Hankins, Frank H.

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Hankins, Frank H.


Frank Hamilton Hankins, an American sociologist, devoted special attention to the role of bio logical factors in human traits and in social behavior. He was born in Wilshire, Ohio, in 1877 and received his bachelor’s degree from Baker Uni versity in Baldwin, Kansas, in 1901 and his PH.D. from Columbia University in 1908. In 1964 Clark University awarded him an honorary degree. Most of his academic career was spent at Clark, from 1906 to 1907 and again from 1908 to 1922, and at Smith College, from 1922 until 1946.

Hankins was a philocsophical realist, tough-minded, and rigorously scientific. He was most deeply influenced in philosophy and logic by John Stuart Mill; in his general sociological thinking by Herbert Spencer, Lester F. Ward, William Graham Sumner, and Franklin H. Giddings; and in the quantitative approach to social problems by Adolphe Quetelet, about whom he wrote his doctoral dissertation, Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, and Henry L. Moore, who in turn had studied under Benini in Italy. To be sure, although Hankins himself was a talented statistician, he was caustically skeptical of the assumptions and methods of the extreme quantitative approach of some of his sociological colleagues: he characterized their work as “merely sinking postholes here and there in the vast field of social phenomena.”

He was a strict scientific determinist and conceived all phenomena, personal and social, as undergoing endless change and rearrangement in adjustment to environmental conditions. Thus, a particular personality was for Hankins the product of an individual’s genetic constitution and his molding experiences. The self so formed has to express itself, and this self-expression is the sociological equivalent of the traditional metaphysical freedom of the will. By his reason and by the acquisition of scientific methods man can discover causal sequences, not only in the physical world but also in the psychosocial and cultural realms, and he can learn to adjust to these sequences and even to modify or direct them. Yet Hankins had no Utopian illusions; he doubted that the social sciences could achieve control of change comparable to that of the physical sciences. Whereas the laws of physical science do not vary with time and place, the causes of cultural sequences differ from one era to another, even in the same society. Cultural phe nomena emerge in what are often new causal combinations, and predictability is therefore severely limited. Hankins agreed with Spencer that efforts to control political and economic life more often than not produce unexpected results.

In the realm of social institutions, Hankins’ determinism was economic: he saw successive political theories as rationalizations of new class or sectional interests and new religious doctrines as sanctions of new economic modes. He believed that cultural change is the cumulative product of slow alterations in the everyday activities of increasing proportions of the populations—changes in daily routine that carry with them modifications of folk ways, mores, techniques, and political policies and that eventuate in new values and new ideologies.

Deeply influenced as he was by the work of Galton and Pearson, Hankins was perennially concerned with the effect of such selective processes as war, celibacy, persecution, urbanization, and education on the quantity and quality of the population, and with the consequences of demographic changes on social life. He regarded population pressure as an important factor in group hostilities, and he believed uncontrolled differential fertility of the social classes to be dysgenic: modern medicine and hygiene, combined with humanitarian views, made it possible for people with hereditary deficiencies to bear children and so to imperil racial soundness and human well-being. He believed ge netically above-average parents are most likely to produce children who are morally superior and capable of greater success in a competitive social order.

Hankins did of course recognize the moral im perative of a humanitarian perspective and re jected any scheme for the ruthless elimination of the unfit. He did not believe that the speedy adoption of positive eugenic measures was likely and therefore favored the active spreading of information about contraception, of facilities that would give the less favored strata of the population access to contraceptive equipment, and of realistic eugenic instruction for all. He doubted on both historical and genetic grounds the validity of the assumption that the number of potential men of genius is constant in any given population at all times. However, further advances in the science of human genetics may conceivably enable man not only to modify human nature in general but also to increase the number of potential geniuses, to discover them early in life, and to develop their powers.

These concerns naturally led Hankins to con sider the role of heredity and inborn ability in relation to social leadership and to question the assumptions of egalitarian democracy. He was highly critical of egalitarian doctrine, holding that for “democratic society … to continue in a sound, healthy condition, it must concern itself quite as much, if not more, with the hereditary constitution of its people as with efforts at a further equalization of material conditions” (1923, p. 411). Any realistic approach, he thought, must take the form of effective birth control policies, which will, in a quantitative sense, keep the number of people down to a level where their material needs can be supplied and, in the qualitative realm, assure an increase in the number of the superior types re quired to deal with the increasingly difficult prob lems of our era. Thus, in order to survive, democracy must both accept hereditary differentiation in abil ity and, by education and other means, mitigate and undermine hereditary stratification in society. If the channels between the different strata are kept as wide-open as possible, the basic fact of individual differences may be harmonized with democratic ideology.

