Sociobiology In the middle of this century, bot biological and cultural anthropology experiences a major change in theory. In biological anthropology, biological anthropologists adopted an approach which focused on the gene. They saw the human evolution as the process of genetic adaptation to the environment. In the mean time, there were also cultural analogies to evolution. Cultural evolution also followed a process of adaptation. In the field of anthropology, a very important theory is that of the sociobiologists. Sociobiologists focus on adaptation and reproductive success rather than progress toward perfection.
Edward O. Wilson was one of the most important of them. He adopted an approach that focused on the level of the gene. He saw social behavior as controlled, in principle, by particular genes, and he saw evolution as occurring at this level because reproductive success amounted to increasing the frequency of certain genes in future generations. However, the insistence of sociobiologists on grounding at least some behavior in universal human genetic predisposition runs contrary to cultural anthropologists’ emphasis on the primacy of culture itself as the determinant of human social life.
Several distinct approaches can be identified in contemporary sociobiology. The first one is evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is concerned primarily with the analysis of the mind as a device formed by natural selection. The second focus is human behavioral ecology. It emphasized populations rather than cultures, human population biology, as well as evolutionary ecology.
The difference from evolutionary psychology is that it focuses on testing the hypotheses that culturally patterned traits actually enhance fitness rather than mind. The third approach involves the search for human universals. People advocating this kind of approach concentrate on discovering the characteristics found in all human societies. (McGee and Warms, 1996) However, this universal evolution point of view is rejected by other anthropologists such as Julian Steward. Steward developed an ecological approach that focused on the adaptation of individual cultures to specific environmental circumstances rather than trying to find out the universal law of human evolution and adaptation. He devoted most of his energy to the study of the environmental adaptation of specific societies. He did not believe that cultures followed a single universal sequence of development.
Instead, he proposed that cultures could evolve in any number of distinct patterns depending on their environmental circumstances. He called his theory multilinear evolution. He also proposed that cultures in similar environments would tend to follow the same developmental sequences and formulate similar responses to their environmental challenges. (McGee and Warms, 1996) However, the multilinear point of view was not proposed by other anthropologists such as Leslie White. White concludes that unilineal evolutionary theory was fundamentally sound.
He argued that evolutionary development from simple to complex, with increasing specialization of parts, was valid bot for cultures and for biology. He also proposed a grand, universal law of cultural evolution by means of the control of energy as the key factor in cultural evolution: culture advances as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per ear increases, or as the efficiency with which energy is utilized increases. (McGee and Warms, 1996) Still, there were other anthropologists who proposed both a multiliear and a universal law of evolution. For example, George Peter Murdock was interested in the statistical testing of cross-cultural hypotheses. His cross-cultural comparisons of cultural traits in many ways paralleled Steward’s theory of multilinear evolution.
In the meantime, he also believed that a universal set of principle governed the relationship between family structure, kinship, and marriage practices. In this sense, his attempts to statistically demonstrate universal principles of kin relation s resembled White’s effort to formulate a universal theory of cultural evolution. (McGee and Warms, 1996) Besides, William C. Boyd also suggests that there is no doubt that some rectilinearity can often be observed in evolution. Nevertheless, rectilinear evolution is far from universal.
(Boyd, 1952) Another key issue concerning human evolution is the issue of race. The definition of race, according to many anthropologists, is based on the frequency of certain genes. William C. Boyd defines race as that “A race is not an individual, and it is not a single genotype, but it is a group of individuals more or less from the same geographical area (a population), usually with a number of identical genes, but in which many different types may occur.” His definition or race is a genetic one. (Boyd, 1952) Echoing Boyd, Dobzhansky also suggests that races arise chiefly as a result of the ordering of the genetic variability by natural selection in conformity with the environmental conditions in different territories.
He said that “since human population often, in fact usually, differ in the frequencies of one or more, usually several to many, genetic variables, they are by this test racially distinct.” (Dobzhansky, 1962) However, this definition of race is not favored by some other anthropologists. For example, Frank B. Livingstone even rejected the concept of race. He pointed out that although it is true that there is biological variability between the populations of organisms which comprises a species, this variability does not conform to the discrete packages labeled races. In other words, there are no races, the are only clines.
He suggested that the variability in the frequency of any gene does not utilize the concept of race. (Livingstone, 1962) Sherwood L. Washburn defines race as a group of genetically similar populations. He also suggests that races intergrade because there are always intermediate population. Moreover, he compared the concept of race with the concept of type. A “type”, according to Washburn, is a group of individuals who are identical in those characters by which the type was sorted.
In this sense, the race concept and the type concept are fundamentally different. (Washburn, 1952) To summarize, concerning the concept of evolution, there exists the contrast between evolution as universal process and evolution as individual and multilinear process. Concerning the concept of race, the gene is essential to the definition of race. However, whether, or not there exists a concept of race is disputable. Bibliography Boyd, William C. 1952 The Contribution of Genetics to Anbthyropology. in Anthropology Today, ed.
by A.L. Kroeber, pp488-506, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Dobzhansky, Grigrievich 1962 On the non-existence of human race. Current Anthropology 3 (3):279-281. Livingstone, Frank B. 1962 On the non-existence of human race. Current Anthropology 3 (3):279-281 McGee, R.
Jon & Richard L. Warms 1996 Anthropological Theory: An Intorductory History. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Washburn, Sherwood & Lancaster, C. 1968 The Evolution of Hunting. in Man the Hunter, ed. by R.B.
Lee & I. DeVore, pp.193-303, Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co.