The 86th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2017)

Belief(s), Identity, and Experience: Navigating Multiple Influences on Knowing in Biological Anthropology


Anthropology, University of Notre Dame

April 21, 2017 3:00, Riverview 1 Add to calendar

Recently there is a surge of empirical and philosophical research on the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens, the processes and outcomes of inequality and embodiment, and what it means to be human. This research and its popular interpretations have sparked heated debates about the nature of human beings and how knowledge about humans should be properly understood. These debates involve a wide range of participants from diverse experiential, intellectual, and philosophical backgrounds. Biological anthropology sits at the nexus of these concerns and is critically situated to play a key role in shaping and navigating this discourse. But to do so successfully we must acknowledge assumptions about normativity(ies) and how they structure the bioanthropological endeavor. There is often bias in our teaching and practice. Heteronormativity, assumptions about the structure of families and the meaning of religious beliefs, myopia about white and male privilege, and English language hegemony can all influence how we ask questions and shape the opportunities we have to ask them. How do, could and should belief systems, lived experience, sexual, gender, ethnic, national, and racial diversity play a role in how we “do” biological anthropology? Here I present examples of these interfaces, biases and conflicts, and offer a few options for facilitating positive outcomes. If our goal is to produce better knowledge about humans and non-humans, the connections between bodies, biology, and culture, and the politics and practice of science, biological anthropology needs to engage diversity critically, intimately, and courageously.