Eugenics, Racial Science and Nazi Biopolitics


The widespread complicity of German racial scientists in Nazi eugenic and racial policy is well documented. By contrast, the question of what influence these scientists had on the shaping and radicalization of Nazi biopolitics is more difficult to answer. Richard Wetzell challenges the thesis that Nazi racial science “created the conceptual framework” for Nazi racial policy.

Racial science could not have provided a coherent conceptual framework because the field was characterized by competing conceptions of race and heredity, which frequently led to controversies and conflicts, three of which will be examined in this presentation. Instead of using “race” as an analytical category for understanding Nazi Germany, historians must investigate how both scientists and Nazi officials deployed competing conceptions of race for various strategic purposes at different points in the development of the Nazi regime.

Richard F. Wetzell is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington DC and Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University. His most recent publication is the co-edited volume Beyond the Racial State:

Rethinking Nazi Germany (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming fall 2017).

His other publications include Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880-1945 (2000), Engineering Society: The Role of the Human and Social Sciences in Modern Societies, 1880-1980 (co-edited, 2012), and Crime and Criminal Justice in Modern Germany (2014).