Hankins was deeply interested in the problem of race and the impact of racial dogmas on political theories. His chapter “Race as a Factor in Political Theory” (1924) remains the most authoritative exposition and appraisal of the subject. In his book, The Racial Basis of Civilization (1926a), he took a middle ground between the fervid exponents of racial superiority and racial purity and the followers of Franz Boas and others who contended that there is no real validity in the notion of racial differences and hence, scientifically, no race problem. Hankins believed that all nations and nationalities, although greatly mixed racially through conquest and immigration, ultimately acquire a sense of racial solidarity and pride of both race and culture. He maintained that race crossing is a source of racial soundness and strength and that the historical record shows that periods of high civilization have been preceded by an extensive mingling of racial stocks. While he doubted, in principle, that all racial stocks have the same ca pacity for cultural achievement, since this would mean that they all had had identical mutational and selective processes, he recognized that actual racial superiority or inferiority cannot be proved or disproved because race mixture is so extensive and cultural environments are so different.

Hankins’ place in American sociology is secure. His concern with the problem of population quan tity was shared by his professional colleagues, and he stood out among them by stressing the important issue of population quality. His work on the race issue was a sane and valuable contribution. Despite the fact that most of his students were undergraduates, a surprisingly large number of them became professional sociologists as a result of his influence, and some of them, like Howard Odum, Clifford Kirkpatrick, and Franklin Frazier, became well-known in the field. The esteem in which he was held by his fellow sociologists is evident from the fact that he was elected first president of the Eastern Sociological Society in 1930, president of the American Sociological Society in 1938, and president of the Population As sociation of America in 1945. Hankins’ most important editorial contribution in the sociological field was to act, from 1936 to 1937, as the first editor-in-chief of the American Sociological Review, the official journal of the American Sociological Society (now Association).

Harry Elmer Barnes

[For the historical context of Hankins’ work, seeCreativity, article onGenius AND Ability; Race; and the biographies ofBenini; Galton; Giddings;Mill; Moore, Henry L.; Pearson; Spencer;Sumner; Ward, Lester F.]


1908 Adolphe Quetelet as Statistician. New York: Longmans.

1922 Individual Differences and Their Significance for Social Theory. American Sociological Society, Publications 17:27–39.

1923 Individual Differences and Democratic Theory. Political Science Quarterly 38:388–412.

1924 Race as a Factor in Political Theory. Pages 508-548 in Charles E. Merriam and Harry E. Barnes (edi tors), A History of Political Theories: Recent Times. New York: Macmillan.

1925a Individual Freedom With Some Sociological Implications of Determinism. Journal of Philosophy 22: 617–634.

1925b Sociology. Pages 255-332 in Harry E. Barnes (edi tor), The History and Prospects of the Social Sciences. New York: Knopf.

1926a The Racial Basis of Civilization: A Critique of the Nordic Doctrine. New York: Knopf.

1926b Humanitarianism in the Light of Biology. American Review 4:52–60.

(1927) 1931 Society and Its Biological Equipment. Book 2, part 2, pages 307-394 in Jerome Davis and Harry E. Barnes (editors), An Introduction to Sociology. Boston: Heath.

1928a Organic Plasticity Versus Organic Responsiveness in the Development of the Personality. American So ciological Society, Publications 22:43–51.

(1928b) 1935 An Introduction to the Study of Society. Rev.ed. New York: Macmillan.

1931a Charles Robert Darwin. Volume 5, pages 4-5 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. NewYork: Mac millan.

1931b Divorce. Volume 5, pages 177-184 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. NewYork: Macmillan.

1931c The Prospects of the Social Sciences. Pages 27-53 in Edward M. East (editor), Biology in Human Af fairs. NewYork: McGraw-Hill.

1933 Is the Differential Fertility of the Social Classes Selective? Social Forces 12:33–39.

1935 Quetelet’s Average Man in Modern Scientific Research. Institutde Sociologie Solvay, Revue 15:577–586.

1936 Sociology and Social Guidance. American Sociologi cal Review 1, no. 1:33–37.

1938 Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Teaching. American Association of University Professors, Bulletin 24, no. 6:497–508.

1939 Social Science and Social Action. American Sociological Review 4:1–15.

1940 Demographic and Biological Contributions to Sociological Principles. Part 4, pages 279-325 in Harry E. Barnes et al. (editors), Contemporary Social Theory. NewYork: Appleton.

1950 Underdeveloped Areas With Special Reference to Population Problems. International Social Science Bulletin 2:307–316.

1956 A Forty-year Perspective. Sociology and Social Research 40:391–398.