Framing the moron: The social construction of feeble-mindedness in the American eugenic era

Framing the moron: The social construction of feeble-mindedness in the American eugenic era

by Gerald O'Brien


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Many people are shocked upon discovering that tens of thousands of innocent persons in the United States were involuntarily sterilized, forced into institutions, and otherwise maltreated within the course of the eugenic movement (190030). Such social control efforts are easier to understand when we consider the variety of dehumanizing and fear-inducing rhetoric propagandists invoke to frame their potential victims.

This book details the five major themes employed within the context of eugenic propaganda, and provides numerous examples of their use based on original sources of the period. These include the organism, animal, war or national catastrophe, religious and object metaphors. Rhetoric related to these themes was utilized to demonstrate the extent of potential harm posed by the presumptive unrelenting child-bearing among unfit groups; a threat that could only be countered by ensuring that such persons did not breed. Early in the twentieth century the term "moron" was developed to describe the primary targets of eugenic control. This book demonstrates how the image of moronity in the United States was shaped by eugenicists.

The book will be of interest not only to disability and eugenic scholars and historians, but to anyone who wants to explore the means by which pejorative metaphors are used to support social control efforts against vulnerable community groups. While readers may be appalled at the use of such rhetoric to support control efforts, they will also no doubt draw parallels regarding the use of similar language in contemporary socio-political speeches and writings.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784991074
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Publication date: 02/01/2016
Series: Disability History
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Gerald V. O'Brien is Professor of Social Work at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Table of Contents


1. Metaphors and the dehumanisation of marginalised groups

2. The organism metaphor: the moron as a diseased entity

3. The animal metaphor: the moron as an atavistic subhuman

4. The war and natural catastrophe metaphor: the moron as an enemy force

5. The religious and altruistic metaphors: the moron as an immoral sinner and an object of protection

6. The object metaphor: the moron as a poorly functioning human

7. Conclusion



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