Biosociology: An Emerging Paradigm

By Anthony Walsh | Go to book overview
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As a social scientist, I must concur with Wilson ( 1990:260) epigraph to this chapter: The content of the social sciences is potentially richer than that of biology; but before we can beggar the relevant ideas of biology, we must first absorb them. This does pose problems, not the least of which is the necessity to learn much biology, which may deter many individual social scientists from taking that first step. Those who do hurdle the obstacles of inertia and ideology will find the intellectual challenge most exciting. They will find, as have many others before them, that there is nothing inherently inimical to the social sciences to be found within the framework of biosociology. (There may be an awful lot that is inimical to social ideology, however.) Perhaps the majority of the current cohort of sociologists will remain closed to the arguments for hierarchical integration; but as a discipline, sociology must begin to encourage and require its graduate students to become comfortable with biological science. If we do not and continue to defer to the biological sciences in the study of human behavior, we may find one day that the rest of the scientific community regards us with the same condescension that is today reserved for "scientific" creationists.

Contrary to its many critics, sociobiology has nothing to do with "genetic determinism." The father of sociobiology penned the epigraph of this paper; and he also wrote, "Human behavior is dominated by culture in the sense that the greater part, perhaps all, of the variation between societies is based on cultural experience. But this is not to say that human beings are infinitely plastic. . . . Assisted by sociobiological analyses, a stronger social science might develop. An exciting collaboration between biologists and social scientists appears to have begun" ( E. Wilson, 1978b:xiv).
Comte included astronomy and excluded psychology in his hierarchy. He believed the psychology of his time to be in the metaphysical stage of development. Because psychology has long ago embraced positivism and because astronomy has been absorbed by physics, I take the liberty of amending Comte's hierarchy.
Indicative of Jeffery's statement are the number of journals born in the late 1970s or early 1980s integrating the biological and sociocultural sciences (e.g., Ethology and Sociobiology, Human Nature, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Behavioural Neurology, Journal of Social and Biological Structure, Journal of Biosocial Science, Politics and the Life Sciences). Also indicative of his statement is the paucity of sociologists contributing to these journals.
Brown ( 1991) work is an attack on biologically irrelevant notions of culture via the examination of cultural universals. He shows how many of the most prominent arguments that cultural relativists have relied on have been systematically demolished over the years. He concentrates on (1) arbitrary color classification, (2) the nonexistence of stress among Samoan adolescents, (3) sex-role reversal among the Tchambuli, (4) arbitrary facial expressions, (5) the Hopi conception of time, and (6) the nonuniversality of the Oedipus complex. For those of us professionally nurtured on many of these concepts, Brown's book presents a real challenge.


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Biosociology: An Emerging Paradigm


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