Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Evolutionary Anthropology Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Evolution
Secondary Theme: Biologies
In the last few years, a number of publications, both edited volumes and journal based, as well as conference panels have sought to advance the burgeoning field of biocultural anthropology. Despite multiple efforts, the biocultural approach continues to be somewhat amorphous, contested, and without a unified agenda. This is perhaps best illustrated by the debate surrounding the notion of adaptation and its utility in thinking about contemporary human health and well-being which unfolded on the pages of Medical Anthropology Quarterly in the 1990s. Although Goodman and Leatherman set a number of clear tenets for biocultural anthropology in Building a New Biocultural Synthesis (1998), the subfield’s relationship with evolutionary theory and concepts like adaptation has been problematic and hindered a more unified approach by its practitioners.
Given that it is the twenty-year anniversary of the synthesis, this session provides a forum for papers to consider the place of evolutionary theory and its accompanying concepts and mechanisms (adaptation, natural selection, etc.) in biocultural anthropology research. In this panel, papers explore questions on biocultural topics with varying degrees of engagement with evolutionary frameworks. Here we seek to answer questions such as how do scholars balance and/or integrate evolutionary and political economic or cultural frameworks in their research? How can we incorporate new understandings from the fields of evolutionary anthropology and medical anthropology to forge new avenues for biocultural research? For example, how do new understandings of evolution, non-genetic mechanisms of inheritance, and developmental plasticity inform a biocultural approach in 2018? To what degree are the questions of 20 years ago resolved or irrelevant given the exponential leap in our understanding of evolutionary processes and the means by which experience is incorporated within the biology of the body? We also include papers presenting data from biocultural investigations that engage with these evolutionary frameworks and those mechanisms to showcase some of the ways that biocultural anthropology continues to evolve.