Genetic Nature/Culture: Anthropology and Science beyond the Two-Culture Divide

By Alan H. Goodman; Deborah Heath et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
98% Chimpanzee and 35% Daffodil
The Human Genome in Evolutionary
and Cultural Context
Jonathan Marks

One of the most overexposed factoids in modern science is our genetic similarity to the African apes, the chimpanzees and gorillas. It bears the precision of modern technology; it carries the air of philosophical relevance. It reinforces the cultural knowledge that genetics reveals deep truths about the human condition, that we are but a half step from the beasts in our nature.

But how do we know just how genetically similar we are to them? What is that estimate based on? What real significance does it have for our conceptions of ourselves in the modern world and for the role of genetic knowledge in shaping those conceptions? This is where genetics and anthropology converge, the gray zone of “molecular anthropology, ” technologically molecular and intellectually anthropological, in principle at least.

I attempt in this essay to do something that is classically anthropology. I take a well-known natural fact and show it to be a construction of the social and cultural order and, in that capacity, in need of deconstruction.


HISTORY

Our biological similarity to the apes was known long before there were geneticists. To eighteenth-century scholars, apes had roughly the same status as Bigfoot does today: they lived in remote areas and were seen only by untrained observers. Consequently, reports about them differed widely in quality and reliability.

These creatures were situated on the boundary between personhood and animalhood and, as a result, were immensely interesting. That boundary is of course the domain of powerful mythological motifs in all cultures, for the distinction between person and animal allows us to situate ourselves in the natural order, to make some sense of our place in it. And the mythology is

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Genetic Nature/Culture: Anthropology and Science beyond the Two-Culture Divide
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction - Practice, Discourse, and Critique 1
  • Notes *
  • References 18
  • Part 1 - Nature/culture *
  • Section A - Human Populations/genetic Resources *
  • Chapter 1 - Indigenous Peoples, Changing Social and Political Landscapes, and Human Genetics in Amazonia 23
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 2 - Victor Mckusick's Fieldwork with the Old Order Amish 41
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 3 - Technologies of the Self in the Age of Genetics 58
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 4 - The Icelandic Health Sector Database 77
  • Notes *
  • References 93
  • Section B - Animal Species/genetic Resources *
  • Chapter 5 - Life After Dolly 95
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 6 - Webs of Action in the World of Dog Genetics 111
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 7 - The Human Genome in Evolutionary and Cultural Context 132
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Part 2 - Culture/nature *
  • Section A - Political and Cultural Identity *
  • Chapter 8 - Transnationalized Gene Landscapes in the Biodiversity and Transgenic Food Networks 155
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 9 - Genome Scientists as Sociocultural Entrepreneurs 176
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 10 - Reflections and Prospects for Anthropological Genetics in South Africa 200
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Section B - Race and Human Variation *
  • Chapter 11 - Implications for Disease Gene Mapping and Identity 219
  • Notes *
  • References 230
  • Chapter 12 - A Molecular Genetic Perspective 234
  • Notes 254
  • References *
  • Chapter 13 - The Concept of Race in Science 258
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Chapter 14 - Promise and Problems of Ancient Dna for Anthropology 278
  • Notes *
  • References *
  • Contributors 297
  • Index 299
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