Contestations over the primacy of nature or culture in the shaping of human bodies and behaviors drove some of the most heated debates of twentieth century American life. Divisive battles over racial difference, women’s rights, homosexuality and the origins of illness continue to be fought through claims about biological determinism and cultural construction.
This course, co-taught by a biological and a cultural anthropologist, investigates the ongoing power of this opposition through an examination of anthropology’s central role in formulating the nature/culture dichotomy itself. We begin with a unit on the very recent historical underpinnings of the nature/culture debate, both within anthropology and in American life more generally, and proceed with three case studies, exploring current biological and cultural approaches to race, sex and disease.
Throughout the course, students will be challenged to become conversant with both biological and cultural approaches to human bodies and behavior. Each unit will end with a class wide conversation. Debate will be a central part of the class experience. Our goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think.