"We need to talk about Richard Owen"

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Abstract Summary
The historiography of Richard Owen has focused on certain aspects of his character; from his difficult personality, rivalries, keenness on power to his museum enterprise and his standing-point on transmutation. However, an integral understanding of him still lacks in the literature. More specifically, of his years in the Royal College of Surgeons (1827-1856) – a period that remains in the shadow of Darwinism. In this work, Moral Economy is used as an analytical tool to illustrate the non-monetary resource management that Owen undertook in a specific social context in order to achieve his ambitions of institutionalising the field of Comparative Anatomy and being Britain´s most eminent naturalist. Through the study of Owen´s growth and expenditure of socio-political, intellectual, and emotional capital, a more humane and neutral portrayal of this controversial figure is exposed. As a little-explored arena, the former is particularly discussed. Owen´s historiography has focused particularly on his professional correspondence with men. However, Owen´s personal letters to his wife, mother and sisters reveal a different emotional expression. In that sense, Owen´s emotional capital touches on how his intimate relationship with his family provided a space where he privately curated his other capitals and how this had a direct impact on his professional development. Together with an analysis of his socio-political and intellectual capitals, this paper offers a synthetic approach where single behaviours are not over-interpreted, but normalised. Therefore, it challenges the long-held vision of an overwhelmingly defensive and power-centred naturalist.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Abstract Topic
Aspects of Scientific Practice/Organization
Chronological Classification :
19th century
Self-Designated Keywords :
Richard Owen, Moral Economy, Social Capital, Political Capital, Intellectual Capital, Emotional Capital, Professionalisation of Science

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