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Anthropology Biocultural Anthropology
by
Daniel Lende

Introduction

Biocultural anthropology exists at the intersection of cultural and biological approaches. Given how concepts, methods, and institutions have changed with regard to “biology” and “culture” since the early 1900s, the biocultural intersection has proven a dynamic space. It is also a contested space, where claims about human nature and culture and about science and ethnography have often come into stark contrast. Biocultural anthropology is linked to the four-field holistic tradition of anthropology within the United States. Individuals who don the biocultural mantle often claim holism as well and the accompanying ability to cross among archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Other individuals often object to this presumptive turf-grabbing and the accompanying assumption that the biocultural tradition is somehow better through being more integrative (or “holistic”) and better able at getting at more “fundamental” questions within anthropology. Here too controversy can arise. Yet, over the course of one hundred years, the biocultural tradition has helped tie together anthropology, first in the United States and, then, increasingly so in Europe. Certainly biocultural anthropology—broadly conceived as drawing on biological and cultural theory and using an inherent interdisciplinary approach—has gone through periods of obscurity, where small groups of researchers kept some of the main ideas and ideological commitments alive for another generation. But today, biocultural approaches are experiencing a renaissance across many arenas within anthropology. The perception exists, however, that the present biocultural approaches largely come from the biology and science side of anthropology and aim to increasingly encroach on questions seemingly reserved for social and cultural theorists. This bibliography emphasizes both biological and cultural research, with the hope that this broader selection can help anthropologists understand the conflicts that arise at the biology/culture interface as well as find important texts outside their areas of expertise that can facilitate further developments in biocultural anthropology. The bibliography has a three-part organization: an overview at the beginning, a historical review in the middle, and particular examples at the end. The overview provides a selection of introductory texts, overviews, recent collections, Internet resources, methods, and applied work. The historical coverage comes in the sections Foundations of Biocultural Anthropology and Disciplinary Divisions, Controversies, and Syntheses. The Foundations of Biocultural Anthropology section begins with the origins of holistic anthropology, considers mediating traditions from earlier to recent research, covers evolutionary and cultural theory amenable to interdisciplinary work, and highlights research that crosses the biocultural divide. Disciplinary Divisions, Controversies, and Syntheses delves into the recent history of anthropology, examining the disciplinary divisions that sprang up in the 1970s; then tracks important controversies that cut across the biocultural divide in the ensuing decades; and finally examines recent integrative attempts and reworkings of anthropology’s holistic tradition. The final section covers neuroanthropology and addiction as two examples of biocultural research.

Introductory Works

Engaging books help students and the broader public to understand the biocultural approach in anthropology. Biocultural approaches lend themselves to both academic and popular engagement, and also to controversy. Questions about human nature, the impact of culture, and human diversity and variation fascinate readers, and they serve to attract the interest of the wider public. The books in this section provide good introductions to the holistic approach of anthropology from a variety of perspectives. Fuentes 2012, Holmes 2009, and Pagel 2012 work well from a more biological anthropology perspective. Joralemon 2010 and Sobo 2012 come from medical anthropology. Goodman, et al. 2012; Pollan 2006; and Small 1999 tend to concentrate more on the cultural side of the biocultural approach, and these works cover race, eating, and parenting in order.

General Overviews

Biocultural anthropology encompasses many things—human variation, a commitment to bringing biological and cultural anthropology together, debates over how to use evolutionary and social theory to explain human commonalities and differences, the impact of culture and inequality on health, and many other strands. The texts in this section provide basic orientations to the broad realm of biocultural work, particularly its most recent manifestations. Kuper 1996 provides an effective introduction and history for the holistic tradition. Wiley and Allen 2013 focuses on medical anthropology; Hruschka, et al. 2005 deals with psychological anthropology; and Stinson, et al. 2012 treats human biology. Goodman and Leatherman 1998 is foundational, particular for the synthesis of human biology and political economy that it contains. Winterhalder and Smith 1992 is a classic text, still relevant, for evolutionary approaches, and Ingold 2000 pushes forward integrative approaches from a more cultural perspective.

  • Goodman, Alan H., and Thomas L. Leatherman, eds. 1998. Building a new biocultural synthesis: Political-economic perspectives on human biology. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    A foundational volume in biocultural anthropology, highlighting the importance of political economy in considering human variation, biology, adaptation, and health. This volume situates considerations of inequality, power, and history at the center of the biocultural enterprise.

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  • Hruschka, Daniel J., Daniel H. Lende, and Carol M. Worthman. 2005. Biocultural dialogues: Biology and culture in psychological anthropology. Ethos 33:1–19.

    DOI: 10.1525/eth.2005.33.1.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This introduction to a special issue of Ethos advocates for the importance of considering the individual-in-context and a more robust consideration of the social side of the biocultural paradigm, both as part of the biocultural tradition and among the community of scholars.

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  • Ingold, Tim. 2000. The perception of the environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203466025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ingold has long been a critic of biocultural approaches that build from biology alone, taking apart concepts such as “human nature” and the disciplinary division between biology and culture. In this book, Ingold advances his own ideas for integrative anthropology, focusing on ways of perceiving, moving, and interacting with the environment as well as on the importance of skills and livelihoods in shaping our joint biology and culture.

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  • Kuper, Adam. 1996. The chosen primate: Human nature and cultural diversity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    For an historical overview of main theorists and concerns within the holistic tradition in anthropology, Kuper’s text is a fine place to start.

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  • Stinson, Sara, Barry Bogin, and Dennis O’Rourke, eds. 2012. Human biology: An evolutionary and biocultural perspective. 2d ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118108062Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A textbook that provides a comprehensive overview of how biological anthropologists approach human variation, from genetics and human adaptation to race and aging. For a grounding in biology, a good text to consult.

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  • Wiley, Andrea, and John Allen. 2013. Medical anthropology: A biocultural approach. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A basic medical anthropology textbook that is strongly biocultural, emphasizing the provision of biological and medical information on specific diseases and illnesses, all within a broader anthropological context.

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  • Winterhalder, Bruce, and Eric Alden Smith, eds. 1992. Evolutionary ecology and human behavior. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

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    A foundational volume that presages significant research trajectories in behavioral ecology, cultural evolution, and the evolution of inequality. The opening essay, in particular, situates evolutionary ecology within the broader frame of evolutionary theory and the social sciences and discusses the difficulties and possibilities offered by biocultural approaches.

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Recent Collections

Holistic anthropology, biocultural anthropology, complex anthropology—the field right now is going through a renaissance of integrative efforts after the divisive debates and splits that marked anthropology from the 1970s through the 1990s. These recent edited volumes all represent distinct efforts to tackle specific topics, including human development in Worthman, et al. 2010; holism in Otto and Bubandt 2010, McKinnon and Silverman 2005, and Parkin and Ulijaszek 2007; past populations in Schutkowski 2008; and human variation and new sources of biological data and understanding of social processes in Ellison and Goodman 2006; Goodman, et al. 2003; and Panter-Brick and Fuentes 2008.

  • Ellison, George, and Alan Goodman, eds. 2006. The nature of difference: Science, society, and human biology. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

    DOI: 10.1201/9781420004175Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notable for its critical interrogation of preconceived categories for analyzing human variation, this collection analyzes the “nature” of human difference by drawing on the holistic tradition of anthropology and more recent developments in critical analysis of science and society.

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  • Goodman, Alan H., Deborah Heath, and M. Susan Lindee, eds. 2003. Genetic nature/culture: Anthropology and science beyond the two-culture divide. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This volume takes into account advances in genetics, including the explosion of data, the Human Genome project, and the questioning of what “gene” means, as the authors examine a range of topics, including race, indigenous peoples, ethics, and kinship.

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  • McKinnon, Susan, and Sydel Silverman, eds. 2005. Complexities: Beyond nature and nurture. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    “Against reductionism” could be the tagline for this collection. It focuses particularly on moving beyond the explanation of human nature and behavior in terms of genes or evolved mind modules, embracing a broader approach to understanding and explaining social life.

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  • Otto, Ton, and Nils Bubandt, eds. 2010. Experiments in holism: Theory and practice in contemporary anthropology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444324426Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Notable for the wide-ranging contributions from sociocultural anthropologists to reconsidering what holism means for practice and theory in their own work and the field as a whole. While not stressing the bio side of biocultural, the chapters here offer ways to think through what it means to do the sort of work that would represent a genuine biocultural synthesis going forward.

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  • Panter-Brick, Catherine, and Agustin Fuentes, eds. 2008. Health, risk and adversity. New York: Berghahn.

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    An edited volume that builds from biology to social processes to better account for patterns of health, adjustments to adversity, and change over human development and varying generations.

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  • Parkin, David, and Stanley Ulijaszek, eds. 2007. Holistic anthropology: Emergence and convergence. New York: Berghahn.

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    Fully embracing the holistic tradition, the contributors to this volume demonstrate how advances in both sociocultural and biological anthropology inform their particular lines of research. From its opening essay on “bioculturalism” within biological anthropology to its closing chapter on reworking our visceral sense of collective experience, the authors provide an important, yet still a piecemeal, bridge over the biology-culture divide.

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  • Schutkowski, Holger, ed. 2008. Between biology and culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Starting from the concept of adaptation to the environment as a biocultural process, this volume focuses largely on how to incorporate biological measures into such a framework. Many of the chapters focus on past human populations.

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  • Worthman, Carol M., Paul M. Plotsky, Daniel S. Schechter, and Constance A. Cummings, eds. 2010. Formative experiences: The interaction of caregiving, culture, and developmental psychobiology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511711879Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Human development represents a major avenue for pursuing biocultural research, and this volume is notable for its exchanges between biological and cultural anthropologists in conjunction with psychologists and neuroscientists.

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Social Media

Information about biocultural anthropology and discussions of present trends and controversies are increasingly available online. Internet resources include Biological Anthropology: Human Nature, Race, Evolution, with its up-to-date biocultural approach to race and evolution; Clancy 2012, on how to do interdisciplinary research; Kelso’s Principles of Biocultural Anthropology, which provides a long view of biocultural anthropology; and Lende 2012, which provides an overview of different areas of scholarship within biocultural anthropology. The Biocultural entry on the Medical Anthropology Wiki and the Terra Lingua site provide approaches focused on health and diversity.

