Accepted Paper:

Forty years on: 'biosocial anthropology' revisited  


Hilary Callan

Paper short abstract:

40 years after the 1973 ASA Decennial, the resulting volume 'Biosocial Anthropology' will be revisited in the context of the theoretical and rhetorical climate of the time.

Paper long abstract:

Forty years ago, the ASA's 1973 Decennial Conference was held at Oxford under the general title 'New Directions in Social Anthropology'. Papers from one of the conference sessions were published in 1975 with the title 'Biosocial Anthropology', described by the volume's editor. Robin Fox, as '... intended to be representative of the biosocial approach to some persistent problems of anthropology'. The notions of the 'biosocial' enshrined in this volume share a broadly Darwinian perspective on the interpretation of features of human society. They predate, however, much subsequent knowledge as well as the rise to prominence of debates - such as those on 'human sociobiology' and 'meme theory' which later gained a sensational public profile as well as attracting academic controversy. This paper will take a retrospective approach to 'Biosocial Anthropology' in the context of its time, including the language and imagery of the contents and the influence of some of the more popular writings of the period. In the context of the 2013 Decennial, it will be suggested that contemporary anthropology can gain from a historically located return to writings around some of the subject's 'big issues'.

Panel P41
Social anthropology and human origins