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Lubbock, Sir John

Summary Article:Lubbock Sir, John (Lord Avebury after 1900) from Biographical Dictionary of Psychology

Born: 1834, London, England Died: 1913 Ints: Anthropology, physiological and comparative psychology, social psychology Appts & awards: Vice-Chancellor, London University, 1872-80; Chairman, Society for the Extension of University Teaching, 1894-1902; Principal, Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street, 1883-8; President at one time or another, twenty-five learned societies; Council Member, Royal Society Privy Councillor, MP


Principal publications
  • 1865 Prehistoric Times. Williams and Norgate.
  • 1868 The early condition of man. Anthropological Review, 6, 1-21.
  • 1870 The Origin of Civilization and Primitive Condition of Man. Longmans Green.
  • 1872 The development of relationships. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society, 1, 1-29.
  • 1882 On the sense of colour among some lower animals. Nature, 25, 422-4; 27, 618.
  • 1882 Ants, Bees and Wasps. Routledge, Trench and Trubner.
  • 1883 On the sense of colour among some lower animals I and II. Journal of the Linnaean Society, 16, 121-7; 1884, 17, 205-14.
  • 1911 Marriage, Totemism and Religion. Longmans Green.

  • Lubbock's contribution to psychology lay in two main areas. First, he is remembered for his pioneer studies of animal behaviour, particularly on ants and bees, the results of which are reported in the 1882 and 1888 publications. These extended to an apparently successful attempt at teaching his dog ‘Van’ to read single words! His experimental methods were particularly rigorous and he eschewed anthropomorphism. Lubbock was a lifelong Darwinian (having been a close companion of Darwin since childhood). His research on ants and bees resulted in a number of basic discoveries regarding their sensory capacities, social behaviour and lifespan. Second, he played a crucial, though largely forgotten role in establishing the evolutionary perspective on human behaviour in his Origin of Civilization (1870). His influence here was arguably greater than Sir Charles Lyell's since he did not, like Lyell, prevaricate on the issue and was, in any case, a primary source for much of Lyell's material. He is referenced more than anyone else in Darwin's Descent of Man, and knew Galton (who built him some of his ant research equipment). It is reasonable to see his early advocacy as a factor in the establishment of an evolutionary/functional approach to psychology in the UK. There is a third sense in which Lubbock was probably influential, although this is as yet largely unresearched; his persistent promotion of higher education and the spread of scientific knowledge in particular. (He is among those cited as supporting the establishment of a psychology laboratory at University College, London, in 1897, for example.) Certainly his extraordinary extended network of political, financial, academic and scientific contracts was a powerful resource for all those concerned in advancing British science during the latter part of the nineteenth century. As well as animal behaviour and anthropology, Lubbock was involved in archaeology, botany and geology, whilst enjoying successful parallel careers in politics and banking.

    Graham Richards

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