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One thing I’ve always loved about anthropology is its commitment to understanding humans by bringing to bear two divergent perspectives: evolutionary science, aimed at understanding the contribution of biology to our behavior, and field ethnography, a process whereby the anthropologist works to understand a social group’s lived experience in the modern world from the inside out.
Now, a new paper by biological anthropologist Agustin Fuentes of Notre Dame University in the June issue of Current Anthropology, suggests that anthropologists can, and should, do a much better job of bringing together these two frameworks. Fuentes writes that he wants to “help frame a sincerely anthropological and emphatically evolutionary approach to the human experience.”
Fuentes is weary of a heavy focus on genes and natural selection in the evolutionary modeling of human behavior, because this view of human phenomena — mating behavior, let’s say, or human aggression — misses the richness of being human. We need, and in fact we have at hand, new tools to bring real-world, messy complexity into evolutionary modeling and to recognize feedback across different levels of selection beyond the individual. Niche construction theory is one of these tools. In undertaking work in a so-called extended evolutionary synthesis (EES) framework, Fuentes builds on the work of biologist Kevin Laland at the University of St. Andrews.
Read full, original post: It’s Not All Genes: Getting Evolution Right When Explaining Human Behavior