Methods

Doing biocultural work often requires significant methodological rigor in research design and in specific methods. Below are prominent sites and examples to help orient biocultural researchers to the sophisticated methodologies this type of research can demand. The Bones and Behavior Working Group and McDade, et al. 2007 cover biological methods. The Ritual, Community, and Conflict Research Project and the Tsimane Amazonian Panel Study provide comprehensive coverage of their integrative methodological approaches online; similarly, William Dressler’s work in cultural consonance covers this important quantitative approach to culture. The Methods section on the Medical Anthropology Wiki provides accessible descriptions of a broad suite of methods used in interdisciplinary work. Finally, Borgatti, et al. 2009, on social network analysis, and Farmer 1999, on ethnography, cover approaches more in line with cultural anthropology.

Applied Approaches

One promise of biocultural anthropology is for a return to the great public relevance of the work by classic anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Margaret Mead. A potential new synthesis will likely not be enough because applied anthropology has also developed in the many decades that have passed since these founding figures. Rylko-Bauer, et al. 2006 provides an excellent review of the present state of applied anthropology. Bunzl 2008 reviews the push by sociocultural anthropology for relevance in a critical light, advocating for a return to a Boasian approach. Lende and Downey 2012, using the lens of neuroanthropology, outlines an approach to applied work that is broadly relevant to biocultural anthropology. To have public and applied impact, new types of research and specific applied programs will need to be developed. Hadley and Crooks 2012 provides a synthetic review of food insecurity and coping, outlining the need for new theoretical and empirical work to address this major worldwide problem. Schell, et al. 2007 outlines the authors’ specific applied work using a community-based approach. McGarvey 2009 provides an overview of the translational problem, namely of how to do basic research and then translate that into specific applied approaches. The medical anthropology collection in Singer and Erickson 2011 covers many health problems, and it contains basic overviews of biocultural approaches, public policy, and applied work. Finally, all of these themes come together in the work of Farmer and Saussy 2010. This collection of Paul Farmer’s work provides excellent coverage of his research, applied programs, and public efforts on human rights and poverty.

  • Bunzl, Matti. 2008. The quest for anthropological relevance: Borgesian maps and epistemological pitfalls. American Anthropologist 110.1: 53–60.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2008.00008.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A review of sociocultural anthropology from the 1970s onward, critiquing its implicit positivism and advocating a return to the holistic approach of Boaz and Weber. With his focus on “big questions” and a “publicly engaged discipline” (p. 53), Bunzl provides a useful orientation for biocultural anthropologists. Applied biocultural programs will also have to address the limits of positivism and the need for relevance.

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  • Farmer, Paul, and Haun Saussy. 2010. Partner to the poor: A Paul Farmer reader. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This compendium of writings by Paul Farmer, preeminent anthropologist and physician, is one of the best ways to access his many writings. The book is divided into four themes: political economy and ethnography, anthropology amid epidemics, structural violence, and human rights. Farmer advocates for a biosocial approach, has developed important community-based clinical programs, and has driven forward public discussion of worldwide inequality.

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  • Hadley, Craig, and Deborah L. Crooks. 2012. Coping and the biosocial consequences of food insecurity in the 21st century. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149 (supplement 55): 72–94.

    DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22161Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this special supplement to the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, this paper, through its biocultural focus on one problem—food insecurity and hunger—demonstrates the need for further empirical research and new conceptual models to best understand the impact food insecurity can have on growth, mental health, and coping. This type of basic research, done with an explicit applied dimension, is important for developing applied biocultural anthropology.

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  • Lende, Daniel H., and Greg Downey. 2012. Neuroanthropology and its applications: An introduction. Annals of Anthropological Research 36.1: 1–25.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2153-9588.2012.01090.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This introduction to a special issue on applied neuroanthropology outlines the biocultural synthesis that neuroanthropology represents and provides an extensive focus on how neuroanthropology can be, specifically, an applied discipline.

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  • McGarvey, Stephen T. 2009. Interdisciplinary translational research in anthropology, nutrition, and public health. Annual Review of Anthropology 38:233–249.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-091908-164327Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This review article pushes an interdisciplinary view, demonstrating how anthropology can draw on neighboring fields in doing biocultural work. Moreover, this essay has an explicit applied dimension, something that needs to be increasingly developed in biocultural work within anthropology.

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  • Rylko-Bauer, Barbara, Merrill Singer, and John van Willigen. 2006. Reclaiming applied anthropology: Its past, present, and future. American Anthropologist 108.1: 178–190.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2006.108.1.178Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A foundational article for recent developments in applied anthropology. By positioning applied anthropology as one way to integrate the discipline, and with an approach that is open to the multiple strands within the field, the authors provide an article that, while not explicitly biocultural, serves as a useful bridge to the applied realm using a holistic approach.

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  • Schell, Lawrence M., Julia Ravenscroft, Mia Gallo, and Melinda Denham. 2007. Advancing biocultural models by working with communities: A partnership approach. American Journal of Human Biology 19.4: 511–524.

    DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20611Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Community-based research, where researchers work with communities to address both applied and research problems, offers a potent way to do applied biocultural work. The research described here is an excellent example of this type of approach.

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  • Singer, Merrill, and Pamela I. Erickson, eds. 2011. A companion to medical anthropology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444395303Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Medical anthropology has contributed greatly to the development of biocultural research and applied anthropology. This collection covers many topics in health, healing, and care, including chapters specifically on “Critical Biocultural Approaches,” “Applied Medical Anthropology,” and “Public Policy.”

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Foundations of Biocultural Anthropology

This section opens with an overview of the origins of a holistic approach within anthropology, one that crossed easily between biology and culture and had not settled into the disciplinary divisions that exist today. Certain foundational figures then invigorated the implicit biocultural approach over the ensuing decades, and modern researchers continue to draw explicitly on them. Today, the legacy of the professionalization of the field and a series of powerful controversies can make biocultural approaches seem difficult or contentious. This section provides work in sociocultural theory and evolutionary theory that can support biocultural efforts, covers researchers explicitly crossing the biology/culture divide inside and outside anthropology, and denotes important projects and methods for researchers interested in biocultural work.

Eclectic Holism and the Origins of Biocultural Anthropology

Many early anthropologists had an implicit “biocultural” approach, one in which they embraced the use of different approaches within anthropology as part of their research and writing. Using diverse approaches, these early anthropologists tackled themes that later became entire lines of research. Their pragmatic and interest-driven holism, a reflection of broader training and a profession in the process of forming its own traditions, is quite distinct from biocultural approaches today, where explicit definitions of culture, advanced knowledge of biological systems, and hardened divisions in university settings create a very different set of professional demands that belie easy eclecticism. Stocking 1982 represents the well-known historian of anthropology at his best, with the author’s pioneering studies of the foundation of anthropology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Degler 1991 covers similar ground using a larger time frame and a focus on Darwinism in relation to social science (in particular anthropology), beginning with Darwin’s original text and continuing to the controversies surrounding sociobiology. Boas 1996 is a collection of Franz Boas’s most important writings; works by his students continued his holistic tradition, including Kroeber 1923, the first textbook in anthropology, and Mead 2003, a popular cross-cultural work by this noted author. In Europe, Mauss 1973, Malinowski 1984, and Rivers 2001 all represent important early examples of works by anthropologists inspired by integrative ideas and research frameworks, who crossed many of the disciplinary constraints that emerged later.

  • Boas, Franz. 1996. Race, language, and culture. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Demonstrates Boas’s explicit four-field approach (archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology), his commitment to holism within anthropology through combining these diverse perspectives, and his advocacy of historical particularism, in contrast to previous unilineal approaches that saw humanity progressing through a series of evolutionary states from primitive to civilized and that stood in contrast to many of the more universalizing approaches taken by a significant number of bioculturally oriented anthropologists today. Originally published in 1940.

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  • Degler, Carl N. 1991. In search of human nature: The decline and revival of Darwinism in American social thought. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An historian’s clear account of the back-and-forth between biological and cultural explanations of human nature and variation, starting with reactions to Darwin, the rise of Boas and the concept of culture, and the initial emergence of sociobiology.

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  • Kroeber, Alfred. 1923. Anthropology. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

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    The first true textbook on anthropology. Modern readers who pick it up will be surprised by how wide-ranging it is, including discussions of psychology, biology, and history. It thus was implicitly biocultural, though eclectic and generalizing might be a better framing.

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  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1984. Argonauts of the western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

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    Besides pioneering participant observation and providing classic examples, such as the kula ring, Malinowski was an early functionalist, proposing that social institutions often function to satisfy individual needs.

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  • Mauss, Marcel. 1973. Techniques of the body. Economy and Society 2.1: 70–88.

    DOI: 10.1080/03085147300000003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early articulation of the difficulties of doing integrative work, and an argument for how activity, habits, and bodily movement matter in what it means to be human. As “biologico-sociological phenomena,” our bodies are natural and cultural instruments and a primary means through which education and enculturation work. Mauss advocates for this type of “socio-psycho-biological study.” First published in 1935 as “Les techniques du corps,” Journal de Psychologie 32:3–4.

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  • Mead, Margaret. 2003. Coming of age in Samoa. New York: HarperCollins.

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    A work on adolescence as shaped by culture, not just a stormy universal stage all children must pass through. Mead’s cross-cultural approach to sexuality and human development presage later biocultural work in these same domains. Originally published in 1928.

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  • Rivers, William H. R. 2001. Medicine, magic and religion. London: Routledge.

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    In this book, anthropologist and physician Rivers expresses a concern for well-being and for the use of multiple disciplines to understand theoretical and applied problems that presages the rise of the biocultural approach within medical anthropology. This particular book is explicit in highlighting social processes as central to health and health behavior, beyond typical biomedical concerns.

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  • Stocking, George. 1982. Race, culture, and evolution: Essays in the history of anthropology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    The premier historian of anthropology covers the early years of the discipline, highlighting the formation of historical particularism and the concept of culture as set against early evolutionism, or the ordering of different groups of people along a scale from primitive to civilized. The approaches and tensions created during these years still resonate in contemporary anthropology.

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Mediating Traditions

A number of scholars kept eclectic holism together for decades after the initial burst in the early 1900s. These intermediary scholars kept a focus on holism that stood in contrast to emerging professionalization around specific fields and areas of study as well as the gulf that began to open between biological and cultural approaches during the second half of the 20th century. While many such scholars emerged, five major ones are presented below, with an accompanying citation to modern biocultural work that found inspiration in this previous scholarship.

Biological Mediation

Livingstone 1958 is in many ways the paradigmatic example of biocultural work, with this study drawing on research into malaria, sickle-cell genetics, disease distribution, and local ecology. Dufour 2006, in discussing Livingstone 1958, highlights the difficulties subsequent biocultural efforts in human biology faced, for few examples were so clear-cut as sickle cell and malaria. Dufour points to how new approaches, including greater engagement with cultural methods and applied problems, can help push forward biocultural research.

