Building a New Biocultural Synthesis

Political-Economic Perspectives on Human Biology
Alan H. Goodman and Thomas L. Leatherman, Editors
Foreword by Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin
Shows the potential for a reintegrated, critical, and politically relevant biocultural anthropology


Anthropology, with its dual emphasis on biology and culture, is—or should be—the discipline most suited to the study of the complex interactions between these aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, since the early decades of this century, biological and cultural anthropology have grown distinct, and a holistic vision of anthropology has suffered.

This book brings culture and biology back together in new and refreshing ways. Directly addressing earlier criticisms of biological anthropology, Building a New Biocultural Synthesis concerns how culture and political economy affect human biology—e.g., people's nutritional status, the spread of disease, exposure to pollution—and how biological consequences might then have further effects on cultural, social, and economic systems.

Contributors to the volume offer case studies on health, nutrition, and violence among prehistoric and historical peoples in the Americas; theoretical chapters on nonracial approaches to human variation and the development of critical, humanistic and political ecological approaches in biocultural anthropology; and explorations of biological conditions in contemporary societies in relationship to global changes.

Building a New Biocultural Synthesis will sharpen and enrich the relevance of anthropology for understanding a wide variety of struggles to cope with and combat persistent human suffering. It should appeal to all anthropologists and be of interest to sister disciplines such as nutrition and sociology.

Alan H. Goodman is Professor of Anthropology, Hampshire College.

Thomas L. Leatherman is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of South Carolina.

Praise / Awards

  • "The political-economic perspective presents many challenges for human biologists and has the potential to enrich how they plan their research and look at their data once it is gathered. There is also much in this volume that is controversial, and the approach has the potential to be divisive if positions are taken to the extreme from which there is little ability to compromise. This volume would be excellent in a graduate seminar, and should be read by all human biologists who are trying to understand the social forces that shape human variation."
    --Sara Stinson, Queens College, CUNY, American Journal of Human Biology, 2000
  • "The chapters are interesting, useful, and attempt to break new ground."
    --Stanley J Ulijaszek, Journal of Biological Science, Volume 33, No. 4
  • "This book provides a careful, thorough and wide-ranging analysis of a topic which is of broad disciplinary relevance. . . . [S]timulating and thought-provoking. . . ."
    --Richard Reading, University of East Anglia, Social Science & Medicine

Look Inside

Foreword          xi
Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin
Acknowledgments          xvii
Series Introduction          xix
Emilio F. Moran
Part 1. Historical Overview and Theoretical Developments
1. Traversing the Chasm between Biology and Culture: An Introduction          3
Alan H. Goodman and Thomas L. Leatherman
2. The Evolution of Human Adaptability Paradigms: Toward a Biology of Poverty          43
R. Brooke Thomas
3. Political Economy and Social Fields          75
William Roseberry
4. The Development of Critical Medial Anthropology: Implications for Biological Anthropology          93
Merrill Singer
Part 2. Case Studies and Examples: Past Populations
5. Linking Political Economy and Human Biology: Lessons from North American Archaeology          127
Dean J. Saitta
6. The Biological Consequences of Inequality in Antiquity          147
Alan H. Goodman
7. Owning the Sins of the Past: Historical Trends, Missed Opportunities, and New Directions in the Study of Human Remains          171
Debra L. Martin
8. Nature, Nurture, and the Determinants of Infant Mortality: A Case Study from Massachusetts, 1830-1920          191
Alan C. Swedlund and Helen Ball
9. Unequal Death as in Life: A Sociopolitical Analysis of the 1813 Mexico City Typhus Epidemic          229
Lourdes Marquez-Morfin
Part 3. Case Studies and Examples: Contemporary Populations
10. Illness, Social Relations, and Household Production and Reproduction in the Andes of Southern Peru          245
Thomas L. Leatherman
11. On the (Un)Natural History of the Tupi-Monde Indians: Bioanthropology and Change in the Brazilian Amazon          269
Ricardo V. Santos and Carlos E. A. Coimbra, Jr.
12. The Political Ecology of Population Increase and Malnutrition in Southern Honduras          295
Billie R. DeWalt
13. The Biocultural Impact of Tourism on Mayan Communities          317
Magali Daltabuit and Thomas L. Leatherman
14. Poverty and Nutrition in Eastern Kentucky: The Political Economy of Childhood Growth          339
Deborah L. Crooks
Part 4. Steps toward a Critical Biological Anthropology
15. Race, Racism, and Anthropology          359
George J. Armelagos and Alan H. Goodman
16. Beyond European Enlightenment: Toward a Critical and Humanistic Human Biology          379
Michael L. Blakey
17. Latin American Social Medicine and the Politics of Theory          407
Lynn M. Morgan
18. Nature, Political Ecology, and Social Practice: Toward an Academic and Political Agenda          425
Soren Hvalkof and Arturo Escobar
19. What Could Be: Biocultural Anthropology for the Next Generation          451
Gavin A. Smith and R. Brooke Thomas
Contributors          475
Index           479

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 512pp.
  • 22 tables, 20 figures, 5 maps.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1998
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06606-3

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  • $30.95 U.S.

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