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Biological categories and border controls: the revival of eugenics in anti‐immigration rhetoric

Dorothy Nelkin (New York University)
Mark Michaels (Yale University)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 1 June 1998


Looks at the contemporary debate on US immigration, focusing particularly on the increasing articulation of eugenics. Notes that, at times of economic and moral crisis, biological generalizations tend to resurface to provide support for the existing system of privilege and rights, and that the information superhighway provides the perfect vehicle for rapidly spreading beliefs and information. Addresses three specific issues – the genetically determined traits and behaviours of specific racial groups, culture as an expression of biological characteristics, and immigration destroying the racial purity of American society. Outlines briefly US history of immigration. Airs the current concerns on US immigration – pinpointing that concern lies not in immigration per se., which has declined in the last decade, but in the changing national origin of new immigrants, that is immigrants are now mainly Latin American or Asian, which is seen as a threat to Anglo‐Saxon hegemony. Refers to the work of the Pioneer Fund, exploring human variation through the racial basis of intelligence and propensity to violence and/or crime. Claims that scientific language has been adapted to reinforce worries about immigration reducing the supremacy of America’s culture.



Nelkin, D. and Michaels, M. (1998), "Biological categories and border controls: the revival of eugenics in anti‐immigration rhetoric", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 18 No. 5/6, pp. 35-63.




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