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Building a New Biocultural Synthesis

Political-Economic Perspectives on Human Biology

Alan H. Goodman and Thomas L. Leatherman, Editors

Publication Year: 1998

Anthropology, with its dual emphasis on biology and culture, is--or should be--the discipline most suited to the study of the complex interactions between these aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, since the early decades of this century, biological and cultural anthropology have grown distinct, and a holistic vision of anthropology has suffered. This book brings culture and biology back together in new and refreshing ways. Directly addressing earlier criticisms of biological anthropology, Building a New Biocultural Synthesis concerns how culture and political economy affect human biology--e.g., people's nutritional status, the spread of disease, exposure to pollution--and how biological consequences might then have further effects on cultural, social, and economic systems. Contributors to the volume offer case studies on health, nutrition, and violence among prehistoric and historical peoples in the Americas; theoretical chapters on nonracial approaches to human variation and the development of critical, humanistic and political ecological approaches in biocultural anthropology; and explorations of biological conditions in contemporary societies in relationship to global changes. Building a New Biocultural Synthesis will sharpen and enrich the relevance of anthropology for understanding a wide variety of struggles to cope with and combat persistent human suffering. It should appeal to all anthropologists and be of interest to sister disciplines such as nutrition and sociology. Alan H. Goodman is Professor of Anthropology, Hampshire College. Thomas L. Leatherman is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of South Carolina.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xv

The struggle between biological and social explanations of human life is nowhere more pronounced than in anthropology. Indeed, the disciplinary distinction between biological anthropology and cultural anthropology, which manifests itself in departmental factions, in separate academic programs, ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

The majority of the chapters in this book were originally presented during the Wenner-Gren International Symposium no. 115, "Political-Economic Perspectives in Biological Anthropology: Building a Biocultural Synthesis," held in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico in November 1992. ...

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Series Introduction

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pp. xix-xxi

The series Linking Levels of Analysis focuses on studies that deal with the relationships between local-level systems and larger, more inclusive systems. While we know a great deal about how local and larger systems operate, we know a great deal less about how these levels articulate with each other. ...

Part 1. Historical Overview and Theoretical Developments

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1. Traversing the Chasm between Biology and Culture: An Introduction

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pp. 3-42

As we approach the next millennium the cold war has ended and the threat of a nuclear holocaust may be diminished. Metaphors of a divided east and west, north and south, have been replaced by ones accentuating global unity and a "new world order." New international trade agreements such as GATT and NAFTA ...

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2. The Evolution of Human Adaptability Paradigms: Toward a Biology of Poverty

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pp. 43-74

As stated in the introductory chapter, the goal of this volume is to expand the scope of research in physical anthropology by explicitly incorporating political-economic analyses into the assessment of human biological well-being. ...

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3. Political Economy and Social Fields

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pp. 75-92

This approach differs from world-systems theories in that it is, from one vantage, broader and, from another vantage, more specific. It is broader in that its concern for control of resources and labor is not limited to capitalism. It is more specific in that it rejects the attempts of world-systems theories to explain local processes ...

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4. The Development of Critical Medical Anthropology: Implications for Biological Anthropology

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pp. 93-124

In 1966, when Alexander Alland proposed that "medical anthropology may serve as a major link between physical and cultural anthropology" (1966, 41), the fragmentation of anthropology at the borderlands of its major subdisciplines (biological, cultural, linguistics, and archaeology) already was becoming apparent. ...

Part 2. Case Studies and Examples: Past Populations

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5. Linking Political Economy and Human Biology: Lessons from North American Archaeology

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pp. 127-146

Archaeologists, with a unique view of relationships between environment, society, and human biology over large units of space and time, like to emphasize the importance of their discipline for understanding the human condition. Archaeology thus can provide a long-term, historical perspective on human survival problems ...

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6. The Biological Consequences of Inequality in Antiquity

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pp. 147-170

Bioarchaeology, the study of human biological remains in archaeological contexts, is at a critical point of reconsidering methods and objectives. With the passing of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA, US PL 101-601) and increased movement in many countries ...

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7. Owning the Sins of the Past: Historical Trends, Missed Opportunities, and New Directions in the Study of Human Remains

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pp. 171-190

This study suggests the ways in which a political-economic perspective in bioarchaeology can redirect current research into new and productive areas. Criticisms aimed at skeletal analyses are considered and shown to be related to the historical decoupling of the study of past populations from their living descendants, ...

