This series aims to get anthropologists and closely-related others talking seriously, and thinking practically, about how to synergize biological and social scientific approaches to human health and well-being, and to what positive ends. In this interview, Daniel Hruschka responds to questions posed by Jeffrey G. Snodgrass.
How and why might cultural anthropologists and social scientists interested in health benefit from integrating biological variables/biomarkers into their research and analysis?
I was originally drawn to biocultural anthropology because of its open-minded approach to answering questions and solving problems. Rather than requiring the use of a specific method as a litmus test for quality work, the biocultural approach permitted me to use any combination of study designs and methods that were best suited to answering my specific questions. A common form of integration in biocultural anthropology is to study both biological and sociocultural variables to understand how social, political, and cultural forces shape human health and functioning. However, the integrative promise of a biocultural approach goes far beyond this specific set of health-related problems. Rather, I see biocultural anthropology as creating a free space for researchers to experiment with whatever set of empirical approaches—whether they are quantitative, qualitative, experimental, observational, subjective, objective—to best answer their questions.
In addition to helping researchers better answer their question, this methodological open-mindedness also equips biocultural researchers to critique work in other fields where methods not traditionally available in a cultural anthropologist’s toolkit are more highly valued. For example, in recent studies, colleagues and I have used a diverse set of methods including on-the-ground fieldwork, open-ended interviews and observations, behavioral experiments, and quantitative analyses of secondary data to challenge popular theories in evolutionary psychology about the origins of cross-cultural diversity in collectivism and parochialism.