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  • Querying Addams as "Evolutionary Scientist"
  • Judy Whipps

in evolutionary theorizing,, marilyn fischer carefully unpacks and analyzes the language in Democracy and Social Ethics, looking at both the final published text as well as Addams's earlier essays and talks that were eventually incorporated into the book. By researching authors that Addams either quotes or relied on, Fischer is able to excavate many layers of historical intellectual meaning and, in doing so, gives us a different picture of Addams than the one I'm familiar with. It's not a picture of Addams that is always flattering. Fischer's unpacking of these early texts shines a light on the sometimes-racist evolutionary thinking of that time. She is doing, as she says, a "close textual analysis" (14) within the intellectual context of that time—"explicating" the texts by locating them in a geographical and historical framework. For that, she has given us (and future scholars) an indispensable resource for understanding Addams.

There was much to admire and to discover in this book, and I'm grateful for this opportunity to better understand the references and quotes that Addams incorporates in her work (with or without quotation marks). Many of these thinkers may have been well-known at the time but have mostly disappeared from the Hull House story. For example, in my prior reading, I never encountered Geddes's influence on the Labor Museum, or the architect Pond's involvement with the Hull House structure.

It's also important to point out that this book is beautifully written. The language Fischer uses is precise and artful. We see Fischer's musical background throughout, such as when she compares Democracy and Social Ethics to a jazz performance where each performance "reveals the theme from new angles of perception" (16) and draws on the "orchestration of multiple voices" (18). Danielle Lake drew my attention to another one of Fischer's artful phrases: "Creativity is granular. It cracks open crevices in the assumed [End Page 113] geology of thought" (10). I love that phrase. It brought to mind the creative work that many feminist pragmatists did in the 1990s and 2000s to open crevices in the male-dominated world of philosophy, even pragmatist philosophy.

Fischer excels in careful and precise research that can reshape other scholars' interpretations of Addams. I confess it took me forever to read this book; nearly every paragraph was thought-provoking. It caused me to go back to Addams's writing, read other sources, and think through my previous assumptions. This is partially because Fisher shows me a different Addams than the one I have come to know. I struggled with some of the ideas here, sometimes finding a new "aha" revelation and other times wanting more clarification or wishing for a different interpretation of an aspect of Addams's work. In the interest of a continuing conversation, I'll put a few of these moments on paper, not as disagreements, but as additional considerations—more of a "yes, and …" rather than a "yes, but …".

I've always known that Addams read deeply and was affected by the evolutionary thinking of her day, which was influential in her Progressive perspective, particularly in the first two decades of her work at Hull House. It's true that Addams was involved in the developing field of sociology, but I would not have defined her as a scientist, a claim that Fischer returns to over and over in this book. Fischer reads Democracy and Social Ethics as a scientific treatise, albeit carefully explaining how the definition of science/social science has changed since those days. She situates Addams in the role of a scientist in the "testing" phase of science. I stumbled over this in my reading of the book. Obviously, in today's definition of science, we would expect more data collection and objectivity than we see in Democracy and Social Ethics. (As an aside, it would have been helpful to have read the last part of chapter 6 before starting the book, where Fischer describes how the definition of social sciences changed, so I could have understood in what way Fischer was defining Addams as a scientist.)

Florence Kelley, one of...


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pp. 113-118
Launched on MUSE
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