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Aesthetics in the Eugenics Movement: A Critical Examination


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Assistant Professor


Although multiple scholars have pushed music education to embrace the aesthetic as a curricular and pedagogical touchstone, research surrounding this aesthetic turn has largely framed aesthetics as a sensory experience rather than a social technology (one that can both liberate and oppress). In response, I address the following question: how do uncritical aesthetic philosophies and the experiences they engender act as a means of oppression within music education? By way of example, I approach this question through a text analysis of writings on aesthetics from The Eugenics Review, a long-running publication that disseminated eugenics news and research. In doing so, I construct a eugenical theory of aesthetics that illuminates how eugenicists used aesthetics to enact what Foucault defines as pastoral power and assert control of bodies and populations through education. I then frame the writings of Carl Seashore (a pioneering music education researcher and avowed eugenicist) within this eugenical theory of aesthetics, revealing the ways that Seashore used aesthetic theory to forward eugenical arguments. I conclude with implications for contemporary educators and researchers, sounding a call for a deep and critical examination of all aesthetic formations within music education.


WOODS, P. (2022). Aesthetics in the Eugenics Movement: A Critical Examination. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 56(2), 56-77

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2021
Online Publication Date Jul 1, 2022
Publication Date Jul 1, 2022
Deposit Date Mar 13, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jul 2, 2023
Journal Journal of Aesthetic Education (JAE)
Print ISSN 0021-8510
Electronic ISSN 1543-7809
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 56
Issue 2
Pages 56-77
Public URL
Publisher URL


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