Eugenic thinking in Australia: An Anti-Eugenics Centennial

Eugenics is often thought of as a social movement ending around 1945 with the end of the Second World War. Whether or not one accepts this view of eugenics, eugenic thinking has a reach into contemporary thinking and public policy. Eugenic thinking is the confluence of a goal with a way of achieving that goal. The goal is intergenerational human improvement, increasing the balance of desirable over undesirable traits in human populations across generations. The means is the use of science, technology, and social policy in identifying such traits and in promoting improved future generations.

Despite the mantra of human improvement, eugenics often normalised the dehumanization and disposability of those with less desirable traits: those deemed “unfit”. Practices, institutions, and policies such as segregation, marriage restriction laws, compulsory sterilisation, immigration restriction laws, are part of the recognised eugenic past in many countries. Child removal practices, residential schools, and some uses of reproductive technologies both to select embryos with desired traits and to terminate fetuses with undesirable traits have been claimed to manifest eugenic thinking.

In this series of two-hour, online panels, we explore eugenic thinking in Australasia, both past and present. Panel 1 (September 2/3) will focus on Indigenous Australasia; Panel 2 (September 9/10) on immigration, borders, children, and citizenship; Panel 3 (September 13/14) on technologies and disposable people.

Participants include: Lynette Russell, Peter Read, and Joanne Faulkner (Panel 1), chaired by Jane Lydon; Ruth Balint, Tim Calabria, Luara Ferracioli, and Matthew Lister (Panel 2), chaired by Rob Wilson; and Jane Carey, Rob Sparrow, and Rob Wilson (Panel 3), chaired by Ruth Wallace.

This panel series is organised in coordination with Benedict Ipgrave and Milton Reynolds as part of the From Small Beginnings initiative, leading into the global anti-centennial commemoration of the Second International Congress on Eugenics during September 2021.


Start times for all events: 10am Perth / 12 noon Melbourne / 3pm Auckland / 7pm San Francisco / 8pm Edmonton / 9pm Chicago / 10pm Toronto / 3am UK time

Duration of panels: 2 hours

Panel 1: Eugenics and Indigenous Australasia

Friday 3rd September 2021, in Australasia / Thursday, 2nd September, 2021, in North America/UK

Panelists: Joanne Faulkner (Macquarie), Peter Read (ANU), Lynette Russell (Monash)

Chair: Jane Lydon (UWA)

Panel 2: Eugenics: Immigration, Borders, Children, Citizens

Friday, 10th September, 2021, in Australasia / Thursday, 9th September, 2021 in North America/UK

Panelists: Ruth Balint (UNSW), Tim Calabria (La Trobe), Luara Ferracioli (Sydney), Matthew Lister (Deakin)

Chair: Rob Wilson (UWA)

Panel 3: Eugenics, Technologies, and Disposable People

Tuesday, 14th September, 2021, in Australasia / Monday, 13th September, 2021, in North America/UK

Panelists: Jane Carey (Wollongong), Rob Sparrow (Monash); Rob Wilson (UWA)

Chair: Ruth Wallace (Charles Darwin University)

Register for Zoom Link:

Panelist biographies:

Dr Ruth Balint is an Associate Professor in History at the University of New South Wales. She writes and teaches about histories of migration and refugees. Her forthcoming book, Destination Elsewhere: Displaced persons and their Quest to Leave Europe After 1945, is published with Cornell University Press (2021). One of the book’s key themes explores how encounters with power by displaced persons in postwar Europe contributed to the creation of a legal and cultural concept of a refugee identity. A co-written book with Julie Kalman, Smuggled: An Illegal History of Journeys to Australia is published with NewSouth Publishing (2021). Taking a hotly contested issue in the public sphere, this book historicises the people smuggling trade in Australian migration, and gives a unique voice to the refugee experience of being smuggled. Ruth is on the editorial board of Refugee Survey Quarterly and the executive committee of the UNSW Forced Migration Network.

Tim Calabria is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University, where his research focuses on institutionalised childhoods and colonialism in Australia. Tim was awarded a Norman McCann Scholarship by the National Library of Australia in 2021. Since 2020, he has taught history and Aboriginal studies at La Trobe. He has also worked for the First Nations Legal and Research Services as a consulting historian. Tim has recent and forthcoming peer reviewed journal articles in Law & History and History Australia. His research has received the Francis Forbes Prize, the Theory Race and Colonialism Essay (TRACE) Award and the Richard Broome Prize.

Dr Jane Carey teaches and researches across settler colonial, women’s and Indigenous histories at the University of Wollongong, where she was a founding Co-Director of the Centre for Colonial and Settler Studies. Her research focusses in the intersections between histories of racial science, whiteness, gender and settler colonialism. She has written extensively on the adoption and promotion of eugenics by the Australian women’s movement in the early twentieth century, the Racial Hygiene Association of NSW (which became the present- day Family Planning Association), and the eugenic foundations of Marie Stopes’ and Margaret Sanger’s campaigns for birth control in the interwar years. More broadly, her work has demonstrated how race sciences like eugenics both shaped settler colonial governance and inspired myriad social movements (including women’s and Indigenous movements). She is the co-editor of 5 collections – Re-Orienting Whiteness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), Creating White Australia (Sydney University Press, 2009), Indigenous Networks: Mobility, Connections and Exchange (Routledge, 2014), and Colonial Formations (Routledge, 2021) – and has a forthcoming monograph, Taking to the Field: A History of Australian Women and Science with Monash University Press.

