Measuring Prejudice: Race Sciences of the 18-19th Centuries


A Deceitful Nose as an example of Physiognomy

    Physiognomy is the study of facial features as a pseudoscience. Facial characteristics, and their linkage to personality traits, has no scientific background. The use of a camera as a scientific tool of measurement, of documentation, furthered the support for these “findings” as a representation of the various measurements taken and of their accuracy. These pictures, however, do not display the correlation between two ideas (facial features and personality), rather, they show only the measurements of the features, leaving the viewer to simply believe what personalities the subjects had based upon the decision of the “scientists”. 

    The whole process was intended to organize people into distinct races defined by physical characteristics. These races, defined by their characteristics, were also defined by the character their physical appearance forged in them. The evil of the practice was it’s pseudoscientific evidence being portrayed as real, legitimate findings, in the form of photographs. Essentially legitimizing racism, physiognomy is a dubious practice that should not be recognized as a real science. The photographs alone are symbolic of the power dynamic between the white man and the “others” as the white man’s hands set up a measuring device over the subject’s head.

    The viewer of the photographs and diagrams is left to take the author’s word for the relationship between feature and personality. This creates a perfect platform for racism to grow, in the fertile plains of ignorance. If everyone is simply following the leader, that leader can manipulate the population to his/her own ends, including instilling a system of prejudice and stereotyping that maintains the racist ideology.

    Physiognomy is a pseudoscience that is more myth than science, and has no real weight on the personality of an individual. To presuppose anything of the sort would be an unqualified guess, with no real merit or factual basis. 


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