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Physical Anthropology Essay

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

Reference Cited

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..

Word Count: 1001

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