Joanne Faulkner is a settler coloniser woman living on Gadigal and Wangal land, and working on Darug land. She is an ARC Future Fellow in cultural studies at Macquarie University, and her project analyses representations of Aboriginal children and childhood within Australian settler-colonial culture. She is the author of Young and Free: [Post]colonial Ontologies of Childhood, Memory and History in Australia (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and The Importance of Being Innocent: Why We Worry About Children (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Dr. Luara Ferracioli is Senior Lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University of Sydney. She was awarded her PhD from the Australian National University and was a Global Leaders Fellow at Oxford and Princeton in 2011-2013. Prior to her appointment at the University of Sydney, she was an assistant professor in Political Theory at the University of Amsterdam. In 2021-2022, she will be a Laurance S. Rockefeller Fellow at Princeton. Her book Liberal Self-Determination in a World of Migration will be published with OUP in December 2021.  

Matt Lister is a lawyer and philosopher who teaches migration and refugee law and workplace law at Deakin University law school in Melbourne.  Before coming to Deakin he taught in the Legal Studies Department at the Wharton School of Business at U. Penn, at Penn Law, Villanova Law School, and the University of Denver School of Law, and was a law clerk on the Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and the US Court of International Trade.  He earned his JD and PhD in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, and has published on several aspects of immigration and refugee law and policy as well as political and legal philosophy more generally.  Before starting his graduate studies at Penn, he was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Russia for two years. 

Professor Jane Lydon is the Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History at The University of Western Australia. Her research centres upon Australia’s colonial past and its legacies in the present. In particular, she is concerned with the history of Australia’s engagement with anti-slavery, humanitarianism, and ultimately human rights. She led the Returning Photos project, aiming to re-connect historic photograph archives held in European anthropological museums with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descendants and relatives in Australia:  Her books include Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians. (Duke, 2005), Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (Bloomsbury, 2016), and most recently a study of the relationship between the abolition of British slavery and Australian colonization Antislavery and Australia: No Slavery in a Free Land? (Routledge 2021).

Peter Read was born in Sydney and educated at Knox Grammar School, the Australian National University, the University of Toronto and the University of Bristol. He was a schoolteacher in Canberra and London and in 1976-78 he was a curriculum research officer in the Northern Territory Department of Education. After gaining his doctorate in 1984, he held a number of teaching and research positions in the Faculties and the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University.  His work on Aboriginal oral history began with research for his biography of the Aboriginal activist and public servant Charles Perkin in the 1980s. He gained a professorship in 2002 and in 2005-6 he was Deputy Director at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.  His books include A Rape of the Soul So Profound: The Return of the Stolen Generations (1990) and Haunted Earth (2003).  A History of Aboriginal Sydney represents some of his recent work.

Professor Lynette Russell AM is an award-winning historian and Indigenous studies scholar. She is currently a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellow at Monash University.  She is an elected member of AIATSIS, and a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia (2013), the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Royal Historical Society, and Royal Anthropological Institute.  She is the author or editor of 17 volumes with several more in train. Lynette is the only Australian scholar to be elected to both the Royal Historical Society (London) and the Royal Anthropological Institute (London).  In addition, she has held two fellowships at Cambridge University and one at All Souls at Oxford University.

Professor Robert Sparrow BA (Hons) (Melb.), PhD (A.N.U.)  Rob Sparrow is a Professor in the Philosophy Program, and a Chief Investigator in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, at Monash University, where he works on ethical issues raised by new technologies. He completed an ARC Future Fellowship on “A new ethics for the development and application of genetic technologies in a pluralist society.” He has been a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Visiting Fellow at Kyoto University, a Visiting Fellow in the CUHK Centre for Bioethics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a Visiting Fellow at Carnegie Mellon, and a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at the National University of Singapore. He has published widely on the ethics of human enhancement and the “new eugenics”.

Professor Ruth Wallace is the Dean of the College of Indigenous Futures, Education & the Arts and Director of the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University. Her research interests relate to the links between social policy that addresses the concerns of people and systems remote from core decision making processes. Her research also relates to the identities of marginalised learners has impacted on the development of effective learning and workforce development pathways. This work is situated in regional and remote areas of Northern Australia and Indonesia, with a specific focus in research approaches to improve service delivery and adaptation, undertaken with Aboriginal people in remote and regional areas.

Rob Wilson is professor of philosophy at the University of Western Australia, having taught over at the University of Alberta (2000-2017), the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1996-2001), and Queen’s University (1992-1996), and most recently at La Trobe University in Melbourne (2017-2019).  He is the author of editor of seven books, including The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (1999) and, most recently, The Eugenic Mind Project (2018).  Rob has established a number of community engagement initiatives with a philosophical edge, including founding Philosophy for Children Alberta in 2008, directing the large-scale research project Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, and, most recently, founding the not-for-profit, Philosophical Engagement in Public Life (PEiPL).  His current projects include Keeping Kinship in Mind, funded by the ARC Discovery Program, rebuilding and expanding the website, and repairing a bathroom ceiling.  Rob was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2009 and is a long-standing member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists.

Sponsored by:

Philosophical Engagement in Public Life (PEiPL)

Australasian Association of Philosophy

University of Western Australia

From Small Beginnings (