Cultural Mediation

Bateson 1972 constitutes an impressive set of essays, very much in the older tradition of eclectic holism even as Bateson drew on new theoretical developments in cybernetics, animal behavior, ecology, and systems theory. Ingold 2000 is heir to this eclectic tradition, for it explicitly frames the interdisciplinary approach that Ingold has built in this rich, open approach to humans and culture. Similarly, Wallace 1969 was a groundbreaking work that asked questions about the organization of diversity in societies before this type of research became popular. The author’s psychological anthropology approach proved less popular with scholars in the 1970s and 1980s, but Odden and Brown 2009 represents a return to thinking about how human development, culture, and the organization of human variation come together.

  • Bateson, Gregory. 1972. Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. San Francisco: Chandler.

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    Bateson’s collected essays, which range from interrogations of how to do interdisciplinary work and ask basic questions (What is an instinct?) to his drawing on epidemiology and systems theory as part of his anthropological theorizing.

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  • Ingold, Tim. 2000. Culture, nature, environment: Steps to an ecology of life. In The perception of the environment: Essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill. By Timothy Ingold, 13–26. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203466025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The opening chapter to Ingold’s groundbreaking book explicitly grounds itself in Gregory Bateson’s work, down to the play off the title of Bateson 1972. For added benefit, Ingold includes Lévi-Strauss in the mix.

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  • Odden, Harold, and Ryan Brown. 2009. Special issue: The organization of diversity: Developmental perspectives. Ethos 37.2.

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    This special issue includes four target articles and extensive commentary, all of which take up the theme of the organization of diversity and reconsider it using more modern concepts of human development, temperament, and the interaction of biology and culture as well as placing an emphasis on both quantitative and qualitative measures.

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  • Wallace, Anthony. 1969. Culture and personality. New York: Random House.

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    A reworking of the “culture and personality” canon that drops Freud and personality for a focus on the relationship among culture, the organization of diversity, and cognition. The concept of the “organization of diversity” inspired scholars such as Eric Wolf, and helped provide a way to cut through the divisive arguments between individual/functional and collective/interpretive approaches that have long plagued anthropology’s attempts at synthesis.

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Integrative Mediation

Biocultural anthropologists often draw inspiration from cultural research, not just biology. Goodman and Leatherman 1998, in outlining the critical biocultural approach of the authors, draws explicitly on the earlier work, Wolf 1982. Wolf opened new areas of research and questioned established ways of thinking; Goodman and Leatherman do the same, just with greater emphasis on drawing on human biology and political economy together. Rappaport 1979 represents a culminating work of another major cultural anthropologist of the 1970s in which the author outlines his approach to ritual and religion. Alcorta and Sosis 2005 draws on Rappaport, as well as evolutionary theory and neuroscience, to present a more biocultural approach to how ritual and religion achieve some of the many effects long noted in the ethnographic record.

  • Alcorta, Candace S., and Richard Sosis. 2005. Ritual, emotion, and sacred symbols: The evolution of religion as an adaptive complex. Human Nature 17:323–359.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12110-005-1014-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Together with Pierre Liénard and Pascal Boyer, “Whence Collective Rituals?” American Anthropologist 108.4 (2006): 814–827, this article draws explicitly on Rappaport 1979 for framing the problem of ritual and religion. Evoking brain plasticity and the conditioned association of emotion and abstract symbol, the authors make an evolutionary argument that religious ritual evolved to solve an ecological problem, namely the exchange of information and the coordination of behavior for humans.

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  • Goodman, Alan H., and Thomas L. Leatherman. 1998. Traversing the chasm between biology and culture: An introduction. In Building a new biocultural synthesis: Political-economic perspectives on human biology. Edited by Alan H. Goodman and Thomas L. Leatherman, 3–41. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    The introductory essay of this foundational volume opens with Eric Wolf and how his political and economic analyses would have been strengthened even more by considering production and reproduction in biological and demographic terms. Human biology provides an “integral layer of information” to the “everyday realities of anthropological subjects” (p. 6).

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  • Rappaport, Roy. 1979. Ecology, meaning and religion. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic.

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    In this work as well as his classic ethnography Pigs for the Ancestors (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1967), Rappaport provides a reworking of the functionalist approach to collective social life. Religion, through ritual, becomes a glue that binds social life; ritual also performs adaptive functions, both in creating subjective ties to the community and through redistribution of ecological resources within the community. Rappaport’s work presages later biocultural approaches to ritual and evolutionary approaches to religion.

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  • Wolf, Eric. 1982. Europe and the people without history. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This work focuses on people, especially those without a given history, and their production and reproduction under systems of colonial rule. It challenged the idea of non-Europeans having unchanging cultures and documented their own participation in the processes of history. Wolf is also famous for his biocultural characterizations of anthropology as the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences.

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Cultural Traditions for Biocultural Research

As noted in the Mediating Traditions section, figures such as Eric Wolf and Gregory Bateson provided cultural approaches that later biocultural anthropologists have drawn on in effective ways. But these are not the only important cultural theorists. From the 1970s onward, new ways to do sociocultural anthropology came into existence; this section covers some of these developments. The critique that biocultural approaches have largely built on work done in biological anthropology, without adequate consideration of cultural anthropology, is one that is often heard. In outlining specific theoretical strands that are amenable to biocultural integration, this section reveals potential bridges between sociocultural theory and biocultural work. LeVine 1984 provides a foundational overview of culture from theory and ethnography alike. Keesing 1974 provides a cognitive view, which has been actively incorporated into subsequent biocultural research. Kottak 1999 provides an ecological approach, broadly compatible with research on biology/ecology interactions. Mintz 1986 is a classic work of political economy and history, which fits well with later political economy work in biocultural anthropology. Haraway 1989 represents a critical approach, actively engaged with the individuals working in, and the research results emerging from, science. Fischer 2007 is a later exemplar that provides a magisterial overview of how anthropology engages with science and technology through critical, ethnographic, and historical approaches. It is a synthetic overview of the increasing engagement of anthropologists in research on science and technology, dating back to the 1930s. Ortner 1984 brings in practice theory, which can work well with biocultural approaches focused on behavior. Silverstein 2004 represents a holistic approach that comes from linguistic anthropology.

  • Fischer, Michael M. 2007. Four genealogies for a recombinant anthropology of science and technology. Cultural Anthropology 22.4: 539–615.

    DOI: 10.1525/can.2007.22.4.539Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An essential read for scholars interested in our “new age of biological sensibility” (p. 580) and how that plays into sociocultural dynamics and institutions from the work of scientists to the forging of new identities. For those just beginning to tackle this subject, see the review article by Sarah Franklin, “Science as Culture, Cultures of Science,” Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (1995): 163–184.

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  • Haraway, Donna. 1989. Primate visions: Gender, race, and nature in the world of modern science. New York: Routledge.

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    Feminism has been crucial to reforming questions about human nature and culture, questioning assumptions in science, and developing novel analyses of social structures and ideologies. This book represents all three while critiquing male-centric research on primates and human evolution. It also inspired a critical book review by biological anthropologist Matt Cartmill. See the International Journal of Primatology 12.1 (1991): 67–75; together, they illustrate tensions at the biocultural interface.

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  • Keesing, Roger M. 1974. Theories of culture. Annual Review of Anthropology 3:73–97.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.03.100174.000445Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview of the major approaches in sociocultural anthropology at the time. Keesing argues for an approach to culture as “an ideational subsystem within a vastly complex system, biological, social and symbolic” (p. 94). This view proved influential, setting the stage for the development of cognitive theories of culture over the coming decades, including work on cultural models theory, cultural consensus theory, the evolution of culture, and the epidemiology of cultural representations.

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  • Kottak, Conrad P. 1999. The new ecological anthropology. American Anthropologist 101.1: 23–35.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1999.101.1.23Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Updates the ecological perspective within anthropology, aiming to integrate its materialist and environmental perspectives with a broader understanding of global political economic changes and local cultural dynamics. This sort of integrative approach is also central to what good biocultural theory should do.

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  • LeVine, Robert A. 1984. Properties of culture: An ethnographic view. In Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion. Edited by Richard A. Shweder and Robert A. LeVine, 67–77. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Provides an effective overview of why the culture concept remains relevant yet is often hard for biological anthropologists to grasp, with their focus on the individual and the use of multifactorial approaches. LeVine emphasizes the collective and organized properties of culture, and its multiplexity and variability within and across societies, and he uses ethnography to illustrate each property. A good follow-up is Christoph Brumann, “Writing for Culture,” Current Anthropology 40 (1999): S1–S27.

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  • Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin.

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    Shows how history, political economy, and a comparative approach can transform anthropological work. Rather than reduce sugar to a commodity that drove its own dietary expansion through biology, Mintz examines how sugar became a dominant world staple. To better understand why sugar is so widespread, biocultural anthropologists need to look to history and economics, not just the individual/commodity interface.

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  • Ortner, Sherry. 1984. Theory in anthropology since the sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History 26.1: 126–166.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0010417500010811Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    With its summary of previous sociocultural approaches and a proposal for a new direction that focuses on practices, experiences, and individuals, this paper can prove useful to more biologically oriented anthropologists in search of cultural theory amenable to holistic research. While its considerations of how to do practice research are now dated, this paper marks a sea change in tone and provides one reasonable bridge from sociocultural to more biocultural work.

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  • Silverstein, Michael. 2004. “Cultural” concepts and the language‐culture nexus. Current Anthropology 45.5: 621–652.

    DOI: 10.1086/423971Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stresses linguistic anthropology that biocultural anthropologists can use, both to get at the “culture concept” and to understand how language plays a role in the impact of biological concepts and technologies on everyday life. A synthetic overview that also contains substantive commentaries and highlights language as part of culture rather than as simply a means for culture or an outcome of biocultural evolution.

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Evolutionary Theory

Since the late 1960s, evolutionary theory has experienced major growth. Neo-Darwinian theory, which crystallized around the concept of “selfish genes” and the importance of focusing on individual fitness, characterized much of the work in the 1970s and 1980s. Recent decades have seen two important developments: (a) an increasing evidence base for research that grew from the neo-Darwinian paradigm, leading to a more considered and empirical approach to explanations of human behavior, nature, and culture; and (b) a recent renaissance in theory that utilizes a less determinist and more interactive approach to evolution, one that has proven useful to many anthropologists. On the traditional (a) side, Potts and Sloan 2010 provides an introduction to human evolution. Confer, et al. 2010 describes the empirical success of evolutionary psychology and Winterhalder and Smith 2000 outlines the results that come from behavioral ecology. Henrich, et al. 2012 describes a third line of research on cultural evolution. On the interactive (b) side, Fuentes 2004 and Schultz 2009 provide an outline of evolution and evolutionary theory broadly compatible with “integrated anthropology.” Marks 2012 includes a pointed critique of predominant biological approaches to human evolution, and the Cultural Niche Construction special issue edited in Laland and O’Brien 2011 outlines an important new approach to thinking about human evolution as a biocultural process.

