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Bronislaw Malinowski, “Indirect Rule,” and the Colonial Politics of Functionalist Anthropology, ca. 1925–1940

  • Freddy Foks (a1)

Functionalist anthropology has a contested legacy. Some scholars have praised functionalism as a contributor to the relativizing of civilizations and cultures while others have criticized it as a colonial science smoothing the interwar workings of indirect rule. This article argues that the colonial politics of functionalist anthropology can only be understood against the background of resurgent settler colonialism in British East Africa. Supporters of indirect rule increasingly relied on a language of scientific administration and welfarist policies associated with the League of Nations to bolster their position against the settlers in the 1920s and 1930s. Functionalism offered them some means of support on this count. The functionalists, meanwhile, co-opted the language of indirect rule to pursue their own intra-disciplinary ends. This combination of interests was pragmatic and flexible rather than ossified and ideological, marked more by what both opposed (settler colonialism) than a shared ideal towards which they aspired (indirect rule). Anthropologists and colonial administrators possessed very different ideas of indirect rule, with strikingly different implications for the future of Britain's African Empire.

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1 “Anthropology and the Empire,” Times, 17 Jan. 1925: 11.

2 The spelling of Malinowski's first name, Bronisław, has been anglicized in accordance with his own contemporary, and later, scholarly usage.

3 London School of Economics, Bronislaw Malinowski Papers [henceforth “Malinowski Papers,” followed by the box number and a description], 9/3, “Races of the Empire: Useful and Useless Anthropology.”

4 Stocking, George W. Jr., “Radcliffe-Brown and British Social Anthropology,” in Stocking, George W. Jr., ed., Functionalism Historicized: Essays on British Social Anthropology (Madison, 1984), 131–91. See also Kuper, Adam, Anthropology and Anthropologists: The British School in the Twentieth Century, 4th ed. (London, 2015); and Kuklick, Henrika, “Personal Equations: Reflections on the History of Fieldwork, with Special Reference to Sociocultural Anthropology,” Isis 102, 1 (2011): 133 , 17–32.

5 For an extensive account of social anthropology's interwar institutionalization via the IIALC, see Benoît de L'Estoile, “L'Afrique Comme Laboratoire—Expériences Réformatrices et Révolution Anthropologique Dans L'empire Colonial Britannique (1920–1950)” (PhD thesis, L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2004); Stocking, After Tylor, 391–421; Kuklick, Henrika, The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885–1945 (Cambridge, 1991), 209–16; Kuklick, Henrika, “The British Tradition,” in Kuklick, Henrika, ed., A New History of Anthropology (Oxford, 2008), 5278 , 71–72.

6 See the letters contained in Elliot Smith's file in Rockefeller Archive Center, Rockefeller Foundation Record Group 1.1, Series 401.AD, box 33. Kuklick, “British Tradition,” 71. On the LSRM's funding of anthropological research and transformations within the Rockefeller philanthropies, see Perkins, Alfred, Edwin Rogers Embree: The Julius Rosenwald Fund, Foundation Philanthropy, and American Race Relations (Bloomington, 2011), 4978 .

7 The literature is large. For some of the most important interventions, see the essays collected in Asad, Talal, ed., Anthropology & the Colonial Encounter (Amherst, 1998 [1973]); Bush, Barbara, Imperialism, Race and Resistance: Africa and Britain, 1919–1945 (London, 1999), 3338 ; Fabian, Johannes, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York, 1983); Pels, Peter and Salemink, Oscar, Colonial Subjects: Essays on the Practical History of Anthropology (Ann Arbor, 1999); Stocking, George W. Jr., “Maclay, Kubary, Malinowski—Archetypes from the Dreamtime of Anthropology,” in Stocking, George W. Jr., ed., Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge (Madison, 1991), 974 .

8 Quoted in Stocking, “Archetypes,” 53; Mantena, Karuna, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (Princeton, 2010), 14, 8388 , 177–78.

