Title page for ETD etd-10102009-020322

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Gatlin, Stephen H.
URN etd-10102009-020322
Title William H. Sheldon's constitutional psychology :the somatotype as fiction
Degree Master of Science
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Barker, Peter Committee Chair
Fuller, Steven W. Committee Member
La Berge, Ann F. Committee Member
  • Psychology and literature
Date of Defense 1992-04-05
Availability restricted

In this thesis I argue that William H. Sheldon's somatotypes can be seen as fictional constructions. The traditional notion of idealization in prose fiction intrudes into Sheldon's reading of his somatotypes; the same kind of idealization, based on anthropological stereotyping, that had marked the science, or pseudo-science, of physiognomy. An integral aspect of physiognomy had been biological hierarchy and distinction, which had undergirded both the ancient and the European class systems, and which had provided a palpable benchmark for identifying nobility, heroism, and aristocracy.

Sheldon's constitutional psychology, I argue, is a thinly disguised revolt against the falling away of this biological hegemony. The demise of heroism and "Promethean Will" or individuality was, for Sheldon, a matter of nostalgia and alienation. The somatotype studies, while fostering the illusion of detached empiricism, actually allow Sheldon to judge contemporary humanity according to antique (heroic) standards. Sheldon's somatotypes, therefore, are artifactual; to the degree that they express as much about the "temperamene" of their "author" as they do about the somatotypes themselves. In this way, Sheldon constnlcts his subjects. Sheldon's proposed program of "biological humanics", a variety of eugenics, was, in truth, an agenda (a fantasy) for recapturing the glory of the past. It was a scheme to reinvest power, beauty, heroism (primitive splendor), into the physical body; qualities and relationships which had characterized the ancient world, and which had been compromised by the "shopkeeper" and cowardly mentality of modern society.

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