The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Without anthropology, biological anthropology is just biology, only more poorly funded


Anthropology, UNC-Charlotte

Thursday 3:30-3:45, Ballroom A Add to calendar

While explicitly arguing about the nature of the “biological” component of biological anthropology, Washburn (1951) tacitly assumed that the “anthropology” component was self-evidently valuable. Historical studies have shown how Washburn derived his paradigm for the study of wild baboon behavior not from ethology, but from the way in which his anthropological colleagues were studying human behavior – the “structural-functional” model of Radcliffe-Brown, practiced at the University of Chicago. In retrospect, there is considerable phylogenetic sense behind that decision. Some years later, as primatology was intellectually overtaken by sociobiology, Washburn decried the biologized (and to him, pseudo-evolutionary) study of human behavior as “the science that pretends humans cannot speak.” Further, by de-centering race as a central analytic concept, Washburn marked a break with pre-War physical anthropology – in which the German version of the science was disreputable, but had been difficult to distinguish from the American version. Several papers by biological anthropologists published in the 1950s and 1960s helped form the modern view that to the extent that race is real, it is an unfamiliar bio-cultural reality, not a familiar biological reality. Archival research has shown that the posture that race is merely biology permitted the AAPA president, Carleton Coon, to privately aid the segregationists in 1961-62, while publicly calling for the field to be apolitical. Consequently, much of mainstream biological anthropology had already rejected the concept of race as an analytic biological tool by the time that Lewontin published his famous paper on “The Apportionment of Human Diversity” in 1972.

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