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.