“Blond flowing hair”, “tumid lips,” “rigid posture”, and “choleric temperament”: Universal aspirations and racial asymmetries in Linnaeus' definition of Homo sapiens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


The starting point of my analysis will be Reinhard Koselleck’s hypothesis of historical asymmetrical counterconcepts. His belief in a conceptual and ideological global dualism (Hellene/Barbarian, Christian/Heathen, Superman/Subhuman), in which a collective Self is contrasted to a generic Other of negation, will be tested on Linnaeus’ 18th-century classifications of human varieties (races). Though proposed as a neutral scientific map of human ethnic groups, the conceptual asymmetries were nestled within Linnaeus quadripartite and occasionally quinquepartite division of the world. The asymmetric character of these taxonomies, complicating Koselleck's essentially dichotomous vision of conceptual asymmetry, will be explored through their connotations of inclusion and exclusion, immateriality/invisibility vs materiality/visibility, civilization, authenticity/originality/innocence and, 'degeneration'. The binary scheme of asymmetrical concepts is further qualified by Linnaeus' empirical and morphological findings that thwart easy clear-cut distinctions, as well as by his reliance on ancient Humoralism with its stress on symmetry, equality and balance of four nodes (rather than two), and, finally, Linnaeus' self-referential characterization of the human species (nosce te ipsum - know thyself) which does not preclude, however, a subtle ambivalence regarding European cultural sophistication.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History of Ideas


  • Linnaeus, history of race, Reinhart Koselleck, Begriffsgeschichte
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHellenes and Barbarians
Subtitle of host publicationAsymmetrical Concepts in European Discourse
EditorsKirill Potoutenko
PublisherBerghahn Books
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2016 Aug
Publication categoryResearch

Publication series

NameEuropean Conceptual History Series