Biosocial Becomings: Integrating Social and Biological Anthropology

Biosocial Becomings
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Featuring contributions from leading anthropologists, it explores human life as a process of 'becoming' rather than 'being', and demonstrates that humanity is neither given in the nature of our species nor acquired through culture but forged in the process of life itself. Combining wide-ranging theoretical argument with in-depth discussion of material from recent or ongoing field research, the chapters demonstrate how contemporary anthropology can move forward in tandem with groundbreaking discoveries in the biological sciences.

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The main purpose of this article is to provide a preliminary review of the history of Brazilian biological anthropology from the second half of the twentieth century. Combining wide-ranging theoretical argument with in-depth discussion of material from recent or ongoing field research, the chapters demonstrate how contemporary anthropology can move forward in tandem with groundbreaking discoveries in the biological sciences. There is nothing we do today which will not be done better tomorrow. Copyright and License information Disclaimer. As a supplement, however, the next section contains a small, non-exhaustive survey of the most recent bioanthropological work undertaken in Brazil in some specialist areas, allowing the reader a glimpse of the current situation.

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Wordery offers Free Delivery on all UK orders, and competitively priced international delivery. We find rare books for you These take a little longer to source. Please check the expected dispatch details above. Huge range Over 7 million titles and growing, all at extremely competitive prices. International delivery varies by country, please see the Wordery store help page for details. The article is structured as follows. This initial survey enables a clearer understanding of the Brazilian case, the topic of the second section. This is followed by a brief historico-bibliographic account of the most recent state of biological anthropology in the country, including a number of specialized subareas of research.

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The article concludes with a short discussion of the material covered over its course. What is known today as anthropology first emerged in various countries of the world alongside other nascent sciences in the nineteenth century as an audacious scientific project, albeit one not yet unified in institutional and nomenclatural terms.

The quest to identify regular and natural laws capable of explaining how human societies function, an ever-present theme among the early anthropologists, became manifested in two forms. Biological aspects were thus evoked, especially by physical anthropologists, to explain the cultural differences between societies.

However, this unilineal evolutionist perspective, present in both physical and sociocultural anthropology, irrespective of their distinct approaches, was already being challenged at the turn of the twentieth century, especially through the ideas of Franz Boas in the United States. He thereby established the grounds for a relativist conception of culture Boas, , ; Stanford et al.

This contestation of the evolutionist and racial premises of anthropology — an endeavour in which we can include, beside Boas, his immediate disciples in the United States and the authors associated with functionalism in Europe — would lead to a widening gulf between sociocultural studies and physical biological studies. More specifically, biological physical anthropology was long based on a minute description of the morphological diversity of humans and other primates Little; Susmann, in virtually all the countries where it emerged, including South Africa Low, , Brazil Santos, R.

For all these authors, this approach was incapable of providing the theoretical and empirical foundations needed to elucidate the reasons behind human biological diversity, mainly in the present. Physical anthropology was not immune to its influence either. In the s, US anthropologist Sherwood Washburn joined forces with Theodosius Dobzhansky, a geneticist and central figure behind the establishment of the Neo-Darwinist synthesis, to promote a profound change in the field of physical anthropology by introducing the general theoretical perspective of Neo-Darwinism and the genetic concept of population Stanford et al.

They argued that physical anthropology should abandon its descriptive objectives, determined by nineteenth-century racial evolutionism, and become a discipline capable of interpretative analyses of human evolution inspired by Neo-Darwinism. Divergent readings of this change exist, however. Smocovitis argues that from the s the proponents of Neo-Darwinism had been striving to integrate anthropology into their own perspectives, or make anthropology more aware of genetics.

Marks , by contrast, suggests that the idea that anthropology had ignored genetics until the s and 60s was simply a myth. During the same period that Franz Boas was founding an anti-racist anthropology in the United States, most other researchers, Marks suggests, were championing a racist anthropology based on heredity. At the time, genetics had made significant advances in branches of the biological sciences like systematics, palaeontology and zoology, changing its understanding of the origin, development and dispersal of species.