  • Confer, Jamie, Judith Easton, Diana Fleischman, et al. 2010. Evolutionary psychology: Controversies, questions, prospects, and limitations. American Psychologist 65.2: 110–126.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0018413Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A recent and more modest take on evolutionary psychology than what was found in the field’s early proclamations. This review paper outlines the uses of evolutionary psychology, addresses limitations of the approach, and considers issues such as genetic determination and the role of culture.

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  • Fuentes, Agustín. 2004. It’s not all sex and violence: Integrated anthropology and the role of cooperation and social complexity in human evolution. American Anthropologist 106.4: 710–718.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2004.106.4.710Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Against previous evolutionary foci on competition, aggression, and individual fitness that predominated in the 1970s and 1980s, recent evolutionary theory provides a different set of theoretical lenses that are more amenable to many anthropological concerns and permit a different view of what might be meant by “human nature.” In particular, this article demonstrates how human cooperative patterns are central to understanding human evolution.

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  • Henrich, Joseph, Robert Boyd, and Peter J. Richerson. 2012. Five misunderstandings of cultural evolution. Human Nature 19.2: 119–137.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12110-008-9037-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Preconceived scholarly biases often limit appreciation of what cultural evolution theory entails, these authors argue. The paper corrects common misperceptions about cultural evolution research, from notions of replicators to cultural fitness. For a fuller examination, see Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd, Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005).

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  • Laland, Kevin N., and Michael J. O’Brien, eds. 2011. Special issue: Cultural niche construction. Biological Theory 6.3.

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    Ten articles that take the emerging evolutionary theory of niche construction and apply it to human evolution, in particular major evolutionary transitions over the past two million years. Several articles also consider how niche construction theory relates to contemporary social and cultural theory. The 2011 special issue “Human Niche Construction” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B is a good complement.

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  • Marks, Jonathan. 2012. The biological myth of human evolution. Contemporary Social Science: Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences 7:139–157.

    DOI: 10.1080/21582041.2012.691989Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Given two million plus years of human beings as a biocultural species, imagining human evolution as a series of biological facts and processes misses the point, argues this prominent biological anthropologist. Using both critical analysis and a review of certain key facts about human evolution, Marks reworks many key topics that consistently arise in discussions of human evolution.

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  • Potts, Richard, and Christopher Sloan. 2010. What does it mean to be human? Washington, DC: National Geographic.

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    A short book that introduces human evolution, providing an overview of the evolutionary origins of the entwined biological and cultural dimensions of being human.

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  • Schultz, Emily. 2009. Resolving the anti-antievolutionism dilemma: A brief for relational evolutionary thinking in anthropology. American Anthropologist 111.2: 224–237.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2009.01115.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay provides three things: (a) a direct reaction to the critique offered in Segal and Yanagisako 2005 (cited under Reworkings of the Sacred Bundle); (b) an affirmation of biocultural and holistic anthropology; and (c) an outline of evolutionary approaches that are broadly complementary with holistic anthropology and not simply hewn from the neo-Darwinian paradigm that became dominant in the 1960s and 1970s.

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  • Winterhalder, Bruce, and Eric Alden Smith. 2000. Analyzing adaptive strategies: Human behavioral ecology at twenty-five. Evolutionary Anthropology 9.2: 51–72.

    DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6505(2000)9:2%3C51::AID-EVAN1%3E3.0.CO;2-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This review article summarizes the considerable accomplishments of human behavioral ecology, which applies evolutionary ecology to human behavioral diversity. The field began with work on optimality theory and hunter-gatherer foraging, but it has long since expanded into a range of domains focused on resource use, decision making, and human behavior and evolution.

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Crisscrossing the Biology and Culture Divide

In recent years, anthropologists from different backgrounds have increasingly taken up biocultural approaches, often by drawing on new strands of theory inside and outside of anthropology. The selections here represent prominent approaches to research that have revitalized holistic approaches within the field. Two excellent places to start to get a sense of the diverse approaches and research perspectives involved is Fuentes, et al. 2010, which includes a discussion on human nature, and Ingold 1990, which launches a conversation in the journal Man. The other sources cited in this section cover a range of important anthropological topics: Konner 2010 on childhood, Gravlee 2009 on race, Bloch 2005 on culture and integrative approaches, Lock and Nguyen 2010 on health, and Worthman 2010 on human development.

  • Bloch, Maurice. 2005. Essays on cultural transmission. Oxford: Berg.

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    In the opening essay, “Where Did Anthropology Go?” (pp. 1–20), Bloch issues a rousing call for anthropologists to return to big questions and synthetic work. The particular task he takes on in this volume is to integrate anthropology, cognitive science, and evolution, often writing in collaboration with other researchers.

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  • Fuentes, Agustín, Jonathan Marks, Tim Ingold, et al. 2010. On nature and the human. American Anthropologist 112.4: 512–521.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01271.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A Vital Topics Forum, in which a set of anthropologists from different subfields reflects on one of anthropology’s central subject matters. The authors affirm a holistic approach, often with a specific biocultural emphasis, and they outline potential directions for inquiry. A good place to start for a range of current thinking about human nature and culture.

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  • Gravlee, Clarence C. 2009. How race becomes biology: The embodiment of social inequality. In Special Issue: Race reconciled: How biological anthropologists view human variation. Edited by Heather J. H. Edgar and Keith L. Hunley. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139.1: 47–57.

    DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20983Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part of a special issue on race and human variation, this article is a standout biocultural contribution, interrogating the concept of race, our understanding of variation, and how social inequality can pass from generation to generation.

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  • Ingold, Timothy. 1990. An anthropologist looks at biology. Man 25.2: 208–229.

    DOI: 10.2307/2804561Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ingold’s paper initiated a conversation continued in Hinde, “A Biologist Looks at Anthropology,” Man 26 (1991): 583–608, and Goldschmidt, “On the Relationship between Biology and Anthropology,” Man 28 (1993): 341–359. These articles together provide integrative ideas from sociocultural anthropology, biology, and psychological anthropology, and they reveal much of the potential, and many of the potential pitfalls, in building a rich biocultural approach.

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  • Konner, Melvin. 2010. The evolution of childhood: Relationships, emotion, mind. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

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    A tour de force on how biological anthropology, cross-cultural research, and evolutionary theory inform our understanding of human development, which, in turn, helps us better understand social relations, psychology, and human variation today.

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  • Lock, Margaret, and Vinh-Kim Nguyen. 2010. An anthropology of biomedicine. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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    Lock proposed the idea of “local biology” in earlier work on menopause in Japan, which has proved important in recent developments in biocultural anthropology. Here Lock and her co-author, Nguyen, expand on that idea, and they also consider how technology and biomedicine relate to, and change, biology as well as mediate our understanding of biology, health, and identity.

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  • Worthman, Carol M. 2010. The ecology of human development: Evolving models for cultural psychology. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 41:546–562.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022022110362627Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of various culture ecology models to human development, with a focus on the biocultural dynamics of how our ontogeny unfolds in specific environments. The interface between local environments and human development can provide an important framework to understand cross-cultural variation in behavior, biology, and psychology.

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Biocultural Bridges with Neighboring Disciplines

Anthropology often draws on neighboring disciplines for its own benefit. This section identifies some important contributions from outside anthropology that can help bridge the biology/culture gap. Fausto-Sterling 2005 and Heywood, et al. 2010 provide approaches deeply informed by the humanities. Rose 2006 uses critical perspectives in the author’s work and advances the concept of “biosociality.” Krieger 2011 presents integrative approaches from epidemiology to health. Rozin 1996 is a key text in understanding how psychology can be a key integrating discipline across the biology/culture divide. Oyama 2000 is written by one of the chief intellectuals who has challenged the gene’s eye view of biology, proposing a focus on development as more fruitful. Sinha 2009 is an excellent volume representative of the vibrant interdisciplinary work happening on language today. Slingerland and Collard 2011 includes a broad collection based around the idea of consilience, including contributions from several notable anthropologists.

  • Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 2005. The bare bones of sex: Part 1—Sex and gender. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30.2: 1491–1527.

    DOI: 10.1086/424932Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    How culture and gender shape bones, and what that means for thinking about human variability. A scintillating consideration of how to get across the biology/culture divides (such as sex/gender or nature/nurture) that often crop up in research on the physical and embodied aspects of humans. Fausto-Sterling proposes a life-course systems approach as one way to eliminate these dichotomies.

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  • Heywood, Leslie L., Justin R. Garcia, and David Sloan Wilson. 2010. Mind the gap: Appropriate evolutionary perspectives toward the integration of the sciences and humanities. Science and Education 19.4–5: 505–522.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11191-009-9193-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An in-depth consideration of a “two-way” approach to integrating evolutionary theory and the humanities, which provides an articulate understanding of the requirements of research on both sides of the divide. An underappreciated gem from outside anthropology, which points to ways to cross divisions that exist within the field.

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  • Krieger, Nancy. 2011. Epidemiology and the people’s health: Theory and context. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195383874.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Epidemiological approaches are one popular way to bridge the biology-culture divide, and Krieger offers a theoretical approach to epidemiology that encompasses biology, the individual, and society. Krieger is also at the forefront of research that examines the impact of inequality on health, and thus this volume is a good match for those interested in political economy.

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  • Oyama, Susan. 2000. Evolution’s eye: A systems view of the biology-culture divide. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Oyama has been a key figure for evolutionary biologists, philosophers, and anthropologists who have worked against reductive neo-Darwinism and selfish genes approaches. Here she presents her developmental systems theory in considerable detail, with an eye on development, the role of genes, the conception of nature, and mind/body relations.

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  • Rose, Nikolas. 2006. The politics of life itself: Biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the twenty-first century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Biosociality is a key concept in recent work on how technology, science, and biomedicine are fundamentally reshaping our understanding of our bodies and ourselves and fostering the increasing manipulation of basic life processes. Rose is a main theorist here, and a fully biocultural anthropology should recognize how modern societies manage populations, build identities, and enact power through biosocial (or biocultural) means.