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8. Nature, Nurture, and the Determinants of Infant Mortality: A Case Study from Massachusetts, 1830–1920

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pp. 191-228

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, rates of infant mortality in American cities were a matter of grave concern. As many as 15 to 20 percent of newborns died within their first year, and in the worst neighborhoods or most afflicted cities, rates could go much higher ...

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9. Unequal in Death as in Life: A Sociopolitical Analysis of the 1813 Mexico City Typhus Epidemic

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pp. 229-242

Following the inherited influences of European and North American scientific traditions, Mexican physical anthropology was initially highly descriptive and deterministic. Until the 1960s the main goals of analysis of contemporary and past human biologies was to compare and classify. ...

Part 3. Case Studies and Examples: Contemporary Populations

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10. Illness, Social Relations, and Household Production and Reproduction in the Andes of Southern Peru

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pp. 245-268

The central theme of this volume is that integrating perspectives from anthropological political economy and human adaptability provides a useful starting point for new biocultural perspectives on the human condition. The Andes provides an ideal place to address an integration of perspectives, ...

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11. On the (Un)Natural History of the Tup

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pp. 269-294

Over the past decades, the Amazon Basin has been the scene of drastic social, economic, and environmental changes. For Amerindian peoples, the rapid and abrupt contact with national societies and the resulting socioeconomic changes are often associated with disruptive processes in various aspects of traditional life. ...

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12. The Political Ecology of Population Increase and Malnutrition in Southern Honduras

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pp. 295-316

During the last two decades, Kathleen DeWalt, a variety of collaborators, and I have engaged in four major projects that have investigated the links between agricultural production and food consumption and nutrition. In addition to the topical interest of our research, there are several research strategies ...

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13. The Biocultural Impact of Tourism on Mayan Communities

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pp. 317-338

Throughout Latin America and much of the developing world, nations are turning to tourism as a path of economic development for generating much needed foreign exchange. Mexico is the leader of this trend in Latin America, and a primary destination is Quintana Roo on what is called the Mexican Caribbean. ...

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14. Poverty and Nutrition in Eastern Kentucky: The Political Economy of Childhood Growth

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pp. 339-356

This chapter discusses child poverty in the United States and the role of biological anthropologists in poverty research. Biological anthropologists have made important contributions to research on poverty in the developing world via a focus on child growth and development. ...

Part 4. Steps toward a Critical Biological Anthropology

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15. Race, Racism, and Anthropology

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pp. 359-378

Race, a core concept in anthropology since its inception, has managed to resist any agreed-upon and repeatable definition (Brace 1982a; Molnar 1975). Rather, this most chameleon-like concept manages to blend into changing social and intellectual environments. ...

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16. Beyond European Enlightenment: Toward a Critical and Humanistic Human Biology

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pp. 379-406

With an examination of the history and ideological influences of physical anthropology, this chapter sets out to make four points: (1) studies of the biology of human populations have been consistently influenced by political ideologies; (2) the historical tendency toward the use of naturalistic explanations ...

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17. Latin American Social Medicine and the Politics of Theory

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pp. 407-424

Other chapters in this volume address the applicability of political-economic theories to biological anthropology, arguing on empirical or theoretical grounds that political economy has much to contribute. This chapter takes a different approach by drawing attention to the sociopolitical and economic context ...

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18. Nature, Political Ecology, and Social Practice: Toward an Academic and Political Agenda

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pp. 425-450

Ecological approaches in the social sciences and the humanities are experiencing a renaissance in many parts of the world in the form of what is now frequently called "political ecology." Political ecology has been characterized as "an emerging agenda" in third world and environmental studies. ...

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19. What Could Be: Biocultural Anthropology for the Next Generation

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pp. 451-474

The Wenner-Gren Conference that gave rise to this book was a remarkable academic experience. Not only were individual contributors striving, in a variety of directions, for a new synthesis of biological and social perspectives, but they did so in a manner of extraordinary respect and support for one another's work. ...


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pp. 475-478


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pp. 479-486

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022700
E-ISBN-10: 0472022709
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472066063
Print-ISBN-10: 0472066064

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 22 tables, 20 figures, 5 maps
Publication Year: 1998