Washburn , thus hoped that anthropologists dedicated to physical studies would likewise cease to merely describe phenomena and become full-blown researchers, capable of analysing the biological differences between human beings more accurately, both synchronically among living populations and diachronically studying paleoanthropological remains , mainly in theoretical terms. Put succinctly, Washburn argues that it would shift from being a technique to a means of understanding the evolutionary processes of primates and human biological variability, taking as a baseline the concept of genetic population gene frequency.

Noa Vaisman

Meanwhile analyses of processes of biological transformation would be preconditioned on numerous disciplinary alliances, especially where population migrations and genetic drift were involved. On this last point the author writes:. The new physical anthropology has much to offer to anyone interested in the structure or evolution of man, but this is only a beginning. To build it, we must collaborate with social scientists, geneticists, anatomists, and palaeontologists.

We need new ideas, new methods, new workers. There is nothing we do today which will not be done better tomorrow. The foundations were set, then, for a vast series of transformations that would reshape biological anthropology over the ensuing decades. This persistence arose from the fact that in the s and 60s the category became adopted in the public sphere more widely, including by all kinds of political agents, and featured in numerous scientific studies in areas like health or genetics itself Santos, ; Little; Sussman, , without mentioning evolutionary psychology.

It would exceed the limits of this article to detail the theoretical-conceptual development of bioanthropology in each of its specialities over the recent period. To this we can add the expansion of its areas of interest, covering not only to classic themes like the origin and dispersal of Homo sapiens , but also, for example, the biomolecular structure of populations genetic anthropology , ecology and health Foley, Historical reviews show that research in physical anthropology was already being conducted in Brazil during the nineteenth century Schwarcz, ; Santos R.

Heavily influenced by the French Anthropological School led by Paul Broca, the professionals working in physical anthropology at the time used the craniometer as the principal tool for developing their theories Castro Faria, c ; Keuller, These studies, like those developed in ethnology then under the sway of evolutionism, also informed much of the debate on Brazilian national identity in the nineteenth century and early twentieth.

More than anthropologists, or medical anthropologists, the professionals dedicated to anthropological research during the early period of the discipline in the country presented themselves as intellectuals, men of science capable of providing reliable solutions to national dilemmas, invested with an authority associated with the institutions that they represented Schwarcz, It goes beyond the aims of the present review to analyse this period in the historical development of Brazilian biological anthropology in detail, or those immediately preceding and succeeding it.

However, as mentioned in the introduction, the literature on the period from the s to the present is slight, save for a number of more general works like those produced by Santos R. Concerned with the fate of the naturalistic tradition of Brazilian anthropology, both authors publicly expressed their dismay over the growing disdain for biological anthropology within national academia, especially among anthropologists themselves: in their view, unlike the biological sciences more specifically genetic studies , the area was still rooted in theoretical-methodological models rooted in the nineteenth century.

For Castro Faria and Schaden alike, this reality was partly explained by the lack of familiarity of Brazilian anthropologists with certain theoretical points of modern biology read: Neo-Darwinism and by the absence of a consistent project for teaching biological anthropology in Brazilian universities. Castro Faria has been sounding off about the subject [the deficiencies in the teaching of biological anthropology in Brazil] with almost rude insistence [ This apparent aggression, however, merely reflects his desire to help, correct and contribute locally to revalorising a field of knowledge that, due to the malicious artifices of our improvised university structure, is on the verge of falling into irremediable disrepute.

He also effectively predicted the fate of the biological anthropology taught on social science, history and geography courses:. If in the near future biological anthropology is completely excised from these courses, due to a failure to comprehend its ever greater topicality and the explanatory value of its basic premises, we will be forced to conclude that those primarily responsible for this situation were certain professors who allowed their teaching to become a mere exercise in fastidious uselessness.

Students on these courses, most of them interested in teaching as a professional career, would understandably steer away from anthropometric records, callipers, bones and fossil lists. Personally I believe that this will indeed happen and that this will have favourable consequences.