9 For a helpful distinction between politics as a struggle for the coercive power of the state and the politics of struggling for academic attention space, see Collins, Randall, “On the Acrimoniousness of Intellectual Disputes,” Common Knowledge 8, 1 (2002): 4770 , 65. For a similar distinction between reforming interventions as actor categories versus concepts of ideology, see the discussion by Quentin Skinner in Pallares-Burke, Maria Lúcia G., The New History: Confessions and Conversations (Oxford, 2002), 220–21.

10 Perham, Margery, East African Journey: Kenya and Tanganyika, 1929–30 (London, 1976), 31.

11 For a recent appraisal of the politics and ideology of indirect rule, see Mamdani, Mahmood, Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity (Cambridge, Mass., 2012). For a circumspect study of the practices of African administrators with reference to theories of indirect rule, see Prior, Christopher, Exporting Empire: Africa, Colonial Officials and the Construction of the British Imperial State, c. 1900–39 (Manchester, 2013), 147–65.

12 Perham, East African Journey, 16.

13 For an introduction to some of these debates about development, see Introduction,” in Hodge, Joseph M., Hödl, Gerald, and Kopf, Martina, eds., Developing Africa: Concepts and Practices in Twentieth-Century Colonialism (Manchester, 2014), 134 ; Grant, Kevin, “Trust and Self-Determination: Anglo-American Ethics of Empire and International Government,” in Bevir, Mark and Trentmann, Frank, eds., Critiques of Capital in Modern Britain and America: Transatlantic Exchanges 1800 to the Present Day (Basingstoke, 2002), 151–73.

14 Cell, John W., “Introduction,” in Cell, John W., ed., By Kenya Possessed: The Correspondence of Norman Leys and J. H. Oldham, 1918–1926 (Chicago, 1976), 187 , 43–44.

15 See Roberts, A. D., “East Africa,” in Roberts, A. D., ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 7: From 1905 to 1940 (Cambridge, 1986), 649701 ; Gregory, Robert G., Sidney Webb and East Africa: Labour's Experiment with the Doctrine of Native Paramountcy (Berkeley, 1962); Tignor, Robert L., The Colonial Transformation of Kenya: The Kamba, Kikuyu and Maasai from 1900 to 1939 (Princeton, 1976); Munro, J. Forbes, Colonial Rule and the Kamba: Social Change in the Kenya Highlands 1889–1939 (Oxford, 1975).

16 On the League, the Mandates, and the “East Africa question,” see Pedersen, Susan, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford, 2015), 222–32; and Gorman, Daniel, “Organic Union or Aggressive Altruism: Imperial Internationalism in East Africa in the 1920s,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 42, 2 (2014): 258–85.

17 Donald Cameron to Lord Lugard, 6 Apr. 1926, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MSS Lugard, L9/1/20.

18 Raymond Buell to Edmund Day, 8 May 1930; and Day to Buell, 13 May 1930, excerpt from Day letter to Selskar Gunn, 21 Aug. 1930, Rockefeller Archive Center, Rockefeller Foundation Record Group 1.1, Series 400 F, box 51, fol. 673.

19 See Malinowski's remarks in a statement about economic policy in the Trobriands in 1916: British and Australian Trade in the South Pacific (Melbourne, 1918), 107–8.

20 Bronislaw Malinowski, “Race and Labour,” Listener, 16 July 1930, Supplement 8, v. For correspondence about the piece, see Malinowski Papers, 12/1, B. E. Nicolls to Bronislaw Malinowski, 20 June 1930.

21 Malinowski, Bronislaw, “Practical Anthropology,” Africa 2, 1 (1929): 2238 .

22 Ibid., 24. Duncan Bell has pointed out the persistent failure to take seriously the pervasiveness and influence of political ideas associated with settler colonialism in histories of Britain and its empire, in Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire (Princeton, 2016), 6.

