Journal of Catalan Intellectual History, No 9&10 (2015)

"Phrenology Brings Sound Judgment to Our Selection of Rulers”. The Failure of Phrenology in Social Reform Efforts in Catalonia in the Nineteenth Century

Iván Sánchez-Moreno


While this paper begins with a definition of phrenology and its theoretical foundations, the primary focus is on the efforts to spread phrenology in Catalonia undertaken by Marià Cubí and other mid-nineteenth century followers of the tenets of Gall and Spurzheim. Cubí saw the money-making potential of applying these ideas in diverse areas of society. In Catalonia, he and his followers took the view that it would be highly opportune to use phrenology to achieve reformist goals not only in education and business but also in the selection of the best political candidates. The ideological ambiguity of their approach, however, undermined the credibility of the supposedly scientific parameters of applied phrenology because they sold it as a tool to any and all parties. The elite that took an interest in the supposedly reform-minded aspects of Catalan society put forward by phrenology proved to be the same bourgeoisie that wanted to oust the aristocratic, conservative and Spanish nationalist sectors that still clung to their monopoly over the institutions of greatest authority and social influence. Phrenology used reform as a pretext, while what it actually guaranteed was merely an easy-to-use pseudoscience that called for nothing more than a prominent skull, enormous powers of suggestion and a steady stream of imaginative, seductive verbiage.

keywords: Phrenology – Social hygiene movement – Political reform – Classism – Epistemology.

Full Text: PDF

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Design and layout are under copyright of Huygens
Editorial (Barcelona).

Print ISSN: 2014-1572   Online ISSN: 2014-1564 

Mailing Address

Institute of Law and Technology
Office B2/-125B
B Building - Facultat de Dret
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)
08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona)
TEL +34 93 581 22 35
FAX +34 93 581 29 88