Sir Alexander Morris Carr-Saunders

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Sir Alexander Morris Carr-Saunders

The English demographer, sociologist, and academic administrator Sir Alexander Morris Carr-Saunders (1886-1966) pioneered in analyzing population problems and social structures. He contributed significantly to the development of higher education in Britain's colonies.

Youngest child of a wealthy underwriter in Milton Heath, Dorking, Alexander Carr-Saunders was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where in 1908 he took first-class honors in zoology. As Naples Biological Scholar, he was a laboratory instructor at Oxford for a year, but he became increasingly uncertain about his profession. Independently wealthy, he pursued mountaineering and a love of art and studied biometrics at the University of London.

In London before World War I Carr-Saunders was secretary of the Research Committee of the Eugenics Education Society; subwarden at Toynbee Hall, the university settlement house; an elected member of the Stepney Borough Council; and a member of the bar. During the war he was commissioned in the Royal Army Service corps and stationed in the Suez depot. He then returned to the zoology department at Oxford, became a farmer, and in 1921 participated in the marine biology expedition to Spitsbergen. In 1922 he received great critical acclaim for the publication of his Population Problem: A Study in Human Evolution, and the following year he was appointed the first Charles Booth professor of social science at Liverpool University. In 1937 he became director of the London School of Economics, remaining there until 1956.

As a member of the Asquith Commission on higher education in the colonies (1943-1955), Carr-Saunders worked to promote colonial universities of high caliber. He chaired the Colonial Social Science Research Council (1945-1951); the Commission on University Education in Malaya (1947); the Committee on Higher Education for Africans in Central Africa (1953); and from 1951 the Inter University Council, which aided higher education in Malta, Hong Kong, and Malaya. He also served on the Royal Commission on Population (1944-1949) and was chairman of its Statistics Committee. He was knighted in 1946.

Carr-Saunders's earliest work applied the techniques and perceptions of natural science to social problems. The Population Problem developed the concept of an optimum number in relation to a country's social structure and discussed birth control as a problem in eugenics. In Eugenics (1926) Carr-Saunders argued that a more "satisfying state of society" depended on improving "the innate endowment of the race" as well as the physical and social enviornment. His World Population: Past Growth and Present Trends (1936) anticipated government control of population trends, and he urged the collection and analysis of demographic data as the basis for such policy.

Carr-Saunders's later work includes sociological analyses of the professions, discussions of the universities outside Britain, and a variety of studies of social problems. By the end of his life, in the Rathbone Memorial Lecture at Liverpool University, Natural Science and Social Science (1958), Carr-Saunders expressed his belief that social science, inherently imprecise in method and humanistic in purpose, could no longer be studied through the natural sciences, as he had done earlier.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Carr-Saunders and no study of his work. Background information is in Alfred N. Loundes, The British Educational System (1955). □