23 On Malinowski's egotism and institutional adroitness, see Mills, David, Difficult Folk? A Political History of Social Anthropology (New York, 2008), 3539 . Malinowski never missed a chance to disparage Elliot Smith and most other anthropologists. See, for example, “Interview between John Van Sickle and Malinowski,” Rockefeller Archive Center, Rockefeller Foundation Record Group 1.1, 400 F, box 51, fol. 673.

24 Report of the Joint Committee on Closer Union in East Africa (London, 1931), vol. 1, 34.

25 Ibid., 811.

26 Luongo, Katherine, Witchcraft and Colonial Rule in Kenya, 1900–1955 (Cambridge, 2011), esp. 82–87. Helen Tilley takes a different view, arguing that social scientists bolstered public uncertainties about imperialism in the case's aftermath, in Africa as a Living Laboratory (Chicago, 2011), ch. 6, esp., 311.

27 Rex v. Kumwaka wa Mulumbi & 69 others, Kenya Supreme court, Law Reports of Kenya, 1932, XIV (Nairobi, 1933), 139.

28 Frederick Lord Lugard, “Witchcraft in Africa,” Times, 20 Apr. 1932: 15.

29 Magic and Administration in Africa,” Nature, 129, 3269 (1932): 629–31.

30 Malinowski Papers, 9/3, draft “Memorandum for the Rockefeller Foundation written for Mr Embree,” 3, 4.

31 Malinowski Papers, 9/3, “Memorandum on Colonial Research—Christmas 1927,” 14.

32 Malinowski Papers, 21/11, Law lecture dated “Tuesday Oct. 17” (no year given).

33 Meyer Fortes to Bronislaw Malinowski, 25 Aug. 1936, Cambridge University Library, Meyer Fortes Papers, 8405/1/45.

34 Law Reports of Kenya, 1932, XIV, 139.

35 Malinowski, Bronislaw, Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea (London, 1978 [1922]), 116; and Crime and Custom in Savage Society (Totowa, 1967 [1926]), 6061 . For the fullest expression of Malinowski's theories about magic, see Appendix 1 in his Coral Gardens and Their Magic: A Study of the Methods of Tilling the Soil and of Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand Islands, 2 vols. (London, 1935) vol. 1.

36 On Tylor and Frazer, see Stocking, After Tylor, chs. 2 and 4; and Tambiah, Stanley, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge, 1990). A helpful introduction to these themes from an interdisciplinary standpoint can be found in Tuori, Kaius, Lawyers and Savages: Ancient History and Legal Realism in the Making of Legal Anthropology (Abingdon, 2014), ch. 4.

37 Firth, Raymond, Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori (London, 1929), xiii.

38 Malinowski, Crime and Custom, 2.

39 Here the epithet “primitive” is used in its historical, rather than contemporary sense. For a discussion about interwar anthropologists’ use of the concept “primitive,” see Ferguson, James, “Anthropology and Its Evil Twin: ‘Development’ in the Constitution of the Discipline,” in Cooper, Frederick and Packard, Randall M., eds., International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge (Berkeley, 1997), 150–75, 170 n4; and Kuper, Adam, The Reinvention of Primitive Society: Transformations of a Myth, 2d ed. (London, 2005).

40 Malinowski, Argonauts, 10.

41 Malinowski, Crime and Custom, 54.

42 Ibid., 53.

43 Ibid., 67.

44 Allen, Carleton Kemp, Law in the Making, 2d ed. (Oxford, 1930), 13.

45 Malinowski Papers, 21/5, “Excerpts from and Comments on Law in the Making C. K. Allen,” 25 June 1938.

46 Ibid.

47 Kenya Gazette, 13 May 1925, 384–85.

48 For a discussion of these themes in relation to law and law-making, see Moore, Sally Falk, “Treating Law as Knowledge: Telling Colonial Officers What to Say to Africans about Running ‘Their Own’ Native Courts,” Law & Society Review 26, 1 (1992): 1146 .

