The lifecast cast: an ethico-legal inquiry

Presented by Sarah Wild

Monday, 12 March, 2018 - 15:00

What do we do with the relics of race science in South Africa? My research focuses on the Bushman lifecasts currently housed in Iziko Museum in Cape Town. Dozens of casts were made in the first half of the 20th Century with the aim of classifying different races, specifically Bushmen. Race science, as this form of inquiry became known, gave false scientific grounding to ideas of racial hierarchies, racism, and white supremacy. It stripped those cast of their dignity, and promoted racist stereotypes which justified the poor treatment of South Africa’s first inhabitants. Race science formed part of a scientific paradigm which is at odds with the country’s current paradigm, with its focus on human rights and dignity. Determining right action requires a dialogue between multiple paradigms: the past, the present, and possible future paradigms. Using a mixture of Kantian deontology and virtue ethics, I argue that the only ethical action is for the lifecasts to be returned to descendants of those cast or of communities thought to be depicted by the casts.

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