ways within histories of eugenic thinking and practices. The legacies of these histories continue to be impactful, especially as part of persisting inequalities of accessibility and outcome within these domains.
It feels particularly important to revisit this issue right now. In the past decade, the effects of ongoing economic crisis and austerity – most recently, the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ – have helped to magnify, but also deepen this impact. Brexit, and its intensification of nationalism, racism and anti-immigration sentiment, compounded this. And with Covid-19, the unequal effects of the pandemic – with disabled, elderly, Black and Asian people disproportionately suffering higher levels of ill health, and also death – were escalated by the government’s policy responses, which sacrificed the lives of low-paid ‘key workers,’ and neglected, disregarded and abandoned certain groups - disabled people, those in care homes, prisons and detention centres. While the inequalities of this period reflect structural inequalities of the capitalist system per se, what Laura I. Appleman calls ‘hidden eugenic thinking’ (2021) is discernible in the treatment of marginal or oppressed groups and vulnerable communities, offering tacit justification of their fates.