49 Waller, Richard D., “Witchcraft and Colonial Law in Kenya,” Past & Present 180 (Aug. 2003): 241–75.

50 Ibahwoh, Bonny, Imperial Justice: Africans in Empire's Court (Oxford, 2013), 5657 .

51 Ibahwoh calls the tension between local norms and imperial universalism “a regime of exception,” in Imperial Justice, 10; Waller, “Witchcraft,” 248–49.

52 Sir Lugard, F. D., The Dual Mandate in Tropical Africa (Edinburgh, 1922), 564.

53 Malinowski, Bronislaw, The Dynamics of Culture Change: An Inquiry into Race Relations in Africa, Kaberry, P. M., ed. (Oxford, 1945), 141.

54 Ibid., 94.

55 Malinowski, “Applied Anthropology,” 24.

56 See, for instance, the conflicting views of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred in Oxford University Summer School on Colonial Administration: Second Session, 1938 (Oxford, 1938), 6774 .

57 Malinowski Papers, 6/8, “Colonial Administration Class: Discussion of Miss Perham's Paper, 9 May 1933.”

58 Ibid.

59 Kuklick, Savage Within, 183; Ranger, T. O., “From Humanism to the Science of Man: Colonialism in Africa and the Understanding of Alien Societies,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, 26 (1976): 115–41, 119.

60 London School of Economics, Audrey Richards Papers, 17/4, transcript of recorded September 1982 interview with E. Shils, corrected typescript.

61 Quoted in Basu, Paul, “N. W. Thomas and Colonial Anthropology in British West Africa: Reappraising a Cautionary Tale,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22, 1 (2016): 84107 , 89.

62 The National Archives, Kew, Colonial Office files, Lord Godfrey Elton to Lord Lloyd, 27 May 1940, 847/20/8, app. 23.

63 For an account of British interwar amateurism with reference to economic expertise, see Fourcade, Marion, Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s (Princeton, 2009), 4249 . Imperial bureaucrats remained skeptical of social science well into the postwar era: Pels, Peter, “Global ‘Experts’ and ‘African’ Minds: Tanganyika Anthropology as Public and Secret Service, 1925–61,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17, 4 (2011): 788810 , 795–96; Linstrum, Erik, Ruling Minds: Psychology in the British Empire (Cambridge, Mass., 2016), 158.

64 Rockefeller Archive Center, Rockefeller Foundation Record Group 1.1, Series 475 S, box 1, fol. 3, “Memorandum—TBK's Visit to England, Oct. 16–23, 1932.”

65 Joseph Hodge persuasively argues that public health and anxieties about demography and labor were by far the most important matters capturing the attention of those imperialists and administrators who were interested in welfare and development in the period. See his Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacies of British Colonialism (Athens, 2007), ch. 4.

66 Linstrum, Ruling Minds, 2.

67 Malinowski Papers, 6/8, transcript: “Colonial Administration Class: Discussion of Miss Perham's Paper, 9 May 1933.”

68 On the League and opposition to settler colonialism see Pedersen, Susan, “Settler Colonialism at the Bar of the League of Nations,” Elkins, Caroline and Pedersen, Susan, eds., Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies (London, 2005), 113–34. For the influence of the league on discourses of welfare, see Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 118ff; Pedersen, Guardians, 9; and (in Pedersen) anthropology: 303, 317; and development: 29, 124, 131, 258, 198, 403; and on trusteeship, Mandates and international law, especially: 75–76.

69 Tournès, Ludovic, Les États-Unis et La Société Des Nations (1914–1946): Le Systeme International Face a L'emergence D'une Superpuissance (Bern, 2016).

70 Edmund Day to Leonard Outhwaite, 17 Aug. 1932, Rockefeller Archive Center, Rockefeller Foundation Record Group 1.1, Series 100 S, box 91, fol. 838.

71 Malinowski Papers, 29/21, A. Zimmern to B. Malinowski, 29 Nov. 1930.

72 Mair, Lucy, The Protection of Minorities: The Working and Scope of the Minorities Treaties under the League of Nations (London, 1928).

