Balance, malleability and anthropology: historical contexts
As the various contributions to this volume make clear, histories of notions
of ‘balanced selves’ are diverse. Ideas of balance differ across time and
cultural space, as do the ways in which balance might be regulated,
controlled and incentivised. Among all this variety, this chapter asks: How
is it possible to historicise balanced selfhood at all? What is the basis
for the assumption that human selves might be differently realised according
to the norms of different times and places? The chapter makes two arguments.
First, that a significant part of this notion of ‘malleable humanity’ comes
from early twentieth-century anthropology, especially from work in the
tradition of Franz Boas and Margaret Mead. Second, that the context for
these assumptions becoming visible is a resurgence of neurological,
neurochemical and genomic visions of humanity from the late 1990s onwards.
If the malleable selves that populate our histories of balance are
significantly anthropological, then their relationship with imperialism must
be clarified. In addition, as the visibility of malleable selves is related
to the resurgence of a new biological vision of humanity, the place of
historians in this contested terrain must also be clarified.