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

Evolution, Ecology and Political Economy: Biocultural Perspectives on Nutrition and Disease in the Works of George Armelagos


1Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2Natural Science, Hampshire College

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Beginning with his dissertation on Sudanese Nubian health and his seminal articles on disease and the ecological perspective, to later contributions on the biocultural synthesis, work on the epidemiological transition, and many contributions on the evolution of food systems and patterns of eating, George Armelagos and his students, colleagues and collaborators have made profound and lasting contributions to biocultural theory in the discipline. This paper traces the evolution of his ideas and major contributions at the interface of biological, medical and nutritional anthropologies.

Early on, Armelagos pioneered an ecological perspective that examined the intersection of host, pathogen and environment to study human health and disease in contemporary and archeological populations. Over time he expanded this model particularly in the area of environment by arguing for stronger social, behavioral and economic determinants of health, and recognizing the importance of political-economic perspectives. Thus his contextual frame shifted from physical environments to, for example, globalization, racism, global warming, viral superhighways, and social violence. While Armelagos expanded his biocultural model to include more social, economic and political perspectives, he never abandoned a core evolutionary focus and indeed worked to show how evolutionary and more socio-cultural perspectives can inform and strengthen one another. The extensive network of students he has mentored and the breadth of research expertise and publications on topics ranging from epidemiological transitions to paleopathology, to food and nutrition studies, to race and human variation, has both strengthened his perspectives and the scope of his contributions to biological, medical and nutritional anthropologies.

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