73 Quincy Wright, Mandates under the League of Nations (Chicago, 1930), 544 n8.

74 Ibid., 281. See also Wright's discussion of the role of the expert anthropologist, economist, and geographer in international law in his Research in International Law since the War: A Report to the International Relations Committee of the Social Science Research Council. (Washington, D.C., 1930), 31. For a discussion of the connection between interwar social science, expertise, “organicism,” and international law, see Mazower, Mark, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (London, 2012), 9596 .

75 Lucy Mair makes this case in Protection of Minorities, ch. 2. On the League and problems of sovereignty, see Pedersen, Guardians, ch. 7; and Callahan, Michael D., A Sacred Trust: The League of Nations and Africa, 1929–1946 (Brighton, 2004), 4045 , and on mandates and indirect rule, 102–10. For a pungent contemporary formulation of sovereignty as a matter of untrammeled “decisionism,” see Schmitt, Carl, The Concept of the Political, Schwab, George, trans. (Chicago, 1996); and, in the realm of international law, Schmitt, Carl, “Forms of Modern Imperialism in International Law,” in Legg, Stephen, ed., Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos, Hannah, Matthew, trans. (London, 2011), esp. 31.

76 Malinowski, Bronislaw, “A New Instrument for the Interpretation of Law, Especially Primitive,” Yale Law Journal 51, 8 (1942): 1237–54, 1248. Malinowski travelled to Yale in 1940 and spent the last year of his life teaching classes on jurisprudence with the legal “realist” William Underhill Moore.

77 Ibid., 1250.

78 Hann, C. M. and Hart, Keith, Economic Anthropology: History, Ethnography, Critique (Cambridge, 2011), 51. For a general historical survey situating Malinowski in a tradition of jurisprudential thinking, see Freeman, Michael and Napier, David, “Introduction: Law and Anthropology,” Current Legal Issues—Law and Anthropology 12 (2009): 112 , 2–3.

79 Morefield, Jeanne, Covenants without Swords: Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire (Princeton, 2005).

80 Malinowski, Argonauts, 518.

81 Mazower, Governing the World, 95–96; Bashford, Alison, Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth (New York, 2014), 7580 .

82 Quoted in Stocking, “Dreamtime,” 53.

83 Stocking, “Dreamtime,” 65.

84 Malinowski Papers, 11/5, “Dynamics of Contemporary Diffusion,” B. Malinowski pamphlet, n.d., corrected in pencil.

85 On the relationship between Malinowski and Kenyatta, see Berman, Bruce and Lonsdale, John, “Custom, Modernity, and the Search for Kihooto: Kenyatta, Malinowski, and the Making of Facing Mount Kenya ,” in Tilley, Helen and Gordon, Robert, eds., Ordering Africa: Anthropology, European Imperialism and the Politics of Knowledge (Manchester, 2010), 173–98. For an argument that links Malinowski's cultural nationalism with a critique of political nationalism in the context of his Polish identity, see Gellner, Ernest, “The Political Thought of Bronislaw Malinowski,” Current Anthropology 28, 4 (1987): 557–59.

86 Kuper, Adam, Among the Anthropologists: History and Context in Anthropology (London, 1999), 155; Matera, Marc, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (Berkeley, 2015), ch. 6, esp. 245–60.

87 Rossetti, Carlo, “B. Malinowski, the Sociology of ‘Modern Problems’ in Africa and the Colonial Situation,” Cahiers d’études africaines 25, 100 (1985): 477503 , 478.

88 Malinowski, Bronislaw, A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, Guterman, Norbert, trans. (New York, 1967). The source for Malinowski's statement about “caricatures” may have been Lugard's Dual Mandate, which quotes the “father of pan-Africanism” E. W. Blyden to this effect, 82 n7.

