Bioethics Blogs

Introduction: “Bioculturalism: The Why and How of a Promising Medical Anthropological Future” by Jeffrey G. Snodgrass

I’m perplexed by cultural anthropology’s antagonism toward biology, with culture and biology more typically treated as providing alternate and competing, rather than complementary and synergistic, explanations for human functioning. This is particularly strange to me—a practicing cultural anthropologist with a background in molecular biology—when even medical anthropologists fail to account for the role biology plays in shaping human health. Wouldn’t such a consideration enrich our comprehension of the interplay between sociocultural milieus and human bodies?

“Biocultural” anthropologists do now routinely investigate human health and other topics. However, they are a small minority, both within medical anthropology and anthropology more generally. Though small, they are potentially important. To me, this group’s synthetic approach represents one promising future for anthropology, which would be capable of producing more comprehensive explanations for human function (and dysfunction), and in the process bridging divisions both within our discipline and between anthropology and other natural science disciplines.

To sketch a blueprint for such a future, I have invited a group of self-professed “biocultural anthropologists” to address the question, “How might cultural anthropology gain by taking biology more seriously?” Responses to this issue will run in a new series, Bioculturalism, which aims to get anthropologists and closely-related others to talking seriously, and thinking practically, about how this possible anthropological future might unfold, and to what positive ends.

To kick off this series, I respond to this topic myself, which, as you’ll see below, I’ve parsed into five interrelated questions. My response foreshadows themes touched upon by the other contributors. Also today, you’ll hear how Bill Dressler responds to my questions, followed by Emily Mendenhall, Chris Lynn, and Greg Downey every other Monday.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.