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The name of Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) will ring only faint bells for most scholars of childhood studies. A writer of significant influence in his own lifetime, flourishing in the middle to later decades of the 19th century, Spencer is now referenced rarely, over a century after his death in 1903, in any of the many disciplines to which he contributed: sociology, psychology, education, philosophy, public policy, and political economy. However, Spencer synthesised and promulgated many of the most influential ideas of his times with respect to a scientific understanding of humanity as a natural species defined by biology yet at the same time endowed with the potential and perhaps the obligation to strive for societal advancement.

Spencer remains well known for coining the phrase ‘survival of ...

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