89 Matera, Black London, 261.

90 Ferguson, James, “Formalities of Poverty: Thinking about Social Assistance in Neoliberal South Africa,” African Studies Review 50, 2 (2007): 7186 , 73–74; I thank Jacob Dlamini for pointing out this reference to me. See also Hetherington, Penelope, British Paternalism in Africa, 1920–1970 (London, 1978), ch. 5. In his final publication, given first as a talk at the historically African American Fisk University, Malinowski maintained race as a component of his analysis, not as a biological fact, but as a sociological construction: Malinowski, Bronislaw, “The Pan-African Problem of Culture Contact,” American Journal of Sociology 48, 6 (1943): 649–65, 653. For a discussion of anthropology's contributions toward the dissociation of race from biology in this period, see Barkan, Elazar, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (Cambridge, 1992).

91 Mantena, Alibis of Empire.

92 McHugh, Paul G., Aboriginal Societies and the Common Law: A History of Sovereignty, Status and Self-Determination (Oxford, 2004), 49. The concept of an “empire of uniformity” is a reference to Tully, James, Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity (Cambridge, 1995), which McHugh cites on page 40.

93 Ibid., 294.

94 Philip Pettit argues that functionalists are particularly prone to portray the resilience of social systems; Functional Explanation and Virtual Selection,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47, 2 (1996): 291302 , 298.

95 The National Archives, Kew, Colonial Office files, 1045/195, F. E. Williams, “Creed of a Government Anthropologist: Presidential Address,” repr. from Report of Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, vol. 24, Jan. 1939, 148.

96 For the gendered aspects of contemporary politics of protection, see Pedersen, Susan, “National Bodies, Unspeakable Acts: The Sexual Politics of Colonial Policy-Making,” Journal of Modern History 63, 4 (1991): 647–80.

97 Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory, 424 n42.

98 Pedersen, Guardians, 5.

99 Malinowski, “Race and Labour,” 1.

100 Firth, Raymond, Human Types (London, 1938), 195–96.

101 Firth, Raymond, “Anthropology Looks at Economics,” Science and Society: A Journal of Human Progress 1, 2 (1937): 4855 , 55.

102 Firth, Primitive Economics; and We, the Tikopia: A Sociological Study of Kinship in Primitive Polynesia (London, 1936).

103 McHugh, Aboriginal Societies, 49.

104 Malinowski's arguments about “applied” anthropology have led to functionalist anthropology increasingly appearing in genealogies of postwar paradigms of development and modernization: Cooper, Frederick, “Development, Modernization, and the Social Sciences in the Era of Decolonization: The Examples of British and French Africa,” Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines 10, 1 (2004): 938 , esp. 12–15; L'Estoile, Benoît de, “The ‘Natural Preserve of Anthropologists’: Social Anthropology, Scientific Planning and Development,” Social Science Information 36, 2 (1997): 343–76, 365–66; Escobar, Arturo, “Anthropology and the Development Encounter: The Making and Marketing of Development Anthropology,” American Ethnologist 18, 4 (1991): 658–82, esp. 661–62; Grillo, R. D., “Applied Anthropology in the 1980s: Retrospect and Prospect,” in Grillo, R. D. and Rew, Alan, eds., Social Anthropology and Development Policy (London, 1985), 136 ; Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, ch. 4.

105 For the “expressive” reasoning of the justices in the Kamba case, see Law Reports of Kenya, 1932, esp. 139. For a classic statement of retributionist versus utilitarian accounts of justice, see Hart, H.L.A., “Prolegomenon to the Principles of Punishment,” in Punishment and Responsibility: Essays in the Philosophy of Law (Oxford, 1970) 127 . For a statement of “expressive” theories of punishment, see Feinberg, Joel, “The Expressive Function of Punishment,” in Doing & Deserving: Essays in the Theory of Responsibility (Princeton, 1970).

106 On the creation of the persona of the expert in the postwar era, see Isaac, Joel, “Tangled Loops: Theory, History, and The Human Sciences in Modern America,” Modern Intellectual History 6, 2 (2009): 397424 , 398–99, and for inter-war antecedents, see Tom Arnold-Forster, “Democracy and Expertise in the Lippmann-Terman Controversy,” Modern Intellectual History (forthcoming).

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