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Popularizing the Ancestry of Man: Robert Ardrey and the Killer Instinct

Nadine Weidman
Isis
Vol. 102, No. 2 (June 2011), pp. 269-299
DOI: 10.1086/660130
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/660130
Page Count: 31
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Popularizing the Ancestry of Man: Robert Ardrey and
the Killer Instinct
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Abstract

ABSTRACT This essay examines Robert Ardrey (1908–1980)—American playwright, screenwriter, and prolific author—as a case study in the popularization of science. Bringing together evidence from both paleoanthropology and ethology, Ardrey became in the 1960s a vocal proponent of the theory that human beings are innately violent. The essay shows that Ardrey used his popular scientific books not only to consolidate a new science of human nature but also to question the popularizer's standard role, to reverse conventional hierarchies of scientific expertise, and to test the boundaries of professional scientific authority. Understanding how he did this can help us reassess the meanings and uses of popular science as critique in Cold War America. The essay also shows that E. O. Wilson's sociobiology was in part a reaction to the subversive political message of Ardrey's science.

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