The Case for Biosociology
Biology is the key to human nature, and social scientists cannot afford to
ignore its rapidly tightening principles. But the social sciences are po-
tentially far richer in content. Eventually they will absorb the relevant
ideas of biology and go on to beggar them by comparison.
-- E. Wilson ( 1990:260)
Biosociology is an emerging paradigm seeking to understand human behavior by integrating relevant insights from the natural sciences into traditional sociological thinking. Biosociology is not a "biological" perspective; it is a biosocial perspective that recognizes "the continuous, mutual, and inseparable interaction between biology and the social environment" ( Lancaster, Altmann, Rossi, & Sherrod, 1987:2). Biosociology posits no ultimate causes of human behavior; rather, it seeks to understand how biological factors interact with other factors to produce observed behavior. It does not seek to "reduce" complex behavior to the level of biological processes in isolation from environmental influences; it merely insists that such processes must be recognized and included in any analysis of behavior and that such an analysis be consistent with those processes.
Biosociology is not sociobiology. Sociobiology has a more ambitious agenda, it concerns itself with the behavior of all animals, it has a grand theory (evolutionary theory), and it seeks ultimate causes. Sociobiological explanations are concerned with the ultimate "whys" of a phenomenon in terms of evolved species traits, and biosociology is concerned with the "hows" of a phenomenon in terms of less distal and more proximate causes. Biosociology and sociobiology are only alternative perspectives in the same sense that proximate and ultimate explanations are alternative (but not competing) ex-