Master of Biological Anthropology

This symposium [ The symposium combined a discussion on the possibilities for cooperation between the two disciplines with discussion of works where the potential for this collaboration is clearly evident. For him, though trained in the human sciences, all three had endeavoured to advance the teaching of bioanthropology at the centres were they worked 5.

It would become less obsessed with measuring bones and more focused on the big questions like the human fossil record and population genetics, exploring the evolutionary process of the species. Recalling his own past experiences, he wrote:. Even today I recall with horror my experiences of high school geography lessons precisely because of these methods and the dismay they provoked.

The dryness and dogmatism that infected this kind of teaching also penetrated the colleges and cultivated a false image of physical anthropology as no more than a rehash of antiquated and outmoded zoological data and concepts. What should have been simply auxiliary and instrumental knowledge had become the central pedagogical goal, distorting the learning process and imbuing it with notions biologists themselves had abandoned back in the s.

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In their words:. This has to be understood through a critical analysis of the bioanthropology produced in Brazil during the s, s and the early s, a task lying beyond the remit of the present work […]. Generally speaking, the two processes took place concomitantly.

As Santos adds, the work undertaken by the traditional line of research, exemplified by the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, was focused on osteometric analyses of human remains from the prehistorical period. Although these studies made no attempt to associate anatomical and morphological features with behavioural predispositions, the methodological orientation remained identical to the one developed at the start of the last century.

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At the same time, descriptions remained ends in themselves, as stressed by Neves and Atui Pursuing different lines of approach, research was also developed outside anthropology departments in biology sectors on topics closely linked to anthropological research, especially in human population genetics.

In these centres, Santos asserts, bioanthropology had combined with studies in population genetics, heavily influenced by the synthetic theory of evolution. Populations are potentially equivalent in terms of cultural possibilities. Nonetheless, it is important to mention one last aspect of the relations between this concept and more recent studies of biological anthropology in Brazil, especially those involving genetic analyses of living populations.

Santos suggests that although many bioanthropological studies had absorbed Neo-Darwinist ideas of evolution, human population genetics and so on, some Brazilian works in this area remained bound to the typological premises of the past, making associations between morphological criteria and genotype structure.

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The same author cites the works of Krieger et al. Looking beyond this topic, Santos is correct to assert that the trajectory of Brazilian bioanthropology since the s to the start of the present century has involved a transformation with various ruptures but also continuities. Returning to one of the points discussed here, the idea of genetic population, for example, did not entirely eclipse the importance attributed by various lines of investigation to morphological characteristics, whether or not these were given a racial spin.

At any rate, this two-fold development of biological anthropology in Brazil led to a contemporary institutional scenario fairly different from other countries. The spatial constraints of the present article mean that a detailed exploration of this contemporary situation is impossible. As a supplement, however, the next section contains a small, non-exhaustive survey of the most recent bioanthropological work undertaken in Brazil in some specialist areas, allowing the reader a glimpse of the current situation.

Just as seen in sociocultural anthropology, the myriad interests within contemporary bioanthropology reflect the intense specialization experienced by the area since at least the second half of the last century. This has been partly impelled by methodological, technical and technological transformations not just within evolutionary biology but in other scientific areas too.

In the Brazilian case, the following can be listed 6. We can begin with palaeoanthropology, an inquiry into the origin of modern humans and their dispersal across the planet, as well as their phylogenetic relations to other primates. As remarked earlier, paleoanthropological studies in Brazil date back to the first half of the nineteenth century when Peter Lund began work in the Lagoa Santa region of Minas Gerais and made his first discoveries: human remains associated with specimens of Pleistocene megafauna.

At the end of the nineteenth century and for much of the first half of the twentieth, the theme of the arrival and spread of the human population across the American continent attracted the attention of anthropologists in Brazil Castro Faria, c ; Salzano, and abroad Powell; Neves, In the s and 90s, Walter Alves Neves and diverse collaborators began a series of inquiries into the topic, including studies in the same region investigated by Lund, proposing their own model for the antiquity and biological profile of the first waves of humans to arrive in the Americas Neves; Pucciarelli, ; Neves et al.