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Recapitulation Theory

The core idea of recapitulation theory, or biogenetic law, is that human development on the individual level (ontogeny) repeats the development of the species (phylogeny). This entry examines the origins of recapitulation theory in biology. It further reflects on efforts to transfer the core assumptions of recapitulation theory to child and cultural development. Finally, this entry debates the significance of this transfer for today’s concept of childhood and childhood studies.

The Purpose of Recapitulation Theory

The so-called biogenetic law—“ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”—was originally phrased by German zoologist and natural philosopher Ernst Haeckel in 1866 and became an important point of reference within the biological sciences for many decades. Based on obvious similarities in embryos of different species such as, for instance, fish, birds, mammals, and eventually humans, he ...

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