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  • Rozin, Paul. 1996. Towards a psychology of food and eating: From motivation to module to model to marker, morality, meaning, and metaphor. Current Directions in Psychological Science 5.1: 18–24.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-8721.ep10772690Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rozin is a key crossover figure, very appealing to evolutionary psychologists for his openness to adaptive approaches, but also amenable to cultural anthropologists, given his recognition of cross-cultural variation and the impact culture can have. This article is one in which he proposes an explicit synthetic model that runs from biology to culture.

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  • Sinha, Chris. 2009. Language as a biocultural niche and social institution. In New directions in cognitive linguistics. Edited by Vyvyan Evans and Stéphanie Pourcel, 289–309. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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    A good exemplar from outside of anthropology of a new type of biocultural reasoning, crossing the older biology/culture and nature/nurture divides through new evolutionary theory, use of emergent causality and systems thinking, and consideration of cross-cultural and ethnographic evidence. As a complement to this chapter, see Nicolas Evans and Stephen C. Levinson, “The Myth of Language Universals,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32.5 (2009): 429–448.

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  • Slingerland, Edward, and Mark Collard, eds. 2011. Creating consilience: Integrating the sciences and the humanities. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199794393.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A standout collection that examines the present and future of interdisciplinary research. The volume is oriented around E. O. Wilson’s idea of consilience, which often frames integration on science and evolution’s terms. However, many contributors, including several anthropologists, take a different approach to integrative work. A notable biocultural chapter is Bradd Shore’s “Unconsilience: Rethinking the Two Cultures Conundrum in Anthropology,” which argues for understanding human nature in light of human variation.

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Disciplinary Divisions, Controversies, and Syntheses

From the 1950s through the 1970s anthropology as a whole went through a period of expansion and professionalization, which led to a clear break with the previous laissez-faire holism that characterized past anthropology. Ironically, while many anthropologists remained committed to the ideal of holism, the formation of substantive new lines of inquiry within anthropology led to a biocultural split. This split was largely about what anthropology was supposed to be in this period of reformulation. Who would control the discipline in a rapidly changing institutional and intellectual environment? In this tumultuous period, biological anthropologists and cultural anthropologists did not recognize that they were fundamentally interested in two different intellectual questions. Biological anthropologists were focused on reworking our views of human nature and replacing supposition about our “nature” with scientific research. Cultural anthropologists were interrogating human society, tearing down previous notions of civilization and superiority. What tied those two different intellectual projects together was their joint attack on the social evolutionism of the Victorian era, the assumed progress from primitives and savages through a unilineal series of steps to reach the pinnacle of civilization as enshrined by that of the West. Biological and cultural anthropologists tackled this social evolutionism in different ways—biological work questioning what was meant by “humans in the state of nature” and cultural research deconstructing “the nature of civilization and culture.” Biological anthropologists rejected the racist typologies of previous work. They worked at building a more accurate and comparative view of how humans had evolved and explored exactly how human biological variation worked around the world. Cultural anthropologists moved to reject the colonial legacy of previous work. They developed increasing recognition of the rich and emergent symbolism of local cultures, the entwined histories of the West and the rest of the world, and the questionable assumptions made about both fieldwork and Western notions such as primitive, kinship, race, gender, mind, and class. With each side rejecting the notion of unilineal progress inherent in social evolutionism (biological anthropologists by embracing evolution as a branching tree and populations as adapting to local environments; cultural anthropologists by embracing a broader view of history and viewing cultures as local systems of meaning), it was not clear what tied together the project of anthropology. Furthermore, biological and cultural anthropologists drew on advances in related fields that invigorated their respective work, yet created the sense of a discipline in which different parts found vitality outside the field rather than within it. Science versus deconstruction, a focus on the individual versus the systemic, the use of quantitative or qualitative methods, hypothesis testing or interpretive analysis—these contrasts proved easy markers to create disciplinary borders. A series of divisive controversies erupted within the field, often framed around whether these new biological and cultural approaches were even compatible, not just at the levels of methods and theory, but also in the fundamental values to which the field adhered. However, as the 1970s and 1980s passed, new groups of anthropologists highlighted once again the holistic biocultural project of anthropology.

Disciplinary Traditions

Anthropology went through a major phase of professionalization, beginning in the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s. The formative strands of modern biological and cultural anthropology—facing each other across assumed divides—took shape during these three decades. Anthropology went from a generalized commitment to holism to a focus on specific developments within each of the four fields. The selections below illustrate how biological and cultural anthropologists were dealing with largely distinct theoretical concerns within their respective areas. These divergent concerns heightened a sense that the biology/culture divide was one that made sense to enforce, rather than cross, as the professionalization of the discipline in modern university systems proceeded from the 1950s onward. Linton 1938 and Morell 1993 provide two bookends to this period, Linton 1938 highlighting the potential for splits between biological and cultural anthropology and Morell 1993 documenting what happened. DeVore 1988 provides a personal retrospective of the author’s own move from sociocultural to biological anthropology, while Washburn 1951 provides the foundational article for modern biological anthropology. Tiger and Fox 1971 provides a popular view from the synthesis of biological anthropology and evolutionary theory. On the cultural side, Geertz 1973 demonstrates the author’s own move from a biocultural approach to a fully committed cultural theory, and Sahlins 1972 demonstrates how cultural anthropology approached topics similar to those found in DeVore 1988, but from a cultural perspective. Finally, the collection in Tax 2008 shows one last gasp of the past eclecticism of anthropology, gathering together on a common platform works by many promising young scholars who then went on to become luminaries in their specific areas.

  • DeVore, Irven. 1988. Prospects for a synthesis in the human behavioral sciences. In Emerging syntheses in science. Edited by David Pines, 53–66. Redwood City, CA: Addison-Wesley.

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    DeVore was a central figure in the development of biological anthropology from the 1960s through the 1980s. This retrospective essay on his career examines his move from sociocultural training to biologically oriented research and provides insight into the biocultural tensions within anthropology and the formation of a modern biological anthropology.

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  • Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The growth of culture and the evolution of mind. In The interpretation of cultures. By Clifford Geertz, 55–84. New York: Basic.

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    A remarkable essay in how the author expounds at length on developing a biocultural view of ourselves, including the importance of our evolutionary history, yet finishes in emphasizing the cultural view, in which the power of culture takes over from evolution. The holistic statement trumped by disciplinary ambition is revealing, especially since The Interpretation of Cultures proved central in establishing the disciplinary approach for cultural anthropology in the coming decades.

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  • Linton, R. 1938. The present status of anthropology. Science 87:241–248.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.87.2255.241Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In a prescient article, Linton highlighted the potential for a split between biological and cultural anthropology. “Each of these is, in both its interests and its techniques, more closely related to certain other sciences than to its anthropological bedfellow . . . The phenomena with which the two disciplines deal are of different orders and the question is whether there is any real link” (pp. 242–243).

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  • Morell, Virginia. 1993. Anthropology: Nature-culture battleground. Science 261:1801–1802.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.8378782Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good report in Science that covers the split that emerged in the 1970s in anthropology, with continued developments and divisions into the early 1990s.

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  • Sahlins, Marshall. 1972. Stone age economics. New York: Aldine.

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    Sahlins later penned the short book The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1976). This volume, however, demonstrates how cultural anthropologists were deeply engaged in reforming the Victorian social evolution model, arguing for culture and leisure (e.g., civilization) during all times.

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  • Tax, Sol, ed. 2008. Horizons of anthropology. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transactions.

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    A remarkable collection that gathers together future stars of the discipline. It represents both a last gasp of the eclectic holism of anthropology’s past and, in the individual essays, an anticipation of the coming institutionalization of anthropology along new disciplinary lines. Originally published in 1964.

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  • Tiger, Lionel, and Robin Fox. 1971. The imperial animal. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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    A popular yet scholarly book that described the new evolutionary approach to understanding humans. The title of the first chapter typifies the entire book—“Beginning Biogrammar”—in which the key to understanding who we are today is the reformed branching ladder of Darwin and the recognition that “man is an animal” (p. 7).

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  • Washburn, Sherwood. 1951. The new physical anthropology. Transactions of the New York Academy of Science Series II 13:298–304.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2164-0947.1951.tb01033.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    For modern biological anthropology, a foundational article. At once a break with racist typologies of the past and an embrace of evolutionary theory, human variation, and population dynamics as central to the mission of biological anthropology. By situating the new foundation of biological anthropology within biology, Washburne greatly advanced the subdiscipline but also sets up stark contrasts with cultural anthropology.

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Controversies

The divisive debate around sociobiology took place across many disciplines. Similarly, the Sokal Hoax involved wide swaths of academia. These debates highlighted broad splits between biology versus culture and science versus postmodernism approaches within anthropology, and controversies sprung up in vociferous fashion in the field from the 1980s onward. The Margaret Mead/Derek Freeman debate, the role of adaptationism in medical anthropology and human development, the Darkness in El Dorado controversy, and, more recently, the controversy over the word “science” in the long-range plan of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) demonstrate the tensions that have tended to divide anthropology into different groups, each claiming the primacy of their particular approach within the discipline.

Margaret Mead and Derek Freeman

Freeman 1983 presents a punishing critique of Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa (see Mead 2003, cited under Eclectic Holism and the Origins of Biocultural Anthropology). Questioning her methods and her conclusions, Freeman drew the contrast between what he saw as Mead’s cultural relativism and determinism and his own approach, which saw human behavior as shaped by universal aspects of human psychology and biology. This attack both on methods and on theoretical approaches characterized much of the back-and-forth between the more biologically oriented and the more culturally oriented anthropologists of the time, as seen in Freeman, et al. 2000. For those interested in a broader view of Mead, a good place to start is the online collection of the Library of Congress Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture. Similarly, Tuzin 2002 provides a sympathetic portrait of Derek Freeman, something that is often lost in the debate. Finally, Shankman 2009 provides a balanced assessment of this controversy, ultimately downplaying many of the accusations that flew on both sides of the Mead-Freeman debate.

  • Freeman, Derek. 1983. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The making and unmaking of an anthropological myth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Freeman argued that Mead was duped by her informants and so enamored of her relativist viewpoints that she mischaracterized data and drew conclusions at odds with what Freeman discovered in Samoa—that adolescence is not an openly sexual time free from stress, but the same conflict-ridden drama seen in the West, with adolescence in both cultures marked by shared essential psychobiological roots.

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  • Freeman, Derek, Martin Orans, and James E. Côté. 2000. Sex and hoax in Samoa. Current Anthropology 41:609–622.

    DOI: 10.1086/317384Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this Current Anthropology Forum on Theory in Anthropology, major players in the debate lay out their positions, Freeman critical of Mead and her methods and presentation of results, Orans labeling Mead’s work interpretivist and not scientific, and Côté rebutting Freeman’s “hoax” in claiming and providing a qualified defense of Mead’s work.

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  • Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture. Library of Congress.

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    The Library of Congress houses Mead’s papers, and this online site provides an overview of the exhibit put together in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth.

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  • Shankman, Paul. 2009. The trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an anthropological controversy. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    A thorough review of the Mead-Freeman controversy and what we know about adolescent sexuality, life in Samoa, the potential hoaxing of researchers, and other pertinent topics. It also rebuts much of the media and intellectual storm surrounding Freeman’s claims, favoring the view that it was “much ado about nothing” rather than a substantive controversy.

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  • Tuzin, Donald. 2002. Derek Freeman (1916–2001). American Anthropologist 104.3: 1013–1015.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2002.104.3.1013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A sympathetic portrait of Freeman’s life, with an in-depth portrayal of how a focus on science and individual choice came to frame Freeman’s work.

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Adaptationism in Medical Anthropology

Changes in biological and sociocultural anthropology meant large changes in the conceptualization of how individuals and populations related to their local environments. The adaptationist view from biology used evolutionary theory and biological mechanisms to characterize that relationship, often examining how the individual adapted successfully or unsuccessfully to the environment. In contrast, the sociocultural view used political economy, history, and systems of meaning to reformulate how the local environment impacted groups of people, such that inequality—rather than a lack of adaptation—could drive problems in health and well-being. This debate played out in medical anthropology in the 1980s and 1990s in two major ways—the “small but healthy” debate over growth in impoverished environments and the contrasting approaches to the concepts of adaptation and ecology. The “small but healthy” debate started with Seckler 1982; the author responded to initial criticisms in Seckler 1983. A Human Organization special issue (Pelto and Pelto 1989) provides both critique and anthropological insight from nutrition and growth research; Bailey and Schell 2007 provides a comprehensive overview of more recent work that comes from biological anthropology and human growth research. On adaptationism, Singer 1996 presents a classic critique, and Wiley 1992 offers an early defense. Baer 1996 brings in further critical considerations from political economy, while Leatherman, et al. 1993 examines how to bring political economy and human biology research closer together.

  • Baer, Hans A. 1996. Bringing political ecology into critical medical anthropology: A challenge to biocultural approaches. Medical Anthropology 17:129–141.

    DOI: 10.1080/01459740.1996.9966132Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Makes an important distinction between a multifactorial approach to the environment (typical of more biological approaches) and a more systemic approach that brings critical perspectives to bear.

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  • Bailey, Stephen, and Lawrence Schell. 2007. Special issue: AAPA symposium: Is adaptation healthy? Interpreting growth patterns in adverse environments. American Journal of Human Biology 19.5.

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    A reworking of the debate initiated by Seckler’s “small but healthy hypothesis.” The articles largely focus on how to resolve the disease versus adaptation approach. The use of life-history theory, with its concept of trade-offs, is much closer to the sense of “accommodation” developed in earlier responses to Seckler’s proposal.

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  • Leatherman, Thomas J., Alan H. Goodman, and R. Brooke Thomas. 1993. On seeking common ground between medical ecology and critical medical anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 7:202–207.

    DOI: 10.1525/maq.1993.7.2.02a00070Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Aims for common ground between adaptationist and political economy approaches, identifying strengths on each side and highlighting points of tension that, rather than being divisive, could lead to productive new forms of scholarship.

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  • Pelto, Gretel H., and Pertti J. Pelto, eds. 1989. Special issue: “Small but healthy” hypothesis. Human Organization 48.1.

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    This special issue contains five articles from leaders in the fields of international nutrition and growth. Together, the articles firmly rebut the “small but healthy” hypothesis on both conceptual and empirical grounds. Rather than “adaptation,” children growing up in poverty demonstrate, at best, “accommodation” to the deficits they face, and they make this accommodation at considerable costs to their own healthy development.

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  • Seckler, David. 1982. Small but healthy: A basic hypothesis in the theory, measurement and policy of malnutrition. In Newer concepts in nutrition and their implications for policy. Edited by Pandurang V. Sukhaume, 127–137. Pune, India: Maharashtra Association for the Cultivation of Science Research Institute.

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    A proposal that affirms that most people who are stunted, while small, are still healthy, as their bodies have adapted to their circumstances, and, thus, they are not in need of any special intervention. As a consequence, aid programs should target only the most stunted and the most chronically sick, who are the individuals truly facing maladaptive consequences, rather than using broad interventions.

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  • Seckler, David. 1983. The “small but healthy?” hypothesis: A reply to critics. Economic and Political Weekly 19:1886–1888.

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    Worth reading because of the use of the epistemology of science to discuss his approach and why his critics misunderstand his work. This essay highlights important disciplinary assumptions that often work to divide biological and cultural approaches within anthropology.

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  • Singer, Merrill. 1996. Farewell to adaptationism: Unnatural selection and the politics of biology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10:495–515.

    DOI: 10.1525/maq.1996.10.4.02a00050Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An argument against the use of human adaptation as a conceptual tool. Singer argues, rather, that humans are transforming rather than adapting to their environments, and in turn creating powerful differentials in health and well-being through changes in political-economic structures.

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  • Wiley, Andrea. 1992. Adaptation and the biocultural paradigm in medical anthropology: A critical review. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 6.3: 216–236.

    DOI: 10.1525/maq.1992.6.3.02a00030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the utility of adaptation, not its jettison, even in light of increasing recognition of the social and political side of human health. Adaptation brings an historical perspective as well, and it can focus in on precise aspects of the relationship between environment and person that specifically impact health.

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Darkness in El Dorado Controversy

Chagnon 1983 was one of the first works to actively incorporate the sociobiological approach into ethnographic fieldwork, arguing that these evolutionary perspectives permitted greater insight into the lives and social organization of the Yanomami hunter-gatherers of Brazil. Asch and Chagnon 2007 is a film that vividly illustrates this approach and has been widely shown in introductory classes. The author of Tierney 2000 subsequently accused Chagnon and his collaborator James Neel, a geneticist, of grave research misconduct, from not keeping human subjects concerns at the forefront to the inflammatory accusation of introducing measles into vulnerable local populations. A firestorm erupted within anthropology, including a divisive ethical investigation by the AAA. Much of the debate turned on disciplinary lines, with sociocultural anthropologists attacking Chagnon (the Padilha 2010 film can be viewed as a recent and very powerful demonstration) and biological anthropologists defending him (as summarized best in Dreger 2011). In many ways, this debate is similar in its dynamics to the Mead/Freeman controversy—an initial firestorm followed by divisions along the newly formed disciplinary grounds, as Lamphere 2003 discusses. Then a slow muting as evidence is examined more closely and professionals rework the “for or against” dynamic that reigned at the start, as Borofsky 2005 does even as the author uses the controversy to call for a new, more public direction for the field. For those wanting to explore the controversy further, the Darkness in El Dorado website is an excellent resource.

  • Asch, Timothy, and Napoleon Chagnon, dirs. 2007. The ax fight, 1975. DVD. Waterton, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.

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    The famous film that portrayed a conflict between two villages. Besides the vivid filming, the 1975 documentary used a combination of biological and cultural approaches to illustrate how alliances and conflicts formed during the dispute, and it includes reflections on the making and editing of visual documentaries.

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  • Borofsky, Rob. 2005. Yanomami: The fierce controversy and what we can learn from it. Berkley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This book provides a balanced coverage of the debate, even as it aims to recast the controversy in terms of what a more publicly and open anthropology can learn from what happened. It dwells as much on what is ethically at stake for anthropologists in their work as it does on the disciplinary issues that the debate revealed.

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  • Chagnon, Napoleon A. 1983. Ya̦nomamö: The fierce people. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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    The classic ethnography used widely in anthropology. It harks back to older ethnographies that aimed to provide a broad overview of a particular culture. Chagnon situates himself in the ethnography as well as describing the ritualized warfare and violence he witnessed among the Yanomami. Originally published in 1968.

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  • Darkness in El Dorado. In AnthroNiche. By Douglas Hume.

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    A website that provides a comprehensive set of links that covers the entire development of the Darkness in El Dorado debate. It provides useful overviews of the debate and of key players within it as well as a wealth of primary documents in serving its stated goal to be a “clearinghouse of information.” It is a great resource for teaching as well as for examining the many sides of what happened.

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  • Dreger, Alice. 2011. Darkness’s descent on the American Anthropological Association: A cautionary tale. Human Nature 22:225–246.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12110-011-9103-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The AAA created an ethics inquiry into Chagnon’s work following the publication of Darkness in El Dorado. This essay by an historian of science critically examines how that investigation played out, revealing once again biological and cultural splits in the discipline and how those disciplinary lines are often used in a political manner.

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  • Lamphere, Louise. 2003. The perils and prospects for an engaged anthropology: A view from the United States. Social Anthropology 11:153–168.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0964028203000120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay from the president of the AAA during the time the Darkness in El Dorado controversy erupted reflects on how the media played a role in portraying anthropologists as separated into warring tribes. Lamphere reflects on how anthropologists can change their public image, their relationships with communities, and their interactions within the discipline.

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  • Padilha, José, dir. 2010. Secrets of the tribe. DVD. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.

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    This Brazilian filmmaker revisits the controversial themes of research misconduct and exploitation raised by Tierney’s book as well as reflecting on what such considerations mean for the discipline of anthropology. The film examines the history of contact between the Yanomami and anthropologists and portrays the politics, rivalries, and jealousies that helped animate the controversy.

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  • Tierney, Patrick. 2000. Darkness in El Dorado: How scientists and journalists devastated the Amazon. New York: Norton.

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    Tierney attacks how the Yanomami are seemingly portrayed as “primitive man” by Westerners (thus, clearly aligned with the cultural reformations coming from the 1970s, when notions of “primitive” deriving from Victorian social evolution were finally discarded); and he rebuts two, sensational accusations against biologically oriented researchers who had worked with the Yanomami for decades, with claims ranging from profiteering and sexual exploitation to genocide for the sake of science.

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“Science” in the American Anthropological Association

In November 2010, during the annual meeting of the AAA, the Executive Committee voted to approve the removal of the word “science” from the long-range planning document of the AAA. In particular, committee members changed the characterization of “anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects” in favor of a statement that simply said the AAA’s purpose “shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects.” A media and Internet storm subsequently erupted, with discussions over the issue of science in anthropology taking place in newspapers, on blogs, and across many listservs (for comprehensive coverage, see Lende 2010, and for a retrospective from the editor of the American Anthropologist, see Boellstorff 2011). This reaction lead the AAA to issue a formal statement, AAA Responds to Public Controversy over Science in Anthropology, and to publish a revision of the long-range plan that incorporated the word “science” once more with AAA Long-Range Plan: As Amended by the AAA Executive Board, May 4, 2011. As with previous divisive debates, the controversy played out along subdisciplinary lines (see, in particular, Wade 2010 for a prominent biological anthropology response in the New York Times), though this debate also resolved itself more quickly than in the Mead/Freeman or Darkness in El Dorado disputes. The AAA held an official symposium the following year, covered in Antrosio 2011. Prominent anthropologists published affirmations of disciplinary unity in Kuper and Marks 2011 and Smith, et al. 2011.

Novel Developments in Integrative Anthropology

In the 1980s and 1990s, anthropologists reengaged in a collaborative effort to define what a holistic or biocultural anthropology would look like after the controversy that erupted between sociobiology and the “-isms” (deconstructionism, postmodernism, feminism, etc.) in the 1970s and 1980s. More centrist anthropologists began to create new conversations and projects that aimed to fruitfully link these different disciplinary developments while reaffirming the holistic tradition of the overall field. Medical anthropology became a leader in pushing forward biocultural approaches, as evidenced in Moore, et al. 1980 and Armelagos, et al. 1992. Bioarchaeology represented another area of synthesis, as Zuckerman and Armelagos 2011 recounts, and gene/culture evolution became a prominent topic, best evidenced in anthropology with Durham 1991. Prominent figures, including AAA presidents, called for a renewed focus on holism and the four-field approach in works that include Brown and Yoffee 1992, Peacock 1995, and Weiner 1995. Finally, a new graduate program explicitly focused on biocultural anthropology was established at Emory University, with a Cultural Anthropology special issue edited in Paul 1987 devoted to describing the program and its many lines of integrative research.

  • Armelagos, George J., Thomas Leatherman, Mary Ryan, and Lynn Sibley. 1992. Biocultural synthesis in medical anthropology. Medical Anthropology 14:35–52.

    DOI: 10.1080/01459740.1992.9966065Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Since the 1980s, medical anthropology has been one of the main arenas in which biocultural research has flourished. The subject of health neatly cuts through disciplinary lines. For example, pathology has a definite biological basis but is often profoundly shaped by sociocultural patterns. This early essay called for a systemic approach that integrated the rather separate biological and cultural analyses of the preceding two decades.

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  • Brown, Peter J., and Norman Yoffee. 1992. Is fission the future of anthropology? Anthropology News 33:1–21.

    DOI: 10.1111/an.1992.33.7.1.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An argument for the embrace of the holistic tradition and the four-field approach, highlighting both traditional and novel questions and topics that can be addressed in this interdisciplinary intellectual space. This short article is the outcome of a School for American Research seminar that showed that anthropologists could still come together for productive debate.

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  • Durham, William. 1991. Coevolution: Genes, culture, and human diversity. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    Helped make the evolution of culture an explicit topic for research through examining the linkages between biological inheritance and adaptation and cultural selection (“preservation by preference”). Durham addressed topics such as plural marriage, basic color terms across cultures, variation in adult lactose absorption, and incest taboos. Still, it remains a product of earlier times—biology and culture are split domains, and biological theory provides the overall research orientation.

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  • Moore, Lorna G., W. van Arsdale, and Joann E. Glittenberg. 1980. The biocultural basis of health: Expanding views of medical anthropology. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

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    An early example of an explicitly holistic approach to health and illness, drawing on both biology and culture. The textbook does emphasize adaptation, thus leaning toward a more biological view; nonetheless, it represents a turning point in how medical anthropology was conceived as explicitly interdisciplinary.

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  • Paul, Robert A., ed. 1987. Special issue: Biological and cultural anthropology at Emory University. Cultural Anthropology 2.1.

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    Emory University’s Department of Anthropology established a biocultural graduate program in the 1980s. This special issue contains ten substantive essays from the faculty, and an introduction framed as “beyond the debate of the seventies” (p. 5). The Emory initiative marked a leading effort to go beyond eclectic holism and build a graduate program that was explicitly synthetic.

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  • Peacock, James. 1995. Claiming common ground. Anthropology News 36:1–3.

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    This brief statement from an AAA president captures quite well the disciplinary divisions of the time in calling for “creative debate” rather than “rigidifying division.” Peacock finishes by saying that an interdisciplinary discipline such as anthropology gains dynamism from “divergent yet connected modes of understanding” (p. 3), providing a clear articulation of why centrist anthropologists returned to biocultural approaches in the 1990s.

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  • Weiner, Annette. 1995. Culture and our discontents. American Anthropologist 97.1: 14–21.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1995.97.1.02a00040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The AAA president delivers a powerful message: an integrative and postmodern anthropology “will encourage anthropologists to transcend the narrower objectives of all traditional core subdisciplines to think about research areas that provide mutual and necessary interaction” (p. 17).

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  • Zuckerman, Molly K., and George J. Armelagos. 2011. The origins of biocultural dimensions in bioarchaeology. In Social bioarchaeology. Edited by Sabrina C. Agarwal and Bonnie A. Glencross, 15–43. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444390537Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This chapter traces the emergence of an explicitly biocultural approach in bioarchaeology starting in the 1970s, based on the premise that “cultural systems, such as technology, social organization, and ideology, can inhibit or encourage biological processes such as undernutrition and disease” (p. 21).

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Reworkings of the Sacred Bundle

Even as new biocultural syntheses emerged, tensions remained within the field and became apparent in several publications in the early 2000s. Both Borofsky 2002 and Segal and Yanagisako 2005 question the old “four-field” characterization of anthropology—that it necessarily consists of archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology brought together into one holistic approach. However, Harkin 2010 defends four-field anthropology, and Armelagos 2008 defends the long-standing biocultural approach within anthropology. These developments both challenged older paradigms and framings across anthropology while pointing toward new potential for synthetic growth. Bunzl 2005 challenges sociocultural anthropology to return to a Boasian approach; Alter 2007 highlights new ways to work syntheses based on developments in both biological and critical theory; and Fox and King 2002 examines several approaches to rapprochement through a reworking of the culture concept. Finally, Clifford 2010 highlights basic premises for humanistic research, which can serve as an excellent touchstone for future syntheses that begin more on the cultural side.

  • Alter, Joseph S. 2007. The once and future “apeman” chimeras, human evolution, and disciplinary coherence. Current Anthropology 48.5: 637–652.

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    The ethnographic subject—the “human”—has often been treated as a distinct category, made separate from nature through culture. That distinction is being actively changed through developments in biotechnology and science, and Alter highlights a need for interpretive and humanist approaches to draw on biological approaches to better do their own ethnographic work. Biology becomes part of the interpretive framework.

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  • Armelagos, George J. 2008. Biocultural anthropology at its origins: Transformation of the new physical anthropology in the 1950s. In The tao of anthropology. Edited by Jack Kelso, 269–282. Gainesville: Univ. Press of Florida.

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    This retrospective by one of the deans of modern biocultural anthropology vigorously defends the biocultural efforts that have come from the biological and archaeological sides of anthropology. Armelagos argues for the importance of continued holism within anthropology, against Segal and Yanagisako 2005.

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  • Borofsky, R. 2002. The four subfields: Anthropologists as mythmakers. American Anthropologist 104.2: 463–480.

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    A review of one hundred years of the American Anthropologist shows that only 9.5 percent of the articles demonstrate “substantive collaboration” across the different subfields. In light of this evidence, Borofsky proposes that rather than continuing to rearrange the holistic deckchairs on the sinking Titanic of supposed holistic collaboration, anthropologists look outside the discipline to problems that demand an integrative approach.

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  • Bunzl, Matti. 2005. Anthropology beyond crisis. Anthropology and Humanism 30:187–195.

    DOI: 10.1525/anhu.2005.30.2.187Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Transformations in sociocultural anthropology in the late 1960s shifted the field in new directions, often with direct links to the later “revolution” centered on the book writing culture. This unappreciated history points to new ways to reconfigure anthropology today, in particular through a return to a more Boasian approach to culture.

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  • Clifford, James. 2010. The Greater Humanities. In Zunguzungu. Edited by Aaron Bady.

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    Clifford reworks the “two cultures” of C. P. Snow (science and humanities), calling for a recognition of common themes that unite the humanities across disciplinary lines. Clifford gives a concise summary of these commonalities. The “greater humanities” are (1) interpretive, (2) realist, (3) historical, and (4) ethno-political. These characterizations are set against positivism, objectivity, teleology (particularly the evolutionary sort), and instrumental/bottom-line orientations.

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  • Fox, Richard G., and Barbara J. King. 2002. Anthropology beyond culture. Oxford: Berg.

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    This collection includes works by a broad range of anthropologists who consider how to update the concept of culture and do research on cultural phenomena after the many disciplinary changes starting in the 1970s. Culture is defined more in terms of how it is useful to certain research questions and paradigms. This open-minded approach to culture, in turn, opens up more vistas for doing biocultural work across previous biology/culture divides.

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  • Harkin, Michael. 2010. Uncommon ground: Holism and the future of anthropology. Reviews in Anthropology 39:25–45.

    DOI: 10.1080/00938150903548600Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A review of the questioning of anthropology’s four-field holism, this article finishes by reaffirming the strengths and advantages that a holistic approach offers anthropology. The article also makes an interesting institutional point: the “four-field model, while historically contingent, is well suited to the institutional and political realities of the American academy, especially the public research university” (p. 25).

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  • Segal, Daniel A., and Sylvia J. Yanagisako, eds. 2005. Unwrapping the sacred bundle: Reflections on the disciplining of anthropology. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    An eclectic collection, marked by questioning the traditional US anthropological commitment to four-field holism. The opening essay by Segal and Yanagisako is critical of biocultural approaches, characterizing these largely as efforts in reductionism and positivism and at odds with cultural anthropology since the 1970s. Overall, the essays focus on the editors’ intent to debate “the definition of anthropology as a ‘holistic’ study of humanity” (p. 2) based on the four fields.

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Neuroanthropology

Interest in the brain dates back to the origins of modern anthropology. Franz Boas came to his comparative ethnographic work through an interest in psychophysics, or how individuals and groups perceive physical stimuli; W. H. R. Rivers performed qualitative research on recovery from nerve damage and worked extensively on trauma among soldiers during World War I. Substantive work in relation to the brain, however, would have to wait decades as neuroscience made progress in developing a scientific understanding of the brain, as paleoanthropology and animal biology developed data on comparative brain biology, and as neurosurgery and psychiatry developed powerful means to intervene directly with the brain through surgery and pharmaceuticals. In recent years, as neuroscience has increasingly revealed the profound role of neuroplasticity in brain function, and popular knowledge about the brain has exploded through technologies such as neuro-imaging, anthropologists have increasingly undertaken research that places the brain and neuroscience within an anthropological context. This work generally falls into three categories—biological, biocultural, and cultural. Given the profound role of research on the brain in present discussions on what it means to be human and on how brain function seems to break down academic divisions between the “biological” and “cultural,” anthropological work on the brain has increasingly occupied a central role in biocultural approaches within the field.

Foundational Texts

Since the 1970s a great deal of groundbreaking work in biological and biocultural work on the brain has been done. Sociocultural work on neuroscience and the uses of the brain in social and cultural contexts came later, as this research has emerged in response to new social phenomena. Holloway 1975 and Jerison 1973 were groundbreaking pieces looking at the brain and human evolution. Konner 1982 represents an early and important biocultural synthesis of human biology, evolutionary theory, and cross-cultural research. Laughlin, et al. 1992 and Turner 1983 both used neuroscience to address research problems within cultural anthropology.

Online Discussion Forums

Collaboration, discussion, and dissemination online has played a central role in advancing the integration of neuroscience and anthropology. Neuroanthropology: Understanding the Encultured Brain and Body is the central blog, and the Neuroanthropology Discussion Group on Facebook is where undergraduates, graduate students, professors, and the interested public come together in one online meeting space. Mind Hacks provides excellent coverage of the latest developments in neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology. Somatosphere covers global health, psychiatry, and critical neuroscience.

Evolution and Biology of the Brain

Biocultural approaches to the brain generally come in two varieties—(a) work that proposes biocultural dynamics as central to the expansion and reorganization of our neural circuitry over evolutionary time, and (b) research that uses neuroscience, comparative biology, and evolutionary theory to make arguments about how to understand human minds and behavior today. Increasingly, these two lines of research are merging into arguments about the social and cultural underpinnings of neural function and the role “cultural intelligence” played in driving brain expansion in the human lineage. Allen 2009 provides a good introduction to this area of research. Schoenemann 2006 reviews much of the primary literature on brain evolution, and Rilling 2008 examines the intersection of neuroscience and biological anthropology. The other citations all examine models to better explain human brain evolution. Aiello and Wheeler 1995 is a classic that examines the trade-off between brain tissue and gut tissue; Wrangham, et al. 1999 advances this debate with a focus on how cooking helped relax this trade-off. Dunbar 2003 covers the hypothesis that social complexity drove brain expansion. Hermann, et al. 2007 modifies this view to focus on cultural intelligence as better explaining human brain expansion. Deacon 1998 focuses on the co-evolution of language, extended human development, and neural plasticity as key to understanding human brain evolution.

Biocultural Approaches within Neuroanthropology

Neuroanthropology uses the conjunction of neuroscience and anthropology to examine human variation, ways of knowing and being, processes of enculturation, and problems such as addiction and trauma that exist at the interface of culture and the brain. Lende and Downey 2012a is a comprehensive overview and case study of neuroanthropology. Lende and Downey 2012b is a special issue focused on applied neuroanthropology. Roepstorff, et al. 2010 provides an important approach to understanding brain enculturation through cultural practices and experiences. Dominguez Duque, et al. 2010 focuses on how anthropology and ethnography can help laboratory-based neuroscience. Important examples of this approach include Downey 2010 on skill acquisition, Hay 2009 on anxiety and cultural healing practices, and Seligman and Kirmayer 2008 on dissociation.

Neuroscience as Social and Cultural Phenomenon

As neuroscience has become a major part of social discourse and a formative way of thinking about identity and relating to others, anthropologists and other critical theorists have increasingly engaged with these new social forms. Neuroimaging, psychopharmaceuticals, and neuroplasticity, as well as the increasing expert knowledge of researchers and clinicians about neural function, have become formative parts of ways of being human in many industrial and postindustrial settings. Choudhury and Slaby 2012 outlines the new field of critical neuroscience, drawing on critical theory, anthropology, and philosophy to interrogate the production, dissemination, and popular impact of neuroscience. Young 2012 is also a critical piece on neuroscience, examining the evolutionary story about a “social brain.” The other articles focus more on the intersection of neuroscience and subjectivity. Rose 2003 and Dumit 2004 are foundational texts in this type of research. Cromby, et al. 2011 contains a wide range of articles on this topic. Martin 2010 and Rees 2010 are both articles by anthropologists who examine how neuroscience, psychiatric problems, and ethnography with patients inside and outside clinical settings come together in new forms of self-making and being human.

Addiction

Addiction research is one area in which biocultural research has exploded over the past decade. In its prototypical form, addiction to alcohol and drugs involves pharmacologically active substances and recurrent use done in dynamic sociocultural contexts shaped by social relationships. Anthropologists have examined this conjunction of biology, culture, and technology using a broad biocultural framework. At the same time, other anthropologists critically interrogate the production of a biological view of addiction, while others highlight how political economy and the biology of disease come together to shape the inevitable health issues that surround addiction.

Addictive Behavior

Anthropologists have focused on the behaviors surrounding alcohol and drug use, including the absorption and craving that often accompanies addiction, and they have recently used biocultural approaches to produce productive analyses of how and why people become deeply involved with certain types of activities. Gezon 2012 presents a cross-cultural approach to khat use, examining the biological and cultural aspects of khat production and use. Lende 2012 draws on neuroscience and ethnography in seeking to understand the compulsive involvement with drugs that many users demonstrate. Schull 2012 focuses on how the design of casinos, including the sensory environment and the technology of slot machines, facilitates deep involvement. Snodgrass, et al. 2011 presents a similar analysis that focuses on absorption in video game play.

  • Gezon, Lisa. 2012. Drug effects: Khat in biocultural and socioeconomic perspective. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast.

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    A more classic biocultural take, in which the biological and cultural are considered separately, that analyzes khat use and distribution.

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  • Lende, Daniel H. 2012. Addiction and neuroanthropology. In The encultured brain. Edited by Daniel H. Lende and Greg Downey, 339–362. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    Addiction as situated at the interface of compulsive involvement with drugs and habitual use of drugs, using a synthesis of sociocultural anthropology and neuroscience.

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  • Schull, Natasha. 2012. Addiction by design: Machine gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    An ethnography of gambling in Las Vegas, where gamblers and casinos coalesce around the “machine zone,” such that daily worries fall away while machine makers push the boundaries of how much they can get someone to play.

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  • Snodgrass, Jeffrey G., Michael G. Lacy, H. J. Francois Dengah, Jesse Fagan, and David E. Most. 2011. Magical flight and monstrous stress: Technologies of absorption and mental wellness in Azeroth. Cultural Medical Psychiatry 35:26–62.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11013-010-9197-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Video games as “technologies of absorption” that combine for both biological and cultural effect, at times positive and at other times addictive.

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Critical Interrogations

Critical approaches have focused largely on the disease model of addiction that has become the dominant paradigm in research and clinical practice in the United States during the past sixty years. As Campbell 2010 shows, this model was created, in large part, through work by psychologists and neuroscientists doing basic research. Garcia 2010 shows how the disease model becomes problematic in this powerful ethnographic study of heroin users in rural New Mexico. Raikhel 2012 provides a non-US ethnographic example, utilizing work on Russian addiction medicine.

  • Campbell, Nancy D. 2010. Toward a critical neuroscience of “addiction”. BioSocieties 5:89–104.

    DOI: 10.1057/biosoc.2009.2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historical and ethnographic work on psychologists and neuroscientists as they have produced a biologically oriented view of substance abuse, even as scientists implicitly responded to the social worlds and judgments surrounding addiction.

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  • Garcia, Angela. 2010. The Pastoral clinic: Addiction and dispossession along the Rio Grande. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A powerful ethnography of heroin users in northern New Mexico that provides a stringent critique of the “chronic, relapsing disease” approach to addiction, while situating chronicity and relapse in context and history.

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  • Raikhel, Eugene. 2012. Radical reductions: Neurophysiology, politics and personhood in Russian addiction medicine. In Critical neuroscience: A handbook of the social and cultural contexts of neuroscience. Edited by Suparna Choudhury and Jan Slaby, 227–251. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

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    How Russian addiction medicine finds its roots in Pavlov’s work on reflexes and how this particular biomedical approach links to patient self-identifications.

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Political Economy

Research that examines the social and political dynamics around addiction has also challenged individual-based models of addiction as a disease. Singer 2001 presents an overview of this work, advancing a model that integrates political economy theory with ethnography and biomedical research. Bourgois 2002 draws on political economy and epidemiology to examine how to advance interdisciplinary work on HIV among injection drug users. Ciccarone and Bourgois 2006 looks at the pharmacology and technology of heroin injection to better understand the patterning of HIV infection across communities. Finally, Hansen and Skinner 2012 presents a neuroanthropological approach that integrates the political economy of race and class to understand the differential impact pharmaceutical treatments are having among opioid users in New York City.

  • Bourgois, Philippe. 2002. Anthropology and epidemiology on drugs: The challenges of cross-methodological and theoretical dialogue. International Journal of Drug Policy 13:259–269.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0955-3959(02)00115-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Social suffering and political economy meet the biological dynamics of HIV infection for injection drug users.

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  • Ciccarone, Daniel, and Philippe Bourgois. 2006. Explaining the geographical variation of HIV among injection drug users in the United States. Substance Use & Misuse 38:2049–2063.

    DOI: 10.1081/JA-120025125Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Local varieties of heroin carry distinct chemical profiles, which can shape the biocultural dynamics of HIV infection.

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  • Hansen, Helena, and Mary Skinner. 2012. From white bullets to black markets and greened medicine: The neuroeconomics and neuroracial politics of opioid pharmaceuticals. Annals of Addiction Medicine 36.1: 167–182.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2153-9588.2012.01098.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Class and race play a central role in who gets access to opioid treatments, driving neuroanthropological dynamics that help promote recovery for some and undermine it for others.

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  • Singer, Merrill. 2001. Toward a bio-cultural and political economic integration of alcohol, tobacco and drug studies in the coming century. Social Science and Medicine 55:199–213.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(00)00331-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The critical biocultural model applied to substance use and abuse, specifically through a focus on the political economy of risk behavior, ethnographic insight into meaning and behaviors, and biomedical analysis of intersecting health issues.

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LAST MODIFIED